The Revitalization of Knowledge Management
When clients tell me they want to talk about knowledge management, it can mean anything from a basic intranet to an AI-powered content management system. It makes for some interesting scoping discussions.
"Knowledge management is connecting people to the knowledge they need to do their jobs," said Stephanie Barnes, author of two books on knowledge management and an international conference speaker. "People think it’s technology, like SharePoint, but it’s so much more than that. Technology is an enabler."
Knowledge Management Is About Learning and It’s Human
Knowledge management has been around for 25 years, but it is getting bigger and, in the last couple of years, realizing exciting new potential for creativity.
Content management is one piece of the knowledge management puzzle, Barnes says. Technologies have a tangible and obvious role, but at the end of the day, they play a supporting role: “Ultimately knowledge management is about the people.”
For 25 years, it was important to create stores of knowledge, i.e., content management systems. But this has shifted, especially with new ways of working brought about by the pandemic. It’s made more people be curious, to unlearn and relearn, to get unstuck from familiar patterns of thinking and working. Repositories remain useful, but there is so much more to knowledge management today.
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Start With Your People
It takes seconds for me to retrieve all research documentation on a selected topic from anywhere in the company. That’s good content management.
My team carries within their vast experience unique ways of looking at our work that can't be found anywhere in our formal documentation. Our manager has set up a staging area and reminds us during daily scrums to add important snippets of insight into that area so the rest of us can learn from it. That’s knowledge management. We capture it in our repositories but first we must recognize and select what’s valuable and make it natural for people to contribute to the collected intelligence.
- Start with a strategy that finds out what employees need to make their lives easier. Talk to the people who will participate in the knowledge collection processes and knowledge creation.
- Go in iterations, small bites, implementing for a group, get up and running and go to the next little bite.
- Establish a small central knowledge management team. Designate people in different departments who can help implement with their team on behalf of the central knowledge management team — a networked approach, said Barnes.
Recognize Where People Are
People may hesitate to embrace knowledge management. You can’t force the issue, said Barnes. She described a case where she proposed a knowledge management practice in a quality management (QM) department, but the QM team wasn’t interested and she left them alone. Eighteen months later, after the QM team had seen the benefits of knowledge management in another part of the organization, they came back. “It was perfect for them. They became our biggest spokesperson.”
Keeping employees engaged should be an ongoing part of knowledge management, for example, through articles in company newsletters, communicating success stories, said Barnes. “You can rhyme off ROIs and productivity, but it’s through stories that users will engage — I have that problem, maybe I should get involved.”
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Knowledge Management Is Not Just Documents
In identifying what knowledge needs to be kept and the processes and technologies for capturing it, there will be knowledge that we can’t write down. Inter-personal forms of sharing knowledge such as mentoring and coaching should be a part of the knowledge management strategy and succession plan.
Many companies try to capture knowledge at the exit interview and rely on good will. Barnes described a case where the VP was in an accident, and it took the company three years to reconstruct what the VP kept in his head.
Work with HR on the transfer of knowledge for roles such as Database Administrator. Make mentoring and coaching part of performance assessments. Recognize and reward employees for sharing nuggets of knowledge or solutions for problems.
Related Article: One Business Outcome of the Pandemic: Organizational Knowledge Loss
Future of Knowledge Management: Human Creativity More Than Artificial Intelligence
Technology like artificial intelligence and virtual reality offer exciting possibilities for sharing knowledge. For example, based on the individual and their question an intelligent recommendation service can provide access to the right answers and suggest avenues the person might not have thought about to enrich the experience.
“What differentiates us from technology is our creativity,” said Barnes. AI will do its job but what it doesn’t do well is creativity. An important next step in knowledge management is making space for reflecting, asking questions, for things to bubble up. Helping people relax and incorporate playful forms of learning such as bringing musical instruments into a work context (think Einstein and his violin), is where ideas come from.
About the Author
Andrea Malick is a Research Director in the Data and Analytics practice at Info-Tech, focused on building best practices knowledge in the Enterprise Information Management domain, with corporate and consulting leadership in content management (ECM) and governance.
Andrea has been launching and leading information management and governance practices for 15 years, in multinational organizations and medium sized businesses.