Research shows many companies aren’t maximizing the value that comes from knowledge management processes and systems.
Peter Drucker coined the term knowledge worker in 1959 in his book The Landmarks of Tomorrow. He defined this individual as a high-level worker who applies theoretical and analytical knowledge to develop products and services.
He asserted that knowledge workers would be the most valuable assets of a 21st-century organization. Since that term hit business lexicon, the number of knowledge workers has only increased.
“Knowledge has been and will continue to be a key competitive differentiator when it comes to driving organizational performance,” according to Deloitte’s 2020 Global Human Capital Trends report. “The power of people and machines working together offers the greatest opportunity for creating knowledge in human history.”
But those same emerging technologies, efficiencies, and shifts in working arrangements that have helped to advance knowledge workers have in many cases also made it difficult for workers to share and manage the knowledge they need to perform.
“To capitalize on these changes, many organizations need to redefine how they promote knowledge creation to help maximize human potential at work,” Deloitte states.
That’s where knowledge management comes into play. The primary purpose of knowledge management processes and knowledge sharing is to give all employees access to the information they need to efficiently perform their daily work activities. Other goals are to help those new to an organization level up on its systems and procedures, as well as provide companies with a way to capture departing employees’ unique knowledge.
Knowledge management explained
The Association for Talent Development’s Knowledge Sharing and Knowledge Management: Keys to a Culture of Learning report defines knowledge management as an approach for identifying, capturing, evaluating, retrieving, sharing, storing, and organizing a company’s information assets, which may include databases, documents, policies, procedures, and expertise from employees. The 664 talent development professionals surveyed for the report referred to knowledge sharing as the process of employees sharing information with one another outside formal learning opportunities such as training. Examples include sharing articles, creating job aids or how-to documents, or having an informal conversation about the organization or its processes.
The Deloitte study offers a pared-down description, with 55 percent of respondents saying they define knowledge management as simply documenting and disseminating knowledge.
Lack of follow-through
Yet, although three in four organizations that Deloitte surveyed said creating and preserving knowledge across evolving workforces was important or very important for their success, only 9 percent said they are very ready to address this trend. Likewise, only 44 percent of companies in the ATD study said they have a formal process in which knowledge sharing is encouraged or required.
Instead, 53 percent in the ATD survey reported having an informal process, in which employees shared knowledge as needed but weren’t encouraged or required to do so. The top knowledge-sharing tool identified was internal messaging programs such as Slack or Microsoft Teams, which 62 percent of organizations used. And half of those surveyed said they also enabled employees to share knowledge by posting directly to a knowledge management system.
“With the explosion of workforce conversations on digital collaboration tools, knowledge no longer sits in databases waiting to be accessed but flows dynamically across the digital communications channels that now define working relationships,” explains Deloitte.
And even though talent development professionals said a knowledge-sharing process can improve employee productivity and quality, ATD found that no one was responsible for knowledge management at 47 percent of organizations. When asked what the most important knowledge management responsibilities entailed, respondents said many involved platforms, whether instructing employees about how to use them (64 percent), selecting them and overseeing their implementation (59 percent), or tracking and monitoring their use (56 percent).
Beyond understanding the technology and knowledge management platforms, ATD’s Talent Development Capability Model says an individual responsible for knowledge management should be skilled in these areas:
- Designing and implementing a knowledge management strategy
- Identifying the quality, authenticity, accuracy, impartiality, or relevance of information from various sources (for example, databases, print and online media, speeches and presentations, and observations)
- Organizing and synthesizing information from multiple sources (for example, databases, print and online media, speeches and presentations, and observations)
- Curating instructional content, tools, and resources (for example, researching, evaluating, selecting, or assembling publicly available online courseware)
- Identifying the type and amount of information needed to support talent development activities
- Developing, managing, facilitating, or supporting knowledge networks and communities of practice
Both studies reveal that many organizations fail to treat knowledge management as a priority. According to Deloitte, key barriers include organizational silos (55 percent), lack of incentives (37 percent), and lack of an organizational mandate (35 percent). Those point to the fact that, as Deloitte explains, “many organizations need to do more than provide the infrastructure to share and create knowledge; they need to redefine the value associated with it as well.”
Read more from CTDO magazine: Essential talent development content for C-suite leaders.