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Knowledge Management and Organizational Impact

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Fri Sep 20 2013

Knowledge Management and Organizational Impact
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Imagine a job you have held, the first national conference you attended, or a project you recently completed. Now think about the amount of knowledge you accumulated during those time periods. And, think about your organization, and all of the people in it: What if you were to collect large amounts of data on each one of those individuals, or try to capture all of the knowledge constantly streaming through their brains? What would that look like? At first, the data might fill a desk drawer, but as you jump from job to job, attend more conferences, work on additional projects, and watch the size of your company grow, that data, knowledge, and information would grow as well.

Eventually, running out of space would not be the challenge, but rather having the capacity to capture and sift through that data, knowledge, and information—deciphering what it means and competitively applying it to make your organization thrive.

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So what is knowledge management, and how can it meet the challenge? According to Steven Walczak in The Learning Organization (2005), in its unrefined state, “knowledge management is any process (either formal policy or informal personal methods) that facilitate the capture, distribution, creation, and application of knowledge for decision making.” Additionally, “effective knowledge management ensures that every employee has access to appropriate and the highest quality of information available at the time when a decision needs to be made.” This working definition of knowledge management suggests that streamlining knowledge and employee placement will support the appropriate collection and storage of knowledge, information, and data.

Knowledge is located everywhere throughout an organization, and for this reason, each employee is an organization’s most intellectually valuable asset. Knowledge is anything a worker learns from action. Tacit knowledge is combining this accumulate knowledge and the perceptions associated with the outcome of these events. Explicit knowledge differs from tacit knowledge in that it is codified information that is easily stored in repositories.

Most organizations capture explicit knowledge in some form or another, but if your organization does not have a strategy in place to capture tacit knowledge, competitive advantage is lost every time an employee leaves or transitions into a new role within the company. Organizations with higher turnover, such as not-for-profits, arguably are at higher risk because they face this challenge more frequently.

However, if you create a knowledge management system, you not only are capturing different types of knowledge, data, and information, but you are empowering your employees by providing access to this knowledge, data, and information—right at their fingertips.

For example, you could develop an expertise repository. This system defines each employee within an organization and matches him to his expertise, allowing individuals across the organization to see who to contact to help them solve challenges, create cross-functional teams for new projects, or share advice on topics of similar interest.

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Communities of Practice (CoPs) are another example. CoPs are groups formed around a certain topic, interest, or strategy. They bring individuals together, allowing them to share lessons learned and build from each other’s ideas and experiences—all while disseminating tacit knowledge to those who will value it across the organization.

As your organization creates processes to become more adept at using employee knowledge effectively, it will begin to build a sustainable knowledge management system. Stay tuned for my next blog post, in which I will describe the starting point for your organization to take on this important strategic initiative.

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