Knowledge Management

promoting the transfer of knowledge

Helen became interested in the ‘concept’ of Knowledge Management as she explored the topic of learning, and the knowledge based economy, in 2001, while undertaking doctoral research. This interest was heightened by investigating the distinction between ‘information’ and ‘knowledge’; ‘explicit and tacit knowledge'; and learning; and the crucial role that the internet provided in this story – as it was the catalyst that allowed the emergence of the knowledge-based economy.  

Over time, this interest also deepened into thinking about knowledge workers and their management in this environment; the telling of stories to capture knowledge in organisations; the amount of wastage and loss of knowledge that is caused by not ‘capturing’ it; and eventually all of these things emerged into a special interest in this area – ‘the human side of knowledge management’ ie what is required at the ‘people’ level to enable knowledge management to work.  This approach also addresses the culture of the organisation in which it is to operate – and the leadership to allow it to grow and be maintained.  The interest in ‘people’ was no doubt influenced by her background in social sciences and also by the practical experience of working across the public and private sectors for a number of years in a variety of capacities.

What is Knowledge Management?

From the thousands available, the definition that works best is - "it is about creating an exciting environment within the organisation that will promote the creation and transfer of knowledge. It is about changing corporate culture and about visionary leadership, motivated staff, loyal customers and the systems and processes that facilitate these things;" (Kermally, 2002:2)

This definition picks up the critical things of – the organisational environment; creating and transferring knowledge; corporate culture; leadership; motivated staff; customers and the systems and processes that ALLOW all of this to happen (in many cases the IT enablers).  She chose the definition in 2001- and finds that it still works.

From the millions of words written about knowledge management, she believes that the following list which outlines the Ten Principles of Knowledge Management Success, still stands strong.  They are:

1. KM is a discipline
It is much more than IT – it is a discipline to ‘capture’ knowledge correctly, AND to integrate KM into already complex work environments.

2. One Champion is Not Enough
To be successful, KM must have several ‘champions’ within an organisation.

These are people who are committed to the idea and can ‘make things happen’. Without this – it cannot and will not work.

3. Cultural Change Isn’t Automatic
KM ‘buy in’ is imperative at all levels of the organisation. This will invariably require cultural change. Therefore it is often better to start to implement KM across a particular division or part of an organisation– particularly where there is a specific problem to be solved.  People from various groups who use the system, need to work on it either directly or indirectly. It is also important to remove the myths that KM might replace people.

4. Create a Change Management Plan
If employees within an organisation are not already sharing information – they will need to be encouraged to do so – via a change management plan). (This also refers to ‘culture’ above).  The purpose of introducing any KM initiative is just about that – sharing knowledge for the use of, and betterment of the organisation.  Such a Plan also can specify how acceptance of KM can be gained (all people fear change); and what impact this will have on the people within the organisation.

5. Stay Strategic!
KM is a strategic endeavour – not just another project – it is an on-going process – it is initiated; built; available and then needs maintenance – just like any major project/undertaking in an organisation.

6. Pick a topic, Go in-depth and keep it Current
In large organisations – there would probably be 100’s of areas that need improvement; or have limited resources etc.  Starting KM could be as simple as building a robust knowledge base for that subject matter.

The important thing is to start somewhere and learn from it; share the knowledge and then move on to other areas.  Importantly, be sure to build a mechanism  that identifies gaps in content (ie information sought but not found) and a process for filling those gaps in knowledge.  If people repeatedly fail to find what they are looking for – they stop using the system.

7. Don’t Get Hung Up on the Limitations
Certain types of information are suited to being quickly harvested in a knowledge base – ie company processes or technical procedures.  By using this sort of information in a knowledge base and making it available to employees and customers, an organisation can save valuable time and resources – human and dollars.

8. Set Expectations or Risk Extinction
People don’t undertake KM initiatives because they are lacking in something to do – they undertake them because KM can save time, money and resources. However the expectations have to be set, and these expectations need to be measured. Such measurement can answer queries such as ‘where’s the ROI? from management, customers and end-users.

9. Integrate KM within Existing Systems
Typically organisations who implement KM already have established data systems – so they are not only building a knowledge base BUT must integrate this into their existing systems – ie e-mail; remote diagnostic or whatever. Therefore, when selecting a KM system consider systems that have open architecture and proven integration into your existing IT systems.

10. Education Your Self-Service Users
When the KM plan is created; the cultural components are in place; staff are trained and the key sources of knowledge are identified – NEXT step is to TRAIN your self-service users on how to access and find the knowledge on line – and how to be assured that it is a satisfying experience – otherwise they won’t use it. 

Lastly, the above information has covered the what; why; when; where; how; who of KM. 
Author, Dr Helen Paige, 31 July, 2007

 Helen and her colleague set up a KM Forum in 2004, and she is the long-standing Chair of Adelaide KM, a community of KM practice, a frequent presenter at local Knowledge Management and related international conferences, the author of various published papers on KM and business related issues? A columnist for The Advertiser and Weekend Australia newspaper and an editor on KM publications, and also a chapter editor for a forthcoming South African book on KM.

What is Applied Knowledge Management?

It is demonstrating the value of Knowledge Management by:

  • focusing on organizational culture
  • leadership
  • champions of change
  • AND using story telling as a basis of sharing knowledge*
  • understanding what hinders the management of knowledge
  • understanding how to maximize the value of knowledge workers
  • understanding the theory AND demonstrating the practical application
  • understanding the role that human capital plays in successful KM
  • developing solutions to :
    • increase organizational productivity by knowledge sharing
    • save human and other resources
    • save money and cost avoidance
    • reduce duplication
    • enhance learning and creativity
    • improve organizational communication
    • provide tangible options for changing environments

Sharing Knowledge. Much of the intellectual capital of an organisation is not written down anywhere but resides in people's minds. Communicating this 'know how' across an organisation and beyond, typically occurs informally, through the sharing of stories- ie they include a description of the problem, the setting, the solution, and who was involved. (After First Person - Telling Tales - A Storytelling Catalog, Harvard Business Review, May 2004 pp 126-127)

Services Offered include:

  • Undertaking Knowledge Management audits
  • Facilitating World Knowledge Cafes
  • Developing KM plans
  • Developing knowledge-based exit strategies to minimize organizational knowledge loss
  • Optimising 'Lessons Learned'
  • Initiating Programs for 'best practice' in KM