Knowledge Management

Category Archives:Knowledge Management

Managing and Leveraging Knowledge to Succeed

As we move forward in the information age, we often hear terms such as learning organisations, intelligent computing and intellectual capital. One such term we hear time and time again is “knowledge management” — a new focus of developing organisations.

It is interesting to recognise that the principles of knowledge management were practiced globally over 100 years ago!  Farmers for example operated based on the moon phases—those who will swear on their crop that their practices make the difference between a bumper harvest and a dismal season. And what about the well known ‘Corpus Christi’ planting season, which coincides with the start of the rainy season—a time when the nitrate content in the soil is supposed to be the highest. We knew from experience even if we could not have explained the science behind it.

To cut through all the hype, this is what knowledge management is about. Knowledge management refers to the process of managing and leveraging the stores of knowledge that reside within an organisation, with the objectives being to add value, improve efficiency, increase productivity and/or revenues.

Quite a tall order, you would agree, and it entails more than the traditional human resource development initiatives.  So how does the system of knowledge management seek to attain these lofty objectives? These needs of enhancing the productivity, efficiency and revenue streams can be translated into the following strategies:

– Fostering innovation in systems so as to increase efficiency (reduce cost) and productivity
– Improving customer service by reducing response times or adding value to products
– Boosting revenues by enabling a faster turnover time, lower cost and increased productivity.
– Encouraging employee retention by recognising their capabilities and soliciting their contributions.

For those of you involved in the daily business operations, these may seem simple enough. But as we all know, implementation is the real challenge. However, there are some relatively simple considerations to building an effective knowledge management system.

Step 1: Ensure an Effective Information Base

An efficient information system in an organisation supports an effective knowledge management initiative, by enabling employees to enter single transaction entries, reduce errors of entries and retrieval, reduce the time needed for these operations, increase access to documents (within the organisation and via the Internet), demands less storage space and stationery, tailor reports to those parameters desired and a host of other possible benefits that vary according to industry and scale of operations.

This seeks to ensure that the right information is being captured, retrieved and reported in the most cost effective and timely process to support decisions by persons charged with responsibility for same—the analysts, the various levels of supervisors and management personnel.

Depending on the size of the organisation and the industry, other criteria can be equally, if not more important, and includes such aspects as information security, reliability, data accessibility etc.

Implementing an effective information system can be simple, or, as is more often the case, leads to some capital expenditure—which an organisation is not always prepared to spend. A phased approach is practical more often than not, but regardless of the approach, planning is the critical element of this stage.

Step 2: Involve employees in the identification of problems, determination and selection of solutions

This may be routine in many organisations, but too often we hear of systems and solutions being implemented by organisations, only to meet with resistance by those employees charged with its execution.

By consulting with the employees managers can have a better understanding of the real problems, and maybe even the solutions to rectify these problems because existing knowledge gets shared and new ideas are discussed ie knowledge is created.

By learning how to learn together managers help employees to feel a part of the system—of both development and decision-making. Work therefore acquires intrinsic meaning, as it becomes a natural primal motivator.

Organisations that implement this aspect of the knowledge management system may begin to see that the employees are more accommodating to changes in the systems that are deemed inefficient, and are more receptive to new processes and procedures that facilitate increased efficiency, possibly even those that mean increased workloads or longer hours.

Additionally, organisations may also realise the benefit of a reduction in the rate of staff turnover—especially those skilled workers who play an influential role in the realisation of objectives.

Employees, and especially skilled workers, who are included in the process of consultation feel a sense of purpose and belonging, being part of the solution. This sense of purpose encourages a level of commitment and dedication—and ultimately loyalty, that is difficult to capture otherwise. Also, organisations benefit from the various cultural considerations by those employees of varying ethnicities, beliefs and nationalities.

The workplace diversity within the organisation can enable the organisation to realise the cultural implications of its activities on its market as well as the wider community—a factor of increasing importance given the advent of globalisation.

Organisations that seek to implement this system may find it necessary to create some system of reward and recognition that is perceived to be both just and fair—an ideal that can prove challenging depending on the number of employees involved. Additionally, these systems may necessitate a change in management style—and this is not always a desirable action managers are willing to take.

Managers that adopt a typical authoritative style may find it difficult to solicit employee participation, as well as their being unwilling to change their methods to accommodate any comprehensive participation/reward system. Ultimately, decisions must be taken one way or the other to realise the desired outcome.

Also of importance, a system of this nature may demand a modification of the communication process within the organisation, and organisations seeking to implement the system should be prepared to make the necessary amendments.

Step 3: Documenting and Sharing Knowledge

This area is currently the core focus of knowledge management initiatives, and involves such technological considerations as knowledge work systems (KWS), office automation systems (OAS), computer aided designs (CAD) etc.

Not all of these systems may be feasible or even relevant to an organisation, but the underlying principle is to enable employees to document their systems, methodology and processes, and techniques in order to allow ease of access to information for knowledge creation by all.

Once the right tools are available, it becomes easier for employees to (1) document their thoughts, processes, and ideas, (2) communicate these thoughts and ideas with others and (3) share documentation on these with others. These “tools” referred to would include office automated systems, which include word processors, voice mail systems, imaging for documents etc.

Many of these knowledge-enhancing tools come readily available in contemporary software packages, however, the element usually missing is the training of employees to know what can be done using which programmes.

Take for instance the case where organisation-wide email is implemented as the preferred medium of communication, but the typing speed of employees is 15 words a minute. Although the email system may reduce the stationery costs, the time of enquiries and responses increases drastically. Training is therefore one example of the considerations organisation would have to bear in mind in the implementation of such systems.

Moreover, caution must be observed when determining/developing systems, since improper consultation and management can lead to budget overruns, inefficient implementation and a system that defeats the purpose for which it was obtained.

Turning the corporate ship onto a new knowledge management course demands steady hands. And, it’s top management who must be right out in front, in the same way that he/she has to be out in front of major investments in technology hardware or software.

The fact is that if employees don’t see management leading the way, they’re not going to lend their support and we risk losing our company’s valued intellectual capital.