How to Manage Your Knowledge Effectively
Knowledge management can be described as the organization of intellectual resources and information systems within a business environment. It is the establishment of a system that captures knowledge with the purpose of incorporating that information into business strategies, policies, and practices at all levels of the company. No matter the size of the company or the budget, wherever there are humans working together for one goal, there is knowledge to be harvested, stored, and dispensed as needed.
Changing Your Way of Thinking
There are many ways to implement knowledge management. The information available to you may be overwhelming. Understanding the types of knowledge and places to acquire it will reduce errors and increase efficiency in implementing your knowledge management project. Knowledge is composed of data and information. Data is bits of content either in text or numerical format. Data has no meaning by itself. Information is data that is accumulated to allow for comparison, grouping and categorizing, which enables the content viewer to determine what to do with the data group. This is essentially business intelligence using analytics. Do not try to categorize items into data, information, and knowledge. The context of the information is subjective based on the person and their viewpoint. Trying to categorize information in this way could end your project early. Instead, focus on the type of knowledge that the content represents.
Tacit knowledge is described as knowledge that cannot be easily documented. This knowledge is transferred silently through behaviors and experiences. Some examples of tacit knowledge include know-how, judgment, insight and skills. Tacit knowledge is difficult to communicate because it is personal and subjective. The knowledge resides deep within the person who possesses it. It is influenced by beliefs, ideals, values, and mental modes. Unlike tacit knowledge, explicit knowledge is easier to recognize and document. It is easily communicated, written down, transferred, stored and retrieved. Some examples include databases, manuals and training content. Having explicit knowledge may not always be desirable because experience (tacit knowledge) is typically the most effective teaching tool.
Conversion categories are areas where knowledge is converted or exchanged. The best way to think of these conversion categories is to use tacit and explicit modes for both the type of knowledge and the type of behavior. For example, onsite training allows people to exchange tacit knowledge through tacit behaviors because it is transferred from one individual to another through observation. In this case, normalcies are reinforced and new knowledge can be created depending on the person being trained. Understanding these conversion categories enables you to determine where these exchanges of information exist within your organization. Overlooking these exchanges could lead to knowledge gaps in your knowledge management system.
The Knowledge Management Life Cycle
Knowledge management is a cycle of identifying information that may or may not be useful knowledge, formatting it, then integrating it within your organization. Knowledge transfers come in many forms. Some instances of knowledge transfers are planned, such as the development of a new product or entering into a new market or industry. Other instances are unplanned, such as a new product being recalled or dramatic changes in the market. To help deal with these unplanned situations, you can ask the following questions to simplify and clarify things.
- What essential actions does the affected area have to take?
- What decisions people in the affected area must take to complete their job?
- What information is needed in order to make those decisions and complete their job?
- Is it explicit, possibly stored in a database?
- Is it tacit – does this information have to come from a person?
The acquisition stage seeks to obtain information from both internal and external sources. Acquiring information or knowledge can be viewed as capturing and creating. Capturing is acquiring information that already exists and requires little adjustments to make it valuable to your organization. It can be internal information that is floating around the organization or external information from outside sources. Creation is taking existing information and combining it with other internal knowledge or information to produce new knowledge that the organization can use to take some form of action. There may be some analyzing involved to make this happen. In acquiring explicit information, repositories with document information or filing systems could be useful. For tacit information, information may be acquired when experts share their ideas. As an internal tool for knowledge creation and capturing, it is a good idea to interview employees. Once the knowledge is acquired, it must be organized so it can be easily integrated into the organization.
Evaluating information requires comparison to goals, vision, mission and strategies of the organization. Failing to align the knowledge to these business strategies could render the knowledge program ineffective. Some ideas to consider when evaluating knowledge are the nature of the organization, the organization’s vision and goals, the strategy to achieve these goals, the current business environment and the industry. Knowledge that may not be ready for integration may be stored for later use. Using knowledge committees and forums as well as knowledge management software are just a couple of ways to evaluate knowledge for integration. Each of these tools requires representation from many areas of the organization. The goal here is to label the acquired information as useful to the organization. Not all knowledge acquired must be integrated, because if this were the objective, the knowledge management system would become too cumbersome and run the risk of not being of use altogether.
How Can You Implement Knowledge Management in Your Organization?
Like any other project, there is a level of support both politically and financially. The more organized and detailed your plan is, the better your chances are for success. Management rarely supports poorly planned projects and its best to gain support from a senior level or executive manager. When you receive support from management, you are in a better position to get funding for your project. Senior management will usually approve project budgets and the resources dedicated to them. This will also give more credibility to your project.
The best chances of getting funding for your project rely heavily on how well you present the budget. If you do not have the skills to build a budget, find someone who does. You also want to determine what type of organization you have. If your organization is centralized, with one group overseeing all departments, then you will want to approach that group to ask for funds. If the organization is de-centralized with autonomous departments, you may want to find a department that is open to funding your project. Become familiar with how your organization handles budgeting. Some companies do budgets once a year. You will have to time your project and consider this. Your overall budget approach should offer various pricing points. Presenting one large budget makes it easier to be turned down. Instead, you should offer different scenarios with different cost structures. When you offer a variety of cost options, your chances of approval will increase.
If you encounter a situation where a budget is not possible, there are some alternatives. First, take inventory of any tools that currently exist that you can leverage and make feasible with slight adjustments. These can include email, Intranet, Web portals, electronic conferencing tools, databases, and using chat capabilities. Second, get with your IT department and see if you can make any changes to any of the tools mentioned, such as creating an email group or networking. The only expense you may incur is labor. If your organization desires knowledge management, but does not have the financial resources to support it, then negotiate resources that could help.
Creating a vision of what the organization will look like with a knowledge management system will have your leaders and users see the future and the need to invest in such a program. Describe to them what this will look like when it is completed. Make sure you plan accurate and realistic timelines. A decent knowledge management program takes years to develop. Making this a quick fix project will not get you the seriousness you need from your stakeholders. Use milestones to communicate your timeline. Know that you will be challenged, face opposition to change, and you may be required to use a work around. Use a small approach by implementing a small project instead of a large one. Develop a shared definition of knowledge management and get with those who have influence to hold discussions. Try to avoid being too specific and get their input to incorporate it into the message. Get your marketing team involved and think of creating ways to discuss knowledge management without overwhelming everyone with diagrams and charts. Finally, tie what knowledge management will do for your business.
Today’s culture thrives on knowledge. Possessing knowledge gives us advantages in making the right decision or strategy to implement. Organizations have a wealth of knowledge accessible through the people they manage internally, such as employees, and externally through customers. Organizations that allow knowledge to go unmanaged may be creating a disadvantage for themselves with regards to their competitors. The organizations that are able to capture, store and retrieve knowledge effectively gain the upper hand in the market.