It’s funny how things go in cycles. What was critically important to us last year may not be a concern to us today. And things we used to take for granted, we now cannot fathom living without.
Think about the Internet. Most of us weren’t even aware of it until the mid 90’s, but where would we be today without it? Although I type here from the comfort of my office chair, my office is at home and I rarely need to venture into NYC thanks to technology. My office material comes from Amazon.com and my calls are handled over a VOIP platform. All driven by the web.
Knowledge management is a similar area you’ve probably never paid attention to. Maybe you haven’t heard about it yet, but knowledge management is already affecting how you live and work.
At home, no one owns an Encyclopedia Britannica anymore. We find that information elsewhere, like Wikipedia. When we’re on the go, as long as we have our smartphones, apps like Yelp, Waze, Groupon, Instagram, and YouTube are allowing us to contribute to and draw from knowledge management.
Can you see the commonality?
- Providing information to a group expressing interest in the topic
- Harnessing feedback from that group to further refine the content
- Further educating the group, turning them into subject matter experts
- Creating a “center of gravity” for experts and information alike
What is Knowledge Management?
The definition of knowledge management is how an organization creates, shares, uses, and manages information. It refers to improving the organization organically by making the best use of the knowledge at its disposal.
Imagine being able to extract the lessons learned from every piece of work in the company portfolio. Or finding what you’re looking for without rifling through folders or needing to ask dozens of coworkers. Wouldn’t that make your daily work life easier?
In the simplest variant, a Knowledge Management system consists of the following:
- A simple internal process to capture company knowledge
- A Community of Practice (internal experts) to review information that comes in
- Technology to support this process and the Community of Practice
The good news is this: Your company is probably already halfway there and you didn’t even know it! At work, are you using a Microsoft SharePoint server, cloud storage, or a shared drive for people to store documents instead of on individual desktops? Maybe you use Adobe EchoSign to quickly sign documents electronically? And it’s not just technology and software. Simple changes to staffing and process workflow can have equally large impacts (and should be considered prior to software purchases anyway).
The Benefits of Knowledge Management Systems
Now for the bad news. Knowledge management may provide large benefits, but you’re not going to get there overnight. You’re going to have to approach this step-by-step. To implement knowledge management the very first time, adhere to the following process:
- Develop your problem statement / define the problem you’re trying to solve
- Isolate a portion of your organization that you think is either interested in or is competent to brainstorm solutions to this problem. This becomes your initial network
- Create a call to action and brand your campaign / get your entire organization on board and get them interested!
- Develop a simple process to capture ideas (suggestion box/feedback card/website)
- Solicit ideas/review ideas with your initial network
- Implement quick wins & offer praise to the problem contributors
Organizational learning and development becomes more difficult to manage as your company grows. Without managing critical information, team members may take important pieces of tribal knowledge with them when they leave, new employees are forced to learn their roles without any guidance, and a tremendous amount of time is wasted learning and relearning the same processes in inconsistent ways.
But as an organization matures, it forms stronger linkages between leadership, culture, and strategy to allow for longer-term operations planning and enhanced daily operational performance. So why not start considering knowledge management to help support this?
Knowledge management helps gather the power from your entire organization and use it to incrementally improve your daily operations. It enables organizations to learn more intuitively, allowing companies to innovate better through knowledge-sharing organizational structures, processes, and tools. By making their jobs easier and providing a platform to learn new skills, you can engage your workforce by making their work more interesting and relevant. That effort ultimately leads to a series of advantages which, day by day, helps your company stack up better than your competition.