Over the last decade, many organizations have embraced the idea that they can become more productive and competitive by better managing knowledge — the ideas, insights and expertise that originate in the human mind. This is beneficial in theory, but the implementation hasn’t always resulted in better products and services or more effective employees and superior work processes.
Where did these firms go wrong? Some stumbled by focusing their knowledge-management efforts solely on technology, at the expense of everything else. Others failed to tie knowledge programs to the overall activities and goals of the business.
Knowledge management is defined as a concerted effort to improve how knowledge is created, delivered and used. There is no single correct recipe or formula for managing knowledge. The most effective method depends on the organization’s overall objectives. Let’s take a closer look at three knowledge-management activities.
Knowledge creation. Organizations with the best knowledge-creation programs solicit ideas, insights and innovations from the rank and file, customers and business partners rather than relying solely on R&D. Websites, corporate blogs and wikis (websites where anyone can edit, delete or modify content) encourage and facilitate broad participation.
Knowledge dissemination. Disseminating knowledge via technology is the most common activity within knowledge management. Organizations share knowledge through a variety of platforms including intranets, web portals and data-based software programs. In contemporary approaches to knowledge sharing, the focus increasingly is on consolidating all the content a group of workers needs to support the jobs or processes they deem to be most critical.
Knowledge application. Obtaining and sharing knowledge is only beneficial if employees use it to get better at what they do. Many organizations find that the best way to get workers to put knowledge to use is through “learning” programs such as mentoring, on-the-job training, workshops and initiatives usually run by HR departments. In the past, most organizations treated knowledge and learning as separate entities, managed by different departments with little coordination. This is changing as learning and knowledge initiatives are increasingly intertwined and focused on mission-critical work forces.
There are, of course, other ways to think about knowledge and the role it plays in your organization. By focusing on knowledge creation, dissemination and application, an organization will at the very least ensure they are giving knowledge the attention it deserves. As knowledge-based work plays an increasingly important role in economic life, knowledge will only grow in importance as a business resource.