On a recent project interview with a client of Online’s, I was asked about knowledge management. I had to admit that I knew nothing. The first thing I did after the interview was look it up. I am now writing this for others, so they too can be enlightened on the subject of knowledge management.
Knowledge management, when in action, is about capturing, organizing, sharing, and creating knowledge. It can be part of a business, HR, or IT strategy in order to improve performance, create a competitive advantage, share lessons learned, increase innovation, and/or improve decision-making.
How can knowledge management do all that? There are several clichés and quotes that can back me on this: “Knowledge is power,” “Knowledge has to be improved, challenged, and increased constantly, or it vanishes,” “To know what you know and what you do not know, that is true knowledge,” and “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.”
Let me explain those. Knowledge can and does get lost as people leave their job, retire, or go on vacation. Also, there is ignorance where people are yet to learn or understand something. In fact, ignorance management is part of knowledge management. Fortunately, knowledge can grow. When knowledge is transferred from one person to another, sometimes the second person is able to make new connections with that knowledge and create new knowledge. This is innovation.
Types of Knowledge
Let’s take a step back and talk about knowledge. There are two types of knowledge – explicit and tacit.
Explicit knowledge is the know-what. People hold this knowledge consciously and in mental focus. This type of knowledge can be easily communicated to others. Examples include manuals, procedures, textbooks, and how-to videos.
Tacit knowledge, on the other hand, is the know-how. People are not consciously aware of such knowledge as it is internalized. This type of knowledge cannot be easily communicated to others and even when it can, it can only truly be acquired through experience. Examples include riding a bike, playing an instrument, or speaking a language.
Tacit knowledge, however, can become explicit knowledge. An example of this is facial recognition. Can you describe how you can tell the difference between two people with very similar features? You probably can’t as that knowledge is internalized. Yet software exists that does just that. In order for that software to have been developed, that tacit knowledge would first have to be broken down into explicit knowledge so it can be input into the code. When tacit knowledge becomes explicit knowledge, it is said to have been codified.
Types of Sharing
Just like there are different types of knowledge, there are different ways in which knowledge can be shared. The different types of sharing include explicit, tacit, and embedded.
Explicit sharing is simply sharing explicit knowledge, which includes tacit knowledge that has been codified. An example would be one person describing a work process to another person. The best practice for this type of sharing is that the knowledge be defined and differentiated into smaller more manageable topics to share and learn.
Tacit sharing is to socialize the knowledge through informal networks. The informal network can be based on physical space, work practices, or environment. For example, working in close proximity allows for open communication, observation, and so forth. Another example would be setting up a “practice” within your organization to share information with like-minded peers.
Embedded sharing is sharing that is implemented as part of a process. For example, debriefing meetings, on-boarding, training, knowledge transfers, and lessons learned, if part of a process, are examples of embedded sharing.
Types of Strategies
As mentioned, a knowledge management strategy can come from HR, IT, or the business. There are different types of strategies. The Codification Approach is a push strategy. It involves encoding knowledge into a repository for sharing. A Personalization Approach is a pull strategy. It involves individuals making ad hoc requests to experts for information. Other strategies include rewards for sharing, cross-project learning, knowledge transfers, practice communities, expert directories, best practices, proximity, competency evaluations, mentorship, and so forth.
A knowledge management strategy can involve a knowledge management project. Dataware Technologies Inc. has outlined a series of seven phases for running a knowledge management project. When reviewing the seven phases, you will be able to see how they marry up to what you would or should do in any other project.
First you have to identify the business problem in order to align the knowledge management project with the business objective. Secondly, you have to prepare for the change. In order to successfully employ knowledge management, the organization has to have a culture that promotes discovery and innovation. This requires executive support. Then you have to create a team, which would include, at least, a project manager, an organizational change manager, an analyst, subject matter expert, IT, and possibly even an and a corporate librarian. Once the team is in place, you can perform the knowledge audit to identify what’s missing and organize the knowledge. The key features of what is going to be built then needs to be identified. Then you get to build it. What gets built can include storing, searching, and retrieving knowledge, collaboration tools, e-learning tools, social computing tools, decision support systems, artificial intelligence, expert systems, or knowledge management systems. Finally, you link the knowledge to the people through knowledge directories and content managers.
Now that I know what knowledge management is, I can see it everywhere. However, what I see is generally informal and just a drop in the bucket of what could be. Full knowledge management is no small feat, but it is something that should be considered by an organization.
Do you have actual experience in knowledge management? I would love to hear from you.