We've all heard the cliché “knowledge is power,” but what use is knowledge in the workplace if it is trapped inside your employees’ heads?
There is no shortage of information on the subject of knowledge management (KM), but the topic is hot with good reason. KM has a direct impact on costs, in the form of—among other things—training, operational errors, and even a potential loss of customers.
Consider how many times your organization has lost valuable expertise and knowledge when an employee left? Or, perhaps you had a brilliant idea that could help your colleagues, but you kept silent about it?
In the U.S. alone, about 10,000 baby boomers retire every day. How we collect and manage their knowledge is critical.
Is your workplace equipped to manage the exponential flow of corporate data?
What is knowledge management? A definition of knowledge management
Knowledge management is defined as the process of creating, sharing, and managing the knowledge within an organization. It is based on the theory that an organization’s most valuable resource is the knowledge of its people.
At some level, we are all knowledge managers. We manage knowledge acquired through training, or through experience. We manage knowledge that is learned, and knowledge that is innate. There is rarely a time when we’re not actively managing our knowledge in some way, shape, or form.
Knowledge management in the workplace involves collecting and curating collective employee knowledge, and applying that knowledge to achieve specific goals. It is about ensuring that employees have the knowledge and information they need—where they need it, when they need it, and in the format they need it.
Knowledge management is critical because it establishes an environment where employees can create, learn, share, and leverage intelligence together for the benefit of the organization.
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History of knowledge management
The desire to manage knowledge isn’t new. It’s been hypothesized that cave art during prehistoric times was much more than art. It was likely an attempt to keep a record of species seen before. Aristotle also touched on the topic of KM in his 20 volume Metaphysics. His philosophies forced us to question not just knowledge per se, but the process we employ in the search for the truth. Aristotle also understood the value of sharing such acquired knowledge with others, stating, “The one exclusive sign of thorough knowledge is the power of teaching.”
Nearly every historic revolution applied concepts of knowledge management differently, yet with a comparable intent. While the early focus of knowledge management was on making the most of limited resources, by the 1970s the outcome shifted to creating a competitive advantage.
By the early 2000s, the discussion pivoted to the concept of a knowledge-sharing culture within the workplace.
And yet, over 20 years later, companies are still struggling to adopt knowledge management and knowledge sharing initiatives.
Types of knowledge
There are generally two distinct types of knowledge: explicit knowledge and tacit knowledge.
- Explicit knowledge is the type of knowledge that can be captured and written down. Examples include instruction manuals, lessons learned, written procedures, best practices, and research findings.
- Tacit knowledge is completely different because it’s the knowledge employees carry in their head; it cannot always be easily written down. A common example cited is usually riding a bicycle. Could you write down instructions for someone to learn to ride a bicycle?
Tacit knowledge is trickier than explicit knowledge, because most of us aren’t even aware of the tacit knowledge inside our heads, or more importantly, the value it holds. Tacit knowledge is more important than explicit knowledge because it provides context for people, places, ideas, and experiences.
The implications of employee turnover on knowledge management
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) estimates the annual turnover rate for companies at around 19 percent.
A certain amount of turnover is healthy and expected, assuming, of course, you are prepared for it. But what are you doing now to preserve your employees’ knowledge before they are gone?
The mass exodus of baby boomers—also known as the silver tsunami—is both inevitable and unavoidable. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that as many as one out of ten workers will retire either this year or the next. Without a strategy in place, losing 10% of your employees can have serious consequences.
Every time an employee leaves, they’re taking critical knowledge with them. And in an era where every employee is a subject matter expert in something, that puts most organizations in a precarious position. Turnover can potentially result in:
- Lost knowledge if a departing employee hasn’t shared their tacit or explicit knowledge.
- Knowledge leaks as a result of a departing employee reusing acquired knowledge at a new employer.
- Significant time spent educating and training new employees.
To prevent knowledge from walking out the door as your workforce retires or leaves it is necessary to have a plan in place. Succession planning ensures new employees have the skills, ability, and knowledge to do the job.
What does knowledge management involve?
There are many components to knowledge management. Knowledge management isn’t about setting up a new department, creating a role, or acquiring a new technology application. It’s not about a large or sudden change in an organization, but rather small changes in the way everyone works. It involves changing values and culture, changing employee behavior and work patterns, and providing employees with easy access to each other and relevant information.
But knowledge management isn’t just about the data, it’s about getting the right information to the right people at the right time. A successful knowledge management strategy involves people, processes, and technology.
The role of an intranet in knowledge management
As information continues to grow and spread within the workplace, it is taking longer for employees to find the information they require to do their jobs.
Intranet software can help employees capture intelligence, uncover important data, and improve customer service. An intranet can hold critical information for the daily functions of your business and can provide an effective way to store important intelligence regarding your customers, employees, products, and services. As knowledge management software, it can also help uncover communities of interest and practice within your workplace.
Sharing knowledge in the workplace through an intranet has a direct impact on productivity. As revealed by consulting firm McKinsey, the use of social technologies can raise the productivity of knowledge workers by 20 to 25 percent.
As knowledge management software, an intranet aids employees in accessing information to address customer support concerns, resolve problems, and uncovering additional insight. All of this results in improved customer satisfaction, increased profits, and stronger employee morale.
Intranets also allow employees to share information internally by facilitating conversation rather than a one-way communication. This level of open communication prompts discussion and allows subject matter experts to easily share their expertise and insights.
Finally, intranets can support users regardless of their geographical location. So whether your employees are in different countries, continents, or are simply not desk-based, they can still easily access and share information.
No one knows everything. And even if you think you do, new information is being continually created, so there will always be new knowledge to acquire.
On final thing to consider is that pressuring employees to share knowledge won’t work; neither will rolling out knowledge management software just for the sake of it. If your people do not understand the significance and impact of sharing knowledge, they likely won’t share that knowledge.
In other words, if knowledge management strategy is on your radar, you need to first design and foster an environment where employees actually want to share what they know.
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