Genuine business value comes on one hand from managing knowledge acquired from external sources and, on the other hand, from creating and exchanging it internally. Keeping knowledge in the heads of your most experienced talent lowers your return on investment to its minimum. How can other colleagues from the same unit or even other territories replicate and improve it? Well, there are two stages of this point:
Stage 1: Your experienced talent has to invest time and energy to transform their knowledge into a form in which it can be exchanged. I should also say that the value of knowledge should be high enough to cover the cost of sharing.
Stage 2: Team members from similar projects invest time in searching for knowledge, replicating and improving it. They might as well become “Stage 1” experts as the improved knowledge may be shared if there is significant added value. I should mention again that at this stage, in order to be cost-effective, knowledge should worth the price of seeking it.
You can call it a market and in some companies it literally is. Maybe at a later time I’ll come back with a story of a company that pays employees with its own currency for sharing knowledge and charges knowledge consumption – a way to determine talent to share at least as much knowledge as they benefit of.
You may observe that there is a strong technological background for knowledge sharing but I’m not going to refer to this side for the time being. I’d rather have a look at one of the most common management mistakes we face on the process today. The trap is to assume that with some big investments in technology solutions such as document management systems, shared repositories, and intranets, employees will become eager to put their knowledge in the internal marketplace.
Investments in technology alone are useless because of two basic reasons:
Firstly, your talent may not be so eager to share what they know. In many cases that is merely because they know their knowledge is their strongest asset in the corporate hierarchy. You have to motivate them to share. They have to realize that the value of sharing is worth their own investment.
Secondly, most of shared knowledge may not be some of the best quality it can be. Volume of irrelevant documents may become overwhelming, and you may find many of them of poor quality and hard to replicate. Controlling both the quality of shared knowledge and the usefulness of the search systems is an imperative to ensure that shared knowledge is worth the price of seeking it.
Both centralised and decentralised approached to knowledge management can bring value to your business; it really depends on what your business is about and how knowledge is created or where it is most relevant. Distributing top-down messages about previously filtered knowledge has its limitations but can work in a process-focused risk averse company. At the opposite, letting local units solve their own knowledge problems may bring enthusiasm and motivation to highly creative businesses with a focus on local markets rather than on the global one. Approaches have pluses and minuses and, most likely, a company may be in the position of having a mix of both.