Knowledge Management / article

What is knowledge management?

Knowledge management is the process of creating, curating, sharing, utilizing and managing knowledge across a whole company and even across industries. 

Search engines makes knowledge management look easy. It takes advantage of a vast, internationally connected knowledge base (also known as the internet). You just enter a topic and get the information you need. Bam. Done. But for your company, knowledge management can get, well, complicated.

The good news? There’s plenty of helpful information out there on how to get it right––and you’ll find a lot of it right here (No googling necessary). You’ll get tips and advice you need to make your knowledge management practices effective all across your company.

Tacit, explicit and implicit knowledge

It's important to remember that knowledge management is a constant cycle of taking knowledge that's tacit or implicit, and enabling its availability in the form of explicit knowledge. Say what? Let's take a step back and understand the 3 different types of knowledge that exist.

Tacit knowledge is knowledge that stems from personal experience, context, or practice. This type of knowledge is stuck in your brain, making it hard to communicate to others. Since tacit knowledge is based on experience and intuition, like speaking another language, it's a huge competitive advantage and a huge challenge when implementing knowledge management systems.

Explicit knowledge is codified knowledge, or knowledge that has been documented and is easily accessible. Given its simple nature, explicit knowledge is much easier to store and retrieve in a knowledge management system. The challenge is ensuring it's reviewed and updated.

Implicit knowledge is embedded in process, routines, or organizational culture. It can exist in a formalized format, like a manual or written guidelines, but the knowledge itself isn't explicit. Instead, it often lives in the way an organization runs.

knowledge management cycle

By understanding the 3 different types of knowledge, you can better understand how the knowledge within your company should be managed. When done the right way, it can help create value, foster innovation, and make it easier to achieve goals. That’s why it’s a system embraced by organizations all around the world, and many companies depend on knowledge management strategies and principles to work together efficiently.

Why knowledge management is the secret to success

Effective knowledge management harnesses the knowledge of people throughout your organization, and then easily shares that knowledge between staff members. You don’t lose any of that critical thinking when someone goes on vacation, gets sick, or leaves the company. You can use knowledge management to develop a knowledge base that includes everything from documents that support frequently asked questions to troubleshooting tips or foundational information about your subject matter. From a big-picture standpoint, it will enable you to:

benefits of knowledge management

Create value. Get the right information to the right people at the right time.

Foster innovation. Use shared knowledge to inspire brainstorming, collaboration and big ideas.

Reach goals. Enable teams to set targets and actually hit them.

Once you have a plan in place, you’ll start to see more-concrete returns on your investment. For organizations large and small, knowledge management puts content at the fingertips of those who develop and provide your products and services. This is a benefit on its own, but it also helps shorten development cycles for new initiatives; increases connectivity between internal and external personnel; enables more effective management of business enviornments; and leverages the intellectual capital and assets in your workforce.

There is something in knowledge management for everyone

Whatever your business or market, people throughout your organization have valuable knowledge worth sharing––we’re talking everyone. With a plan in place, workers across disciplines and departments can access your company’s knowledge base to solve problems and prevent future ones (not that we’re being pessimistic). Although it can (and should) be used by any team, knowledge management usually works best with teams that have repetitive processes as it helps prevent duplicate work.

Some of the departments that typically use knowledge management are IT, customer support, HR, legal, and even marketing or finance. Why? Because all of these departments have knowledge that constantly needs to be shared with a team or a whole organization. A notable example is knowledge-centered support (KCS) for IT and customer support roles, which has become a widely used methodology to help in resolving complex issues, faster.

How to implement knowledge management (in a few reasonable steps)

Knowledge management can be complicated, but it isn’t brain surgery. Just remember, even after you’ve implemented a knowledge management system, the work is ongoing. There’s a constant cycle of adding new material and eliminating items that are outdated, as well as the discovery of hidden knowledge.. It’s important to assign someone to own the content, so it’s always fresh. Here are the other key steps to making it work for you and your organization.

1. Identify your business situation and develop objectives and goals.

By first conducting an internal analysis of your firm, you’ll be able to align the knowledge management system with where your business needs to go.

2. Prepare your organization for implementation.

Acknowledge that this is a big deal. It’s going to require cultural changes. By getting people onboard you’ll avoid having anyone go, uh, overboard.

3. Form a knowledge management team.

Might seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how often organizations forget this. The first step in implementing any new process is putting someone in charge.

4. Conduct a knowledge audit.

Do some detective work. Poke around. See what knowledge is buried, and where it’s buried. Find out what’s missing, and begin to set the stage for what you want to do. For tacit knowledge, this process requires observation, interviews, or surveying the experts.

5. Determine your technology needs and prioritize those needs.

Get a little techy. Figure out what tools you’ll need to implement knowledge management. Plan for the costs now. It’ll be easier to incur them later.

6. Determine the key attributes and features of your knowledge management system.

Figure out what you want your system to look like. Then make a list. Make sure everything lines up internally––that the  technology and scope will lead to the profitability, results, and happy stakeholders you need. Not sure what to look for? Check out the next section for a few ideas.

7. Put everything you know in one place.

You have a lot of knowledge. But it’s everywhere. Aggregate your knowledge with a solution provider that provides a single repository, one that’s simple to use and easy to access. This knowledge base makes it easy for people throughout your organization to learn and to serve your customers. And makes life a lot easier for all involved.

8. Measure and improve your program.

Once it’s launched, step back and take a gander. Measure what’s working and what isn’t. Adjust accordingly. Update constantly. Don’t let things get stale. People hate stale.

What to look for in knowledge management software

Great software makes knowledge management simple. So before you jump into implementation, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does it promote and foster collaboration and communication?
  • Can people in your organization label, share, and organize content?
  • Can you customize it and add functionality?
  • Is it flexible enough to adapt to the changes of your organizations’s need?
  • Does it handle migration seamlessly?
  • Is it scalable for a growing organization?
  • How secure will it keep your system?
  • Is it measurable?
  • Does it make navigation easy, intuitive?
  • How powerful is the search engine?
  • Can it segment information into different projects, topics, etc.?
  • Can it integrate with your existing software?
  • Does it allow flexible permissions?
  • Are there social media-style elements such as “liking” and “commenting?”

Aside from functionality, and most importantly, make sure your knowledge management system is needs-driven and solves for things like generating ideas and innovations, fostering a knowledge-sharing culture and community, enabling the discovery and building of expertise, and promoting feedback.

needs-driven knowledge management system

Put knowledge management to work for you, today

There’s no doubt that effective knowledge management can have a significant impact on how you run your business, and on how you interact with your customers.

Figure out how to put knowledge management to work for you and your organization, starting now. Because, why wait?