Knowledge Management is usually thought of as getting the right information to the right people at the right time, but a more complete definition of KM is “a means for an organization to continually retain, improve, and acquire knowledge over the years.” While the idea seems straightforward enough to implement, it is actually under attack from different directions making it easier said than done.
One threat comes from the fact that companies are outsourcing more and more of their non-mission-critical functions and specializing on their core competencies. The outsourcing initiative exposes them to the risk of losing valuable corporate knowledge in the form of an employee, whose job has been outsourced, walking out the door. Because of this, companies now have to be more conscious about capturing the knowledge of its employees before they sever their ties with each other.
It is important to note that a resigning employee is not the only way by which an organization can lose knowledge. Restructuring, where an expert in one department is transferred to another, can also cause the same effect. Further, budget cuts and an aging workforce also fuel the need for managing knowledge within the corporation.
Many professionals, however, are still confused about what knowledge management really is. The first generation of knowledge management practitioners thought that all it takes is for the MIS department to put up an intranet, make it accessible through the users’ web browsers, and the knowledge will start coming in. Unfortunately, this type of strategy–or rather “stragedy”–does not work by itself. No matter how hi-tech the KM software, in an organization, people will remain to be the most accurate repository of knowledge. Therefore KM should be focusing on people, not tools.
The reason why some organizations find it hard to implement a knowledge management strategy is that its employees do not see how shared knowledge benefits them personally. The biggest question that people will ask in this and in most organizational activities is “What’s in it for me?” This is where HR comes in. A well-managed HR department is equipped with the correct tools and facilities that will allow the whole organization to determine what will inspire the workforce to share information. In short, the organization should not be thinking about how to make (read: force) the employees share knowledge. Instead, it should think about how make them want to share knowledge.
Pam Holloway (2000) suggests to think about how to acquire:
- Knowledge about a relationship with a particular customer
- Knowledge about a key operational process
- Knowledge about a key technology or system
- Knowledge of a geography or country and its business customs
- Knowledge about how to pick the right person for the right job or how to put together a winning team
- Knowledge about the internal infrastructure the tools, the culture, “how to get things done around here.”
One means to retain knowledge within the organization is to put up a rewards system that gives credit to both the contributor and the user of the shared knowledge. More importantly, the reward system should also be a function of group performance rather than individual outcomes since the latter only promotes withholding of useful information to “stay ahead of the pack.”
Implementing a mentoring program is also an effective means to retain knowledge. Mentoring not only provides a way for the organization to funnel tested knowledge from senior to apprentice, but is also an effective means for detecting issues from down the ranks early on.
Other experts also encourage an organization to maintain a good relationship with its employees even after they have left. When people leave your company for another job, chances are they’ll be doing new things that increase their knowledge (Holloway 2000). You might find that knowledge useful in the years to come.
It is important for companies to value knowledge, even more so than its tangible assets. In the move to retain and effectively manage an organization’s knowledge, one should look beyond technological issues. Technology by itself often doesn’t solve a company’s inherent problems in intellectual capital, knowledge and information management (Holloway 2000). HR should play the more significant role if the program is to succeed.
- Matt Heusser: Against Systems
- Richard M. Hodgetts. Modern Human Relations at Work. Orlando: Dryden Press. 1996.
- Pam Holloway. Guess What George is Taking With Him? How to Keep Knowledge From Walking Out the Door. January 2000. Workforce magazine.
- Pam Holloway. Sharing Knowledge—and Other Unnatural Acts. January 2000. Knowledge Management Magazine.
- Pam Holloway. Creating a Knowledge Sharing Culture. January 2000. Knowledge Management Magazine.
- Pam Holloway. BrainDrain: Protecting Your Organization From Losing Key Knowledge. February 2000. AboutPeople Magazine.
- Pam Holloway. Tapping Tacit Knowledge. 2001. Presentation at Braintrust
- Pam Holloway. Counting What Matters: Assigning Value to Intangible Assets. 2002. Center for Advanced Technologies IP Task Force.
- Stephen P. Robbins. Organizational Behavior. Singapore: Pearson Education. 2003.