Click to learn more about author Sandra Lupanava.
Modern organizations are excited about innovative solutions built with the latest technologies. Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, and IoT are true tech icons every company wants to incorporate into their business processes. Obsessed with the global technology race, organizations seem to forget about down-to-earth but important enterprise processes, such as Knowledge Management.
How critical is it for a company to support Knowledge Management? And how to catch up with Knowledge Management if your organization has been overlooking it for a while? Let’s find out.
Is Knowledge Management in Crisis?
Propelled by the community at the end of the 20th century, Knowledge Management now goes through difficult times. Organizations spend less time on Knowledge Management activities and show a moderate interest in Knowledge Management solutions.
Stan Garfield, one of the top Knowledge Management influencers, enumerates several negative trends in the domain:
- Once well-developed Knowledge Management channels are slowing down or have already disappeared
- Several large communities became inactive
- Organizations keep cutting costs on Knowledge Management
- Technologies prevail over human-centric Knowledge Management initiatives.
But what is the key reason for this visible decline of Knowledge Management?
Let’s have a look at the example of document management. While it’s another anti-hype domain today, it hasn’t lost its importance in organizations thanks to its smooth transformation from a paper-based into a digitized process. This transformation was successful because the core information medium in document management is a formalized document. Both paper and digital documents fulfill the same function: they keep and transmit a particular type of data. The only thing that changed is the way people interact with a document, while the document management logic has stayed the same.
Knowledge Management is more sophisticated. It embraces all types of activities involving explicit knowledge recorded on a particular medium (books, guides, catalogs, etc.). At the same time, Knowledge Management also includes a non-formalized part that touches upon knowledge stored in the human brain (tacit knowledge). The latter is impossible to digitize in its initial form, so organizations can only control how employees share their knowledge and provide them with the needed means to transform tacit knowledge into explicit. Unfortunately, for now, there isn’t any universal and widely effective way to ensure quality tacit Knowledge Management. As a result, organizations often skip it and deal with formalized knowledge only. In the worst scenario, Knowledge Management doesn’t get any attention at all.
Numbers can prove the organizations’ overall inertia in Knowledge Management.
“2017 State of Knowledge Management” by TSIA and Coveo shows that the average rate of corporate Knowledge Management culture is 6.37 out of 10. However, more than the third of respondents rated their culture as 5 or below, which is quite modest.
When it comes to regular Knowledge Management activities within companies, negative tendencies are even more evident. The same report states that 40% of respondents from companies with low Knowledge Management culture and more than 20% of respondents from high-culture companies assert that they don’t capture best practices and lessons learned at all. Companies of both types affirm that KM metrics rarely make part of executive reviews, while the total of 57% of respondents say that they haven’t updated their corporate content for a very long time. To make things worse, 55% of companies with low Knowledge Management culture and 29% of companies with high culture don’t support any processes or tools to identify knowledge gaps.
Why Neglecting Knowledge Management is Risky?
Negative tendencies on the Knowledge Management field are obvious but are they dangerous for organizations?
It’s true that neglecting Knowledge Management practices won’t have an immediate destructive effect on a company. However, Knowledge Management flaws can accumulate over years and affect organizations substantially in the long run.
- Knowledge Gaps Affecting Operations
Smaller companies are less exposed to KM problems as employees collaborate closely and exchange knowledge freely. However, as a company’s size increases, so does the risk of knowledge gaps. Isolated teams that never communicate with each other, representatives of different generations with different knowledge, and employees from geographically distributed offices all are subject to collaboration boundaries. As a result, they are the first candidates to face Knowledge Management difficulties. Knowledge segregation and immobility in such isolated groups can provoke knowledge gaps and discoordination between employees, which can affect their activities and hinder their work outcomes.
- Ineffective Decision-making
A disorganized Knowledge Management process may be a sign of widespread content and data disorders. In such conditions, it’s very hard to understand how reliable the content dispersed over corporate resources is. This can become a stumbling block for newcomers who may take wrong decisions based on outdated and unverified knowledge. Regular employees can also get trapped by the knowledge chaos especially if they get different knowledge from multiple sources and can’t contact a knowledge owner.
- Hindered Customer Service
The TSIA’s report shows that 62% of companies with high Knowledge Management culture and 34% of low-culture organizations identify knowledge gaps from customer feedback. Companies with a stronger culture have bigger chances to close the gap quickly relying on the already accumulated knowledge. On the contrary, companies with lower culture may spend substantial amounts of time to understand the nature of a knowledge gap and close it. In this case, keeping customers on hold is impossible, so the risk of losing them grows.
How to Start the Knowledge Management Reboot?
All in all, Knowledge Management is fundamental to a variety of daily processes. Knowledge Management activities, in their turn, are necessary to keep enterprise knowledge updated, homogeneous, and accessible to every employee in an organization.
If your organization has a weak Knowledge Management culture, it’s reasonable to consider both short-term and long-term objectives in order to revitalize Knowledge Management processes.
The essence of short-term activities is to bring back to life already implemented Knowledge Management practices and solutions. It’s also about making Knowledge Management activities regular, dynamic, and structured.
- Reviewing Implemented Solutions
Almost every organization has a Knowledge Management solution in place, be it a corporate wiki, blog, or a simple knowledge library. The problem is that often such knowledge repositories don’t get the proper maintenance, so they quickly become outdated and bring no value.
The first step a company can take is to review abandoned Knowledge Management solutions and assess their state. Reviewing and relaunching an already existing solution can be more cost- and time-effective than developing and implementing a brand-new solution.
Such a review can show that the implemented solution requires minor content cleaning to be reused. Some companies might need to improve their solution’s performance to restore a positive user adoption. If you run a sophisticated Knowledge Management system, comprehensive testing can help you reveal issues that hinder its productivity and affect user experience.
- Identifying Core Knowledge Domains
At this stage, the task is to identify knowledge areas that are critical to a company’s operation or necessary to stand out in a particular business segment. Organizing Knowledge Management processes within 2-3 limited domains require less time and effort than setting up organization-wide Knowledge Management workflows. Once organizations get used to handling the core knowledge areas, they can spread them across other domains and offer the established Knowledge Management patterns to different teams.
- Detecting Knowledge Gaps
Identifying knowledge domains will also let organizations understand their strengths and weaknesses. Trying to set up a comprehensive Knowledge Management process while having severe gaps in the core knowledge is useless. That’s why organizations should fill critical gaps as soon as possible and only then switch to high-level Knowledge Management practices.
- Identifying Knowledge Sources and Knowledge Owners
To close the identified knowledge gaps, it’s important to find knowledge resources or knowledge owners. If a company already has the needed knowledge in corporate content bases, document storages and wikis, the task is to refresh this knowledge and spread it. If the explicit knowledge is missing, the company can either look for a knowledge owner (a person who has the needed knowledge and can share it) or obtain the needed knowledge from external resources (research, report, article, training, etc.).
Short-term goals are to fix the most urgent organizational Knowledge Management needs and close severe gaps. Long-term objectives can include strategic steps necessary to build a robust Knowledge Management cycle across the organization.
- Choosing Catchy Knowledge Formats
Employees devoted to traditional document-based knowledge can handle knowledge bases easily. On the contrary, employees preferring media content will hardly like boring knowledge libraries. Offering the most comfortable knowledge formats to different employees is important not only to engage them but also to enable them to learn the new knowledge quickly.
”2017 State of Knowledge Management” shows that almost 80% of companies with high Knowledge Management scores use videos actively as one of the essential knowledge sources. Surprisingly, the research reveals that employees aren’t choosy about the video quality, so even “handmade” videos have big chances to become popular.
- Making Knowledge Closer to Employees
Organizations often become victims of their own Knowledge Management rigidity. Having established the process of explicit Knowledge Management, companies rarely change their Knowledge Management course over years. However, the traditional approach to Knowledge Management might not work in modern enterprises.
Knowledge Management should get out of its formal boundaries and accompany employees during their working process. Employees need to have Knowledge Management features included in their core working tools, as well as access knowledge wherever they need it on any device.
- Marrying Knowledge and Technologies
American Productivity and Quality Center (APQC) highlights that even though organizations are interested in modern technologies, particularly AI and Cognitive Computing, Knowledge Management can still hardly benefit from these technologies because companies aren’t active in investing in smart Knowledge Management solutions. At the same time, as the technology advance won’t slow down in the coming years, organizations will have to include the technology transformation of their Knowledge Management programs and activities into their agenda.
- (Re)considering Rewarding Models
Knowledge Management becomes unpopular as soon as employees start to neglect Knowledge Management activities. This is a logical result because employees often don’t understand why they need Knowledge Management and what benefits they can get out of it. The TSIA’s research says that only 6% of respondents from companies with high Knowledge Management culture offer bonus programs based on Knowledge Management outcomes, while such programs are totally absent in low-culture companies. However, establishing a motivation program is crucial to engage employees in the Knowledge Management process, so organizations shouldn’t skip this step.
Start Small, Think Big
Knowledge Management is a complex enterprise process. While it may seem to be unimportant, Knowledge Management is the core of a business’ healthy operation and quality customer service. Neglecting Knowledge Management activities and overlooking knowledge gaps can affect both employees and organizational workflows.
Establishing a fully operational Knowledge Management program is a hard task, so when organizations see the scope of work to do, they lose their enthusiasm quickly. However, even small activities can make Knowledge Management more efficient and become a basis for building a robust Knowledge Management culture in the future.
Starting with knowledge cleaning, refreshing, and structuring can bring substantial benefits, as it allows employees to find the needed information faster and make fewer mistakes. Inscribing Knowledge Management activities into daily working processes is what will help companies maintain enterprise knowledge and ensure its integrity.