Organizations run on knowledge. From the knowledge to produce and distribute a unique product to the knowledge of providing top-notch services with a specialized focus, organizations and their offerings are fueled by subject matter expertise both internal and external to the organization’s structure.
Further, an underrated aspect of institutional knowledge is the generation of new knowledge through the work being done by the organization’s members. As the organization’s mission is executed, new things are learned about efficiencies and work, about customers and vendors, and about customers and other stakeholders. This knowledge, if harnessed and communicated to the right people, can be a powerful competitive advantage for the organization.
Challenges to Knowledge Management
Knowledge management is tricky for several reasons. First, knowledge isn’t something that’s always easily distilled into information artifacts: objects that capture knowledge, either written or in other media. Knowledge that can easily be communicated this way is called “explicit” knowledge. This contrasts with “tacit” knowledge that can’t be easily communicated through an artifact. This is because tacit knowledge “lives” inside the minds of individuals and groups and that grows and changes constantly.
Another reason why managing knowledge is difficult is that organizational culture and context has a massive impact on what tools and techniques might work to facilitate good knowledge capture and transfer. What works in one organization might be disastrous in another.
The keys to good knowledge management, then, are a thorough understanding of the organization’s culture, structure, and area of expertise as well as the ability to create lasting changes and to close knowledge and communication gaps.
Vital Tools for Knowledge and Information Management
Good knowledge management requires careful strategic planning with a flexible mindset. A systematic approach that experiments with techniques and gauges learning will allow organizations to experiment with what fits their employees and culture.
Here are some tools that might be useful:
- An archive of information artifacts. While most organizations store their files in directories such as SharePoint, shared drives, OneDrive, or Dropbox, a thoughtful, organized approach will be required to ensure information is accessible and isn’t easily lost. The archive needs to be maintained and information needs to stay current and updated.
- A solid search and retrieval tool. Once an archive reaches a few hundred information artifacts, not only is it a challenge to search and find information, but resources can languish or worse, be recreated if the original is considered lost. A tool like the Soutron Information Management System speeds up searching by deploying expansive metadata features and a flexible database to promote findability that fits the organization.
- Trainings and shadowing. A way to transfer tacit knowledge is pairing of experienced employees with less experienced ones. This allows on-the-job knowledge transfer of techniques that the more experienced employees might not be able to write down or might not think to transfer. The less experienced employees can learn how the job is done and get advice in real time.
- Knowledge sharing sessions. Interactive sessions may fit the organization’s goals of imparting knowledge across functional areas and teams. The effectiveness of this will depend on the culture of the organization and how willing employees are to share their insights. This technique can also promote communication of strategic or competitive insights to management.
- Customized multimedia training. The deployment of video, interactive professional development training modules, and audio lessons could promote learning and knowledge sharing for employees who learn in different ways. The Soutron Information Management System allows cataloging and integration of videos hosted on YouTube, including multimedia knowledge in search results with other information artifacts.
Build and Iterate on Custom Techniques
Constructing a solid plan for how you will gather, share, and promote knowledge can be challenging, but has tremendous upside for the organization. Effective knowledge management can improve efficiency by reducing re-work and can help the organization capitalize on competitive knowledge quickly.
The key to successful planning is experimentation and feedback. The plan needs to be flexible enough to adjust and to fit the organization’s workflows and culture. As the organization learns about what works and what doesn’t, a more robust and mature knowledge environment will emerge.
By John Connolly, MLIS, PMP
John Connolly, PMP is a project manager and librarian with more than 15 years of experience in management in software and special libraries. He has a strong background in cataloguing, metadata generation, information management, and knowledge management.