It’s a certainty that in today’s knowledge-based economy, successful organizations are built on solid knowledge management infrastructures. Call them mandates for success.
The inclusive definition of knowledge management—one of the 23 capabilities within the Association for Talent Development’s new Talent Development Capability Model—covers it all: “knowledge management is the explicit and systematic management of intellectual capital and organizational knowledge, as well as the associated processes of creating, gathering, validating, categorizing, archiving, disseminating, leveraging, and using intellectual capital for improving the organization and the individuals in it.”
Knowledge management sits under the Building Professional Capability domain of the model and is critical within organizations because lost institutional knowledge can cost organizations real money in the form of training, turnover, and recruitment costs.
Along with understanding the principles of knowledge management (i.e. managing, preserving, and maintaining organizational knowledge, TD professionals must be able to:
- Design and implement a knowledge management strategy.
- Identify the quality, authenticity, accuracy, impartiality, or relevance of information from various sources (for example, databases, print and online media, speeches and presentations, and observations).
- Organize and synthesize information from multiple sources (for example, databases, print and online media, speeches and presentations, and observations).
- Curate instructional content, tools, and resources (for example, researching, evaluating, selecting, or assembling publicly available online courseware).
- Identify the type and amount of information needed to support talent development activities.
- Develop, manage, facilitate, or support knowledge networks and communities of practice.
“Organizations sometimes overlook the importance of this vital function,” explains Dana Vogelmeier, an Ohio-based workplace culture strategist and the Central Ohio ATD Chapter president.
She finds that understandable because the fulfillment of knowledge management-related initiatives can consume valuable time, talent, and resources. Achieving the goals of these initiatives can require sign-off by executives outside of TD who have many competing priorities, she says. The result can be an arduous process to replace deeply entrenched business practices.
It happened at Vogelmeier’s former employer, a large insurance company where she was senior learning manager. A bold, new knowledge management initiative from her department was met with resistance from units within corporate divisions—and with good reason.
It called for revamping a longstanding system that enabled the company’s separate divisions and departments to independently develop and maintain procedures for common business practices such as writing, publishing, and selling various types of policies, and performing other administrative functions. The divisions also maintained separate TD units to train their independent staffs accordingly.
Not only was the arrangement inefficient, it barred the company’s central learning organization from developing and delivering certain uniform content for employees. “We could not develop level 1.01 courses containing basic information that everyone needed to know,” Vogelmeier attests. For example, when employees transferred to other departments, the content they had to re-learn didn’t resemble the previous curriculum, she adds.
The proposed plan called for replacing the company’s ad hoc systems with a centralized knowledge management entity authorized to develop and standardize new company-wide procedures for all common administrative and learning activities. The initiative was launched by the CLO with full support from senior executives to prioritize an agenda and win collaboration from disparate units throughout the company. At its heart was the development of a functional and enlightened KM strategy that would help prepare the company for the future, says Vogelmeier.
In short, the initiative finally enabled the learning organization to conduct its many vital knowledge management duties encompassed within ATD’s definition above.
“A sound knowledge management program would ensure that all learning content throughout the company was authorized and correct,” she says. “Next came the marriage of training programs to the knowledge management tool so that newly trained personnel could grow with access to relevant job and performance information.”
The campaign’s final chapter was to garner buy-in from business units regarding the clear benefits of procedural standardization. Principal among them was the overwhelming need for a knowledge management tool that would be based on standardized content language approved by a single company-wide “authoritative voice.”
Looking back, Vogelmeier says such redundant activities impacting knowledge management goals and needs are not uncommon within organizations. They invariably result, she contends, when busy executives pursue multiple initiatives and only later question their priorities. “Nobody ever sets out to ‘not do’ this,” she maintains. She defines her former company’s own preknowledge management chapter as a “transition period,” not an operations failure.
“The efficiencies created by a sound knowledge management initiative like this are enormous for any sized organization,” Vogelmeier asserts. Principal among them, she believes, is the enormous savings in time and “a new look and feel of the whole organization” that benefits all employees as they transfer to new roles.