What makes knowledge management effective? If you can answer ‘yes’ to the following questions, chances are you’re on the right track.
1. Do your knowledge management (KM) practices include a social dimension?
When you share knowledge, do you encourage people to talk to each other? Not just in meetings and conference calls, but informally – over a coffee or a beer? On the phone? Online?
Social interaction builds trust and adds context to shared knowledge. Tacit knowledge (the valuable insights and experience you find difficult to write down) is more likely to be shared in strong business relationships. Few of us feel comfortable sharing our brilliant new idea with someone we hardly know.
Without a social dimension, you’re probably managing information rather than knowledge.
2. Do you focus on knowledge flows rather than knowledge stocks?
KM isn’t an exercise in collecting written materials and ‘lessons learned’. Neither is it an IT project!
Knowledge doesn’t exist without people, so you can’t manage it in isolation from knowers. What you can do is encourage knowledge to flow between people.
If you focus on collecting stuff, you’ve missed the point.
3. Does your KM make a difference?
Good KM helps people do things better (and do better things). Be clear about what your KM is for. It might be to improve efficiency by updating project processes, or it might be to come up with ideas for new products that can generate income in the future.
Whatever you’re trying to achieve with your KM, measure the impact of your activities, not the number of hits on a web page or the number of ‘lessons’ in your database.
4. Do people learn from your KM activities?
‘Proper’ KM (as opposed to information management) is indistinguishable in practice from organisational learning. Like OL, KM is a dynamic capability that sustains competitive advantage.
Better understanding – including learning about how to learn – is a KM goal. Learning is voluntary. Don’t try to mandate learning. It won’t work!
5. Have you got a knowledge-sharing culture?
A knowledge-sharing culture is one where ‘normal’ means people share what they know.
You can’t change culture – it develops on its own. You can do things differently to help it along.
Make it easy to share knowledge by providing technology tools that connect people to people. Give people time for knowledge-sharing, reward people for working together rather than individually, and discuss problems and errors openly.
If you don’t tackle these issues directly, you run the risk of inadvertently driving out people’s natural desire to work collaboratively.
6. Are knowledge and learning important to you?
Individuals and organisations that are good at KM recognise the importance of knowledge and learning. It’s not an add-on – it’s a fundamental and integral part of what you do.
Look at things through a knowledge lens. Understand the knowledge side of identifying risks, improving processes, and good governance.
Above all, make it clear that knowledge sharing is valued – and support this with the message that it’s good to spend time on learning and knowledge sharing.
How do you measure up to these questions? What stops you from answering ‘yes’ to any of them? If you have answered ‘yes’, what tips would you pass on to others?
Let us know in the comments.
These six questions will be used to discuss two KM case studies at the Knowledge SIG event in Warrington on 25 June.