Tag Archives: Knowledge Flow

Knowledgeheimer’s treatment: unlocking value and productivity through social technologies

I remember how eight years ago I was explaining to one of my clients the benefits of having an online platform that could be easily updated by his sales force, used by both client facing and back office and act also as a sales platform for anyone accessing the internet. It was an innovative idea, custom made but the word “social” had nothing to do with it. Technologies have come a long way and we often hear the word “social” sticked to some other ones such as “knowledge sharing” or “business benefits”. Nowadays, by not reaching the full potential of the existing knowledge sharing system, companies begin to suffer the same effects that the Alzheimer disease has on human brain, as we’ll see shortly.

According to McKinsey’s “Social economy” report, the social technologies today look like this:

  • over 1.5 billion networking users globally;
  • 80% of online users interact with social networks regularly;
  • 70% of companies are using social technologies; 90% of them report business benefits from such technologies;
  • knowledge workers spend 28 hours per week writing, searching and collaborating inside the company.

However, their potential is somewhere here:

  • between USD 1 billion and USD 1.3 trillion could be unlocked by social technologies in four sectors;
  • twice potential value from better enterprise communication and collaboration;
  • 20-25% potential improvement in knowledge worker productivity.

About Knowledgeheimer

During the last few years, I understood that knowledge management comes in fact to maintain the organization’s brain, to keep it active, to develop it so the organization is able to work and innovate. I observed that organizations with dysfunctional knowledge management begin to suffer the same effects that the Alzheimer disease has on human brain: intellectual abilities are lost, even reach inability to think abstractly, the coordination is limited, and they have trouble performing daily activities. Since the evolution is similar to an organization’s brain, I named this disease Knowledgeheimerclick here for details on this concept.

How do we treat these symptoms?

McKinsey’s report shows that two-thirds of this potential value lies in improving collaboration and communication within and across enterprises. The average interaction worker spends an estimated 28% of the work week managing e-mail and nearly 20% looking for internal information or tracking down colleagues who can help with specific tasks. But when companies use social media internally, messages become content; a searchable record of knowledge can reduce, by as much as 35%, the time employees spend searching for company information. Additional value can be realized through faster, more efficient, more effective collaboration, both within and between enterprises.

The amount of value individual companies can capture from social technologies varies widely by industry, as do the sources of value. Companies that have a high proportion of interaction workers can realize tremendous productivity improvements through faster internal communication and smoother collaboration. Companies that depend very heavily on influencing consumers can derive considerable value by interacting with them in social media and by monitoring the conversations to gain a richer perspective on product requirements or brand image – for much less than what traditional research methods would cost.

To reap the full benefit of social technologies, organizations must transform their structures, processes, and cultures: they will need to become more open and non-hierarchical and to create a culture of trust. Ultimately, the power of social technologies hinges on the full and enthusiastic participation of employees who are not afraid to share their thoughts and trust that their contributions will be respected. Creating these conditions will be far more challenging than implementing the technologies themselves.

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Where does KM fit in?

Open Knowledge
Image by okfn via Flickr

At the end of the 90’s, KM challenges were addressed through technology-based solutions. When you told someone about KM, they would reply with a tool or a software-driven initiative; usually a corporate-wide one. It took a few years to find out that an IT project would not solve the need of knowledge and would not necessarily improve knowledge sharing culture within company.

Later on, KM was perceived not along with IT but rather with HR. To comply with both, a key message soon became that organizations have to acknowledge people over technology as the active protagonists in knowledge-sharing. And now we come to the next step: processes. KM later was associated to managing processes and understanding the knowledge flow. So, where does KM fit in at the end? Does it need a separate entity? Should it be part of something else?

After reviewing a large number of situations, reports and statistics, I see that there are two situations:

  1. KM is perceived as a response to a strategic need (especially after the downturn) that often even remains unidentified. They call it somehow else but they are trying to manage knowledge flows, have a knowledge-sharing culture and even build some IT if necessary. As KM is not defined, it’s not even called that way.

or

  1. Top management perceives KM as something they “must do” to be ahead of competition. They say they are engaged to harmonizing knowledge-sharing processes across the organization but the exact reasons why they are strategically implementing KM is still not very clear. As KM is defined, it is established as an individual separate entity from other organisational structures.

So, again, where does KM fit in? Any experience is different but here might be similarities we can work on to better understand how this is developing.

Challenges of today’s knowledge management: providing the tools is just not enough

knowledge share fair 2009 - fishbowl demonstration
Image by Petr Kosina via Flickr

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.