Knowledge is a vital asset, especially in today’s information society. But it really only has true value in practice if you can organize, manage, and use it efficiently and effectively. Knowledge management is one of the best ways to transform knowledge into tangible results and create added value for your organization.
So, what’s Knowledge Management?
In order to define the term ‘Knowledge Management’ (KM), we first need to understand fully what we mean by ‘knowledge’. We often use the words ‘knowledge’ and ‘information’ interchangeably, but knowledge is actually far more. Factors such as attitude, skills, and experience also play a role in someone’s knowledge level. Knowledge is therefore more akin to a sum total of our traits and abilities as humans.
KM is a process that focuses on creating, managing, sharing, and using all the knowledge and information available within an organization. View it as cultivating and nurturing your ‘intellectual capital’.
Yet KM is also a multidisciplinary process that focuses on purposefully deploying knowledge as a tool for boosting productivity and achieving an organization’s goals. It will help your operational processes run more smoothly, efficiently, and effectively.
What’s more, KM is an important tool within ‘learning organizations’ for implementing continuous improvement.
KM works on three levels:
Examples of KM systems
KM is a process that you can shape in one of several ways. A current, modern‑day example is the customer relationship management (CRM) system – a platform that allows you to record and maintain information about your customers and business partners, such as buying behavior, purchases, frequency, inventory, needs, and requirements. CRMs also foster collaboration between teams and departments, as information is stored centrally and made available to everyone who needs to access it.
The knowledge base (KB) is another example of a clearly structured, well-managed, and easily accessible KM system. A good KB also makes it possible to regularly share and evaluate knowledge.
KM’s benefits to companies
Companies benefit from KM in many ways:
- Knowledge management prevents ‘silos’ from forming. You may find that a lot of your company’s knowledge is concentrated within a small, select group of employees. All well and good, assuming they remain loyal to your organization, but what if they were to leave or take on a new role? They’d leave a ‘hole’ that wouldn’t be easy to fill.
- Organizations rely on increasingly complex products, services, and development processes. Surviving in our dynamic, digital age is virtually impossible without capable employees and a corresponding system for documenting their knowledge.
- Nowadays, it’s often mandatory for companies to maintain certain knowledge in-house in order to qualify or comply with certification requirements and standards. A prime example is the ISO system of standards, which many companies have adopted and which demand proper process documentation.
- Larger organizations often have offices or facilities spread around the world. In such cases, KM provides a way to share knowledge more easily between individual sites. This is one way to standardize and harmonize processes and quality levels.
- KM helps employees acquire and hone new and existing skills and competences.
- KM improves learning results because it encourages employees to put their newly acquired knowledge into practice right away.
- KM gives organizations a competitive advantage because it relies on your employees’ collective knowledge, which is generally both highly practical and relevant to developments within your sector. What’s more, it becomes much easier to respond to new requirements or changing market conditions.
- Generally speaking, diehard professionals are crazy about ‘knowledge’. They have a hunger for continuous professional development that can only be sated if you’re continually collecting and sharing relevant knowledge. By paying particular attention to KM you can often boost motivation, expertise, and versatility, too!
As is often the case, you need the right tools to implement KM properly or effectively.
1. Cloud storage
More and more companies are moving to the cloud, either wholly or partially, with tools such as Dropbox, OneDrive, and SharePoint Online, which share and synchronize files between computers.
2. Collaborative tools
Collaborative tools, such as Google Drive, provide a whole host of options to help staff work on documents together and exchange information. The paid version of Drive – Google Apps for Business – also allows you to configure the system to restrict access to people inside your organization only. This helps create a fully secure, online environment for document storage, email, scheduling, and much, much more besides. Another option is Microsoft 365 – an entire ecosystem built around a private website.
If your organization needs to create a more protected workspace and combine KM with other CRM, PM, or scheduling applications, then an intranet is an ideal solution, for example Open Atrium or WordPress.
Probably the best-known wiki of all time is Wikipedia – who doesn’t know Wikipedia? It’s a prime example of a collaborative wiki – content created and maintained by its own user community. Wikis also store an extensive page history, making version management a piece of cake. PBworks and Tiki are two examples of user-friendly knowledge sharing/collaboration platforms.
Blogs are ideal for disseminating and sharing knowledge, especially if you want to give employees detailed information about a particular topic or create an accessible, online learning environment.
Tips for successful KM
Ultimately, the success of KM depends on how well you configure your processes so that they provide genuine value to your organization as a whole, your employees, and your customers. Here are a few tips to help you on your way!
1. Take an integral approach
KM isn’t an island – it’s dependent on many, if not all your organization’s tasks, activities, and processes. That’s why it’s vital you take a company-wide approach to integrating KM with your other processes, tools, and management systems.
For example, consider how best to integrate the information in your customer databases and knowledge base systems. Then there’s IT, management, HR, marketing … each and every one a department that should be playing a major role to help make your adoption of a KM system a resounding success.
2. Emphasize ‘human capital’
KM relies entirely on support and engagement from motivated and enthusiastic employees. The technology merely provides the means – you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink!
The ‘why’ behind introducing KM is crucial, therefore. Explain its purpose and value, and why the organization has opted for such an approach. And don’t forget to explain the benefit to employees as individuals.
3. Don’t overlook the customer
The value of knowledge is largely determined by the customer. After all, it’s your customers who determine your turnover and operating results with their buying behavior. So, create your KM system with an eye to ‘reuse’ for developing services, experiences, and products for your customers.
4. Keep knowledge up to date
Knowledge soon becomes outdated. And KM isn’t a one-off exercise, but an ongoing process. So, make sure the knowledge in your systems remains usable and up to date. Evaluate and analyze its currency on a regular basis.
Visualize the skills and knowledge in your organization
KM starts with a clear picture of all your employees’ skills and knowledge. Skills matrices are perfect tools for visualizing this information and shaping your knowledge management efforts.
They allow you to see at a glance who can do what and where you need to improve matters. Take full advantage of skills matrices and add them to your arsenal of tools and resources to give your KM efforts a boost. Download a selection of skills matrix templates to get started!