PATHWAYS Volume 11, Number 2 May, 1999
Focus: The Need to Share Knowledge Assets
"Knowledge assets," "knowledge management," "intellectual capital," and similar terms have made their way into business and trade publications. Regardless what you call them, knowledge assets have become critical as organizations move from traditional, product-oriented structures toward less tangible, service-oriented structures.
The knowledge asset vision entails the following components:
But, this vision faces numerous challenges:
Significant evidence is now in. Overcoming these challenges, to create a system for sharing the organizations experience and expertise, is key to the survival of most organizations. Organizations with robust knowledge management systems believe that these systems are a key element in helping them survive and prosper. Some of the benefits they report include:
In the At Issue section that follows Van O. Wright, FLIs Manager of Product Quality Control, proposes a framework for the development of a knowledge management strategy for an organization.
AT ISSUE: Creating a Knowledge Management Strategy
This issue starts with the assumption that your organization has bought into knowledge management in principle, and is trying to formulate an effective approach. The approach described here is a broad, strategic framework, not a specific, tactical solution. Some organizations will adopt quite different tactics than others, but the strategic approach described here can help any organization.
The strategic approach we suggest is:
Lets examine each of these strategic steps in turn.
Step 1Identify the Potential Value of a Knowledge Management Program
How will a successful knowledge management program bring value to your organization? What would be of significant strategic value to senior management? To employees? To customers and vendors? The following are some areas you might consider:
These are but a few areas where better access to an organizations knowledge assets might result in tangible benefits. You will likely find others of value to your own organization.
Here are some ideas to get started:
Develop a list of one to three benefits areas you see as having highest potential. Discuss your ideas with managers who have a vested interest in results and identify one or more managers who are interested in your ideas.
Be sure you consider all the knowledge assets of the organization. Resist the tendency to consider only existing, documented knowledge.
Focus on one or a very few high-potential organizational units. Look for units:
Note: It is probably not worthwhile at this point to attempt to quantify a return on investment. For now, simply identify any opportunities that management would readily accept as having high potential return if realized.
Step 2Identify the Key Implementation Elements of Your Strategy
Once you have identified ways a knowledge management program could potentially benefit your organization (or some of its sub-units), you need to begin defining key elements of an implementation strategy.
Define an infrastructure appropriate to the organization. The infrastructure you specify will be unique to your organization, but it should consider all knowledge asset sources. Consider what kind of human resources will be available for mentoring, coaching, and otherwise passing along wisdom and experience. Consider the technological tools available (or that could be acquired) to support asset storage and retrieval. How will your infrastructure support both sub-units and the organization as a whole?
Adopt a Phased Approach. Unless your organization is relatively small, attempting to introduce a knowledge management program across the entire organization is a high-risk venture. You can do much to reduce risk and insure success by adopting a phased approach. Pick one or two high potential sub-unit opportunities for your Phase One project. Then define additional phases that will be implemented across the organization based on Phase One success.
Name the Initiative. This may seem trivial, but it is important. You need to have a name for your knowledge management initiative one you can refer to as you and other stakeholders "walk the talk."
Develop Appropriate Reward Systems. Knowledge sharing is antithetical to the basic culture of many organizations. Appropriate recognition in the form of reward systems will be critical to reversing such attitudes. Selling management decision makers on the need for appropriate rewards systems is also critical.
Structure an Implementation Plan. Formalize your analysis so that it can be presented to management as a well-thought-out, structured whole. The plan should:
Step 3Obtain Management Approval and Backing
With the work you have accomplished during Steps 1 and 2, you are prepared to present your knowledge management strategy to management. It is now well thought out, has a structure and name, takes into consideration potential return, risks, and rewards, and has one or more sponsors. Do not start implementing until you have management buy-in and approval. Once there, press for management support to help carry the message.
Step 4Achieve an Early Success
To achieve success during Phase One, be sure to:
Step 5Build on Initial Success
This is the time to begin migrating your knowledge management initiative across the organization. Modify your knowledge management strategy as necessary, and obtain management approval to continue.
Report on your initial successes. Enlist stakeholders from the unit(s) in Phase One to help you carry the message. Be careful, however, not to assume the specific benefits and tactics that led to success with the Phase One opportunity will apply equally to other organizational units. You will need to revisit Steps 1, 2, and 3 for each new project phase.
Now is the time to get started and start benefiting. The table at the end of this article provides some other useful knowledge management sources.
Van O. Wright, Ph.D.
Manager, Product Quality Control
Useful Knowledge Management Sources
ęCopyright 1999 FLI, Incorporated
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