Knowledge is power, but it has little value unless it can be easily accessed and put into practice.
If your company has been in business for a few years, it likely has a wealth of information stored away, from policies and procedures to best practices and the experience of individual workers. But has that information been identified, organized and made accessible to the employees who need it?
If not, that information is probably not being used to its full potential, and could be lost completely.
Here's another way of looking at the risk. Each day 10,000 baby boomers retire. That's a big number.
This is especially scary if the majority of the knowledge important to the success of your business is stored in the minds of your people. To ensure its continued growth and success, your organization needs to ensure the preservation and transfer of knowledge and information to other generations in your workforce.
What is knowledge management anyway?
Knowledge management can be defined as the process of capturing, distributing and using knowledge effectively. In order to effectively share an organization's information assets (think: policies, procedures but also expertise and experiences), that knowledge needs to be identified, captured, evaluated and easily retrieved.
There are three main approaches to knowledge management:
- Technocentric: Focuses on technology, especially software that boosts knowledge sharing and creation
- Organizational: Looks at how to design an organization to best promote knowledge processes
- Ecological: Encourages a knowledge exchange through collaborative networks, rather than through direct management
There are also many ways to store an organization's collective memory: databases and documents, to presentations or papers from individuals on their areas of expertise.
By the way, knowledge management efforts work hand-in-hand with organizational learning with one key difference.
Organizational learning is focused on the process of acquiring and applying knowledge. Knowledge management is focused on the preservation of organizational memory and experience (knowledge as a strategic asset) and ensuring employees have access to it.
What's the benefit?
Having a well-organized knowledge management process allows your company to:
- Easily pass on best practices
- Create faster process and development cycles
- Increase innovation and learning
- Leverage the experience, knowledge and expertise of employees across the organization
- Manage intellectual capital
Knowledge management is gaining momentum as a business priority, and it's easy to see why it would be an asset to companies:
- Employees would no longer be expected to learn a process from scratch, but could benefit from the company's wealth of past experiences.
- Information loss and the wasteful re-creation of knowledge would be reduced, enabling employees to focus more on their work and overall growth of the business
- Employees have ready access to the knowledge and information they need to develop new skills, to co-create and to innovate
- Collaboration and knowledge sharing becomes ingrained into operational structure of the business, eliminating silos and increasing productivity
All of the above can have a direct effect on your bottom line. When done well, it can lead to better decision making, a boost in employee retention, and reduced costs from outdated or unnecessary processes.
Encouraging a knowledge management culture
Building a strong knowledge management culture won't happen overnight. Here are some strategies to help you get started:
- Think globally: don't limit knowledge sharing to projects, departments or geographic locations. Encourage corporate-wide initiatives and practices
- Promote mentorship to pass on best practices
- Host formal or informal "lunch and learns" to share processes, best practices and more
- Build repositories for knowledge, whether they take the form of databases, intranet or social software
- Develop subject-matter experts
- Initiate communities of practice. Sharing knowledge isn't enough; you must ensure employees take action
- Create post-project reports that identify areas of strength, weakness and growth
And of course, communication and feedback are essential to ensuring everyone is onboard, understands why knowledge management is important and sees the value in contributing what they know.
What's your take on the value of knowledge management to organizational success? Share your comments below.