Knowledge Management in Organisations

Blog Knowledge

The field of knowledge management is about how organisations can use specific methods to capture, store and retrieve the core information, intelligence and expertise of their people. It includes the ability to identify, represent, create and adopt the specific experiences, core capabilities and insights held by high performers. Some of these assets may already be captured in formal explicit procedures, while many others remain informal or tacit. The field of knowledge sharing and knowledge management enables organisations to set up frameworks for capturing the most important lessons learned on projects and in the field.

1. The purpose of knowledge management

The purpose of knowledge management is to improve the performance of organisations and teams in order to provide greater leverage of the knowledge and experience held internally. Progress may come from the way an organisation manages projects, uses new technologies, mentors and trains new employees, and how people at all levels of experience learn to improve. Ultimately, knowledge management is about creating cultures of continuous improvement that are supported by the most senior leadership while often being led from the bottom up.

Organisational Change Collaboration and Learning

Organisations embarking on serious organisational change may start out by asking questions about the process and benefits of internal improvement like.

  • If a team currently learned something of value today, how likely is it the team would still be using it in 6 months?
  • How might new recruits on other projects learn those same things?
  • How do organisations embed know-how for the long haul?
  • How do they ensure lessons learned stay learned (for as long as they remain useful)?
  • Who inspires, empowers and energises knowledge leadership within the organisation?

Progressive organisations understand that being able to transfer learnings significantly increases performance, lowers risk, reduces costs, saves time, develops people faster, and provides higher quality, swifter innovations.

2. Successful knowledge management strategies

What makes a knowledge management project successful? The answer has changed a lot over the years as technology itself has changed.

Keys to successful Knowledge transfer projects:

In order to roll out a successful knowledge management project, standard factors need to be present. These include:

  • A clear purpose and set of objectives
  • A focus on improving performance and value in the organisation
  • A formal technical structure
  • A knowledge-friendly culture that is motivated to change and improve
  • Different channels that can be used for transferring knowledge
  • Senior executive support
  • Methods enabling the organisation to capture tacit or informal knowledge assets.

Organisations that have the ability to capture context-specific knowledge held by its experts and that can transfer these key project learnings across large populations of employees can create significant competitive advantages in their industries. In most cases, organisations can use technology already existing in their business or online to significantly enhance current operating methods. Other areas of significant value include new methods of running toolbox meetings, workgroups and case studies. A world-class knowledge management system today is a hub for formal and informal business intelligence.

3. Understand your knowledge objectives

What are your objectives?

  • Is your program going to be focused on the creation of more collaborative work practices? The better use of lessons learned?
  • Continuous improvement methods?
  • Knowledge sharing systems and social networks?
  • Other kinds of know-how and expertise?

Who are the internal champions pushing for change? Are you working with the CEO, CIO and/or COO or is the program being driven by specific project managers? The areas listed below are contributing factors to any organisation’s success in building a strategy for knowledge management.

  • Use of lessons learned
  • Ability to upskill new employees quickly
  • Capture of major project learnings
  • Use of informal workforce conversations
  • Older workforce
  • Codifying and capture of knowledge
  • The use of technology
  • Finding and searching for answers/findability

In your organisation, you will currently have:

  • Project management systems
  • Learning management systems (LMS)
  • Document / Knowledge management systems
  • Intranet capability / Social media and add-ins
  • SharePoint platforms

If these systems are used strategically and effectively, they can completely transform the way business processes occur within an organisation.

4. Capture organisation experts intelligence

One of the toughest problems faced by organisations changing the way they do business is the ability to capture the key intelligence or “know-how” of its best people. Over the past 20 years, smart organisations have realised that cultures focused on continuous improvement create significant business value.

Toyota’s use of knowledge sharing and performance improvement techniques have led to extraordinary advances in production facilities. Toyota have managed to consistently decrease the number of defects coming out of their factories and have also created knowledge sharing techniques, across their organisation and suppliers.

Organisational knowledge distinctions

Some knowledge is explicit and/or documented procedurally. Most knowledge, however, tends to be tacit – informal ways of doing things that people have been told or learned over time. If an organisation has powerful methods of collaboration and innovative learning processes, and if informal learnings can be captured, stored and used on other projects and teams, these methods can quickly then be transferred into more formal procedures.

5. Understand your current environment

It is important to understand the current status of where your organisation sits. Understanding the current landscape with regard to leadership, systems, people and culture has a large impact on the kinds of objectives that can and should be set.

  • Is your environment one that encourages learning and the dynamic flow of information and know-how?
  • Do you work in an environment that is collaborative or authoritative?
  • How are mistakes dealt with? Are they swept under the carpet and kept quiet or are they used as lessons? Is the organisation focused on continuous improvement?
  • Do you use collaborative toolbox meetings that always facilitate what went wrong, what went right, and what can be changed immediately to improve on the current project?

What level is your organisation at today?

  • Level 1Fragmented or ad hoc type structures with regard to knowledge.
  • Level 2 – Content-based structures with some position descriptions with regard to knowledge ownership, but only a little training.
  • Level 3 – Process-based view where knowledge is a process and systematic efforts have started to identify and share knowledge within the organisation.
  • Level 4 – Capability-based structures where the organisation uses knowledge for capability development and demonstrates an understanding of simple, complex, tacit, explicit internal and external knowledge, with diverse knowledge flows between external and internal parties. Demonstrates the use of and implementation of reward systems, involvement at all senior management levels and training across all aspects of knowledge management.

Almost all major global organisations are changing the way they operate to better share knowledge through some kind of peer groups, cross-unit networks often based on shared interests. Large organisations are focusing more and more on the transfer of best practice and improved decision-making by seeking advice from peers across the business.

6. Conducting knowledge systems audits

Many people generalise about how things work within their own organisation. Therefore, the ability to conduct a formal knowledge systems audit can be a valuable method of understanding exactly how people learn in your organisation. This process may take the form of online surveys, face-to-face question-and-answer sessions, and group facilitation on key projects.

Its purpose is to find out what kinds of methods, processes and systems are being used within the organisation and how these functions are enhancing or obstructing the ability of internal teams to learn, gain new technical information, understand the best way of doing things, and transfer best practices across the team.

An audit or knowledge mapping process looks at how knowledge flows – by project / by department / by sector or by segment – are working to leverage performance within the organisation.

Knowledge Capture

  • Where is knowledge in the organisation captured?
  • What knowledge systems are used in different key roles?
  • Where do the greatest transfers of knowledge occur?

Collaborative Environments

  • Who leads collaborative learning environments (if they exist)?
  • What projects already share information between teams/projects/segments/countries?
  • What specific online tools and technology are used for collaboration?

Formal versus Informal Learning

  • How are formal learning systems used?
  • How are informal groups used in mentoring?
  • How is knowledge currently being lost?
  • What kinds of succession plans are held?
  • How does staff turnover relate to learning methods?
  • What are the kinds of learning used in staff inductions?

7. Setting up collaborative frameworks

One of the most challenging areas to master is the final piece of any strategy – the rollout. The selection of a series of champions, people with much experience who truly believe in the value of transferring knowledge is essential to success. These people can become leaders of specific core knowledge areas. They need not be the people who run specific workshops or systems, but they will be the facilitators of knowledge transfer within the business. There are many ways that projects may be piloted and then rolled out across organisations. A couple of them rely on the use of more tacit and informal knowledge being captured, leveraged and used across multiple teams in environments. Based on the objectives you have set, it is then possible to select specific areas you can implement improvement on a trial basis.  The methods described below are used by some of the most successful organisations in the world.

Knowledge Transfer

Nucor Steel has used many strategies to help their experts become more comfortable sharing their tacit knowledge. Some of these include:

  • Building efficient knowledge transfer channels
  • Specific workgroups set up to transfer best practice
  • Transferring key staff between sites for concentrated learning periods
  • The creation of a culture that enables people to feel comfortable taking risks and sharing knowledge
  • Investing in methods of codifying tacit and informal knowledge
  • Group-based incentives.

Collaboration

Some of the collaboration techniques used at Toyota include:

  • Creation of project charters
  • Sets of operating rules
  • Projects often being driven by the teams bottom up
  • 100% value-focused

Communities of Practice

Communities of Practice (COP) are another knowledge management process with great practical value. They bring together people who have a similar set of interests based on a business process, project, or some kind of theme in order to exchange or share personal, public, or organisational knowledge to increase the value of that knowledge within the community.

The use of online information and schedules allows information held on the system to be used in such a way that it actually can become knowledge. There are many hundreds of other strategies used by major organisations that effectively transfer intelligence from their project teams across distributed environments, sectors, and countries.

8. Best in class conclusion

What does best in class knowledge management look like in a large global organisation? Technology is changing so quickly that accomplishments we could never even dream of are now completely possible. New technologies now enable us to capture project details in 4D and 5D models, thereby allowing people on site to see and use the information moments after it has been updated by designers in the office. We now have the ability to access with the touch of a fingertip all of the information once held in paper folders .

World-class knowledge management today enables a new starter to watch a series of videos filmed on site showing people working where they will be working, doing the things they will be doing. On major projects, swipe cards can now show project managers who was on site, what qualifications they have, where they had past experiences and if issues occur, team members can be trained on site immediately through video footage in the form of learning objects.

New knowledge capture techniques enable organisations to use workgroups, toolbox meetings, and prestart in new ways where safety is a much higher priority. Best practice can be conveyed much more quickly and in a much more compelling manner. Sophisticated knowledge management also considers different learning styles. An essential part of knowledge transfer is acknowledging that many people on sites do not want to look at computers or read procedures. By using a combination of new technologies, face-to-face workgroup environments, and informal focused communities of practice, key experience can be built and shared much more effectively.

In organisations with powerful learning-centric environments, new employees are able to upskill much more quickly. Staff turnover tends to be much lower when transfers do occur, which is increasingly because project teams are able to capture and understand past lessons learned. When a leader has an issue, answers are much more simple to find, either in the form of learning objects online or by being able to contact the right person much more quickly than before.

The design, build and rollout of knowledge management programs within major organisations enables real competitive advantage. By using a mix of new technologies and different meeting formats, and bringing together experienced teams, some of whom offer diverse opinions and experiences, organisations can enhance performance on projects and the ability to leverage internal intelligence. By populating technology with the right information from the people in the organisation who have specific competencies that in past have never been able to be effectively captured, organisations can gain significant competitive advantages.

Technology Rollouts & Performance

Good technology rollouts really count. Many people I have worked with over the past few years often face the tough experience of having to make decisions around new technology that will fundamentally affect business results. In the past 18 months, I have noticed many clients have been pushed into situations where things must be upgraded urgently (due often to a merger).

Often this technology is something like a new platform, a best-of-class project management system or a set of core capabilities the business has never had. At times, these needs arise from a system that was put into the business 20 years ago and since then the IT team have been building bolt-on solutions. Eventually it reaches the point where there are so many workarounds for the users that everyone just considers the system a massive handbrake. Organisational change has to occur, as the focus for increased performance is greater than ever.

A good example of this kind of new technology is Oracle’s Seibel CRM product. AFG Group, one of Australia’s largest brokers, used this product with great success. They use it to source products, lodge applications, generate leads & manage clients, all from a single point of entry. Check out the video below – at 3 mins 9 secs, it shows how they are now using this technology to manage their teams and other overseas business development activities. This project has enabled AFG to stay ahead of the game in an extremely tough market.

The general solution is to spend up to hundreds of millions of dollars on new technology to consolidate workflows, reduce time taken to get information, or find the right information etc.

What often actually happens though is this:

  • The project goes way over time and budget and the change management process fails
  • Only specific users get the new technology right and they were the high performers anyway
  • The strategic planning done prior to implementation was nowhere near robust enough & so major gaps appear with the implementation & rollout to users
  • The final product offers only 60% of the capability promised and the system workarounds continue

If these were the only blocks faced after implementation, funnily enough the situation would actually not be too much worse. The problem is that this is only the start. What then seems to happen is that while the implementation occurs, sales and/or service levels drop significantly and sales managers start to get punished for their lack of results.

Many users get disillusioned and they start to either leave or look seriously for jobs in competing businesses in the same vertical. This causes increases in staff turnover and a need to then recruit more people at a time when training and reducing the time to competency for new team members is not the highest priority. Finishing the implementation and knowing the systems core capabilities actually collect “all” of the data accurately and can be used to get results is the priority.

So what’€™s the answer? Consider the following:

  • Who is on the rollout project team and why are they there?
  • Who is missing that should be there? E.g. possible managers of users who know what functions have to keep on going not matter what
  • Have you looked at who your absolute best talent is and how they can add value to the project?
  • What kind of mini pilots have you or are you intending to run prior to getting serious about the rollout?
  • If you have gathered groups of high performers to do the testing, have you then ensured these people are trained in knowledge-transfer and work-place training techniques to get your population back to its core results capability ASAP? How is this behaviour change actually going to occur on the ground?
  • What kind of knowledge-capture processes do you have around the more “€œtacit”€ or informal smarts the high performers have? How do these apply in the “€œNew”€ technology platform or world? How are these to be transferred? How is your talent management process taking this into account?

Making sure you have covered off the above at the very least will enable you to keep leveraging your best people to transfer their results across populations. Sometimes you may need to bring in technology providers you have never thought of prior to the project. In fact, this might not become apparent in any of the project design phases and might only be discovered during implementation.

The general solution is to spend up to hundreds of millions of dollars on new technology to consolidate workflows, reduce time taken to get information, or find the right information etc.

What often actually happens though is this:

  • The project goes way over time and budget and the change management process fails
  • Only specific users get the new technology right and they were the high performers anyway
  • The strategic planning done prior to implementation was nowhere near robust enough & so major gaps appear with the implementation & rollout to users
  • The final product offers only 60% of the capability promised and the system workarounds continue

If these were the only blocks faced after implementation, funnily enough the situation would actually not be too much worse. The problem is that this is only the start. What then seems to happen is that while the implementation occurs, team performance levels drop significantly and project managers start to get punished for their lack of results.

Many users get disillusioned and they start to either leave or look seriously for jobs in competing businesses in the same vertical. This causes increases in staff turnover and a need to then recruit more people at a time when training and reducing the time to competency for new team members is not the highest priority. Finishing the implementation and knowing the systems core capabilities in order to actually collect “all” of the data accurately often is the priority.

So what’€™s the answer? Consider the following:

  • Who is on the rollout project team and why are they there?
  • Who is missing that should be there? E.g. possible managers of users who know what functions have to keep on going not matter what
  • Have you looked at who your absolute best talent is and how they can add value to the project?
  • What kind of mini pilots have you or are you intending to run prior to getting serious about the rollout?
  • If you have gathered groups of high performers to do the testing, have you then ensured these people are trained in knowledge-transfer and work-place training techniques to get your population back to its core results capability ASAP? How is this behaviour change actually going to occur on the ground?
  • What kind of knowledge-capture processes do you have around the more “€œtacit”€ or informal smarts the high performers have? How do these apply in the “New”€ technology platform or world? How are these to be transferred? How is your talent management process taking this into account?

Making sure you have covered off the above at the very least will enable you to keep leveraging your best people to transfer their results across populations. Sometimes you may need to bring in technology providers you have never thought of prior to the project. In fact, this might not become apparent in any of the project design phases and might only be discovered during implementation.

The general solution is to spend up to hundreds of millions of dollars on new technology to consolidate workflows, reduce time taken to get information, or find the right information etc.


Harness Knowledge via Technology

As yet, technology in business has hardly been used to harness the knowledge held by talented high-performing individuals. Why not? Well, it’s funny that you should ask. We are now great at storing data – check on any company you like and you’ll find shared hard drives with data trees up to your eyebrows. But in most cases if you ask the users where they access essential information on the best people’s progress and what they have learned in the last week, they’ll seldom tell you – Oh that’s right here.” It just does not seem to happen. This kind of organisational change, although being used in some cases, is still some way off.

What would you need to do in order to be able to do it better?

  1. Firstly, you’d need to have a system where you could design a database of internal smarts, probably categorised by area, and which uses a kind of hierarchy to capture information design.
  2. Then you’d need to define the “Key” areas and who knows the most about them – a talent identification and management process. In other words, you would want to have a series of “Internal Experts”.
  3. You’d need some way of downloading in each area a series of what really matters e.g. in a projects environment, it might be meeting schedules, quality of pre start meetings, project knowledge, resource management, major supplier relationship building etc.
  4. As the database was built upon, almost certainly you would want to have some kind of tags or “Meta tags” where the information in each file has a meaningful link to a user searching for it.
  5. Finally, you’d need to understand how, why and when people would access these smarts.

Have a listen to some of the world leaders discussing problems in the workplace. They talk about the new collaborative technologies and their deployment, and the effect on business processes. How are they affecting our use and definitions of what is public and what is private, our intellectual property? What about the way that language affects how we use these technologies?

Test small first, and test as you design, as part of the organisational change process. Find out what works and do more of that! Most often, the IT people get carried away with technology that no one else cares about or knows how to use, so the money is wasted.

Expert Knowledge Management

The ability to understand and box the key distinctions of your best people in key areas enables you to create results in your business much faster than other organisations in your industry. Whether you have a population of 10, 50, 500 or 15,000, the ability to roadmap what your best people do that differs from what the others do can create a massive competitive advantage.

Listen to Tom Young (BP’s Global Knowledge Management Team) from Knoco talk about the value of understanding the key smarts of some of your most talented people when they are on their way out of an organisation. If you start this process as a part of your talent management program, the savings can quickly add into the millions of dollars.

NOTE: The sound at the start of this video is slightly poor, but it gets better.

Key Areas

Isolate key areas and then break these down into Heuristics, the hands-on approaches that your best people use to get results. These approaches tend most often not to be in procedures yet, as talented people generally do things for which procedures have not yet been invented. Procedures tend to come much later down the track after everyone else finds out about the strategies and then starts to use them. Eventually someone says, “Hey, we should add this to the procedure manual.”

Heuristics on Key Areas

  • Take those key areas and ask yourself what heuristics were needed in order for this to work with that particular person?
  • What was the outcome required?
  • Where could things fall down?

Stories & History of Key Incidents That Caused Big Results

Look at actual stories or case studies. What happened in those key areas in the past where great things have happened? How was this used to get as good or better results in later instances? Also what was needed in order to get much better results?

By mapping these kinds of things around your highest performers, you build accurate models of what your most talented people do to get results.

Time & business results

I have friends you can’t meet for morning tea for 8 weeks because they are booked out. Others, you can consistently book a catch-up with so long as you give them 7 days notice and that’s that, every time. Then there are people who will be available tomorrow at 3pm or Friday at 9am and any further out than that and you can forget it!

TIME – Why is that the case?

Is it true that the person booked up for 8 weeks is more important, successful or has more happening in their lives than those you could get an appointment with tomorrow?

INTERESTINGLY IN OUR EXPERIENCE, NO!

Funnily enough, some of the leaders of the biggest organisations in the country operate very much in the now. If it weren’t for some very smart assistants, things would look very different. How might this information influence you and your team’s ability to get results?

Is everybody different around time? What kinds of people are similar and why? We will deal with only one part of this major body of work that up until now been badly under-researched.

How do I know? Well, all the time I see organisations facing people issues where certain portions of populations are extremely reactive and others are the opposite, far too slow to react. Where do you sit? How about your best people when you are “Managing Your Talent”? Are they reactive or more strategic? What’s needed more in your environment?

“Your interpretation of time is not a right or a wrong one. However, if you are too extreme either way with regard to your specific work context and what’s required, you can really lose out.”

What should you do to ensure your thinking around time fits with your business role? Here are three suggestions to consider with regard to the people in your workplace.

1)In a fast-paced sales or back office production environment, you probably want to be able to move quickly and hence timeframes are almost certain to be shorter.

2)In a strategic planning or IT implementation environment, it might pay to have a medium-term time perspective. However, watch out! Get this to be more a long-term perspective and that $500 million dollar IT rollout can easily blow into costing twice as much.

3)In Strategy & Planning roles in major organisations, the people involved are better to have a really good understanding of time in the long term. But they still need to be able to partner with the people on the floor conducting the rollout.

So what if you’ve got people in completely the wrong place?

What if you have people (even managers) on the floor who think learning a set of specific behaviours will take 3 months when your best manager considers it can easily be learnt in 24 hours? A problem in many IT, HR and L&D departments is that when major rollouts occur, the third parties always talk about giving things some time… until the budget’s blown and the business is locked into making even tougher decisions!

Expert Knowledge Management

What is Expert Knowledge Management EKM?

As part of a personal aim to see the performance of any business team continue to increase in different business verticals. I’ve decided to contribute to the area of Expert Knowledge Management EKM.

What does that mean, well given my expertise is not in English, it means this blog will be exploring everything to do with getting more out of its best people in major organisations. That includes areas where I have been working for the past 10+ years around talent identification & management, the value of internal collaboration on team performance in both sales & productivity/output based environments, performance management. It also includes areas like how to get value from the use of past cultural transformation, sales & L&D programs that may have worked in small pockets of the business.

A clear distinction to make up front is that this does not mean that the team have to work harder, probably teams do however need to start thinking differently and with more focus on collaboration, performance, strategy, innovation and what it is their best people internally are doing already.

Expert Knowledge Management EKM is a subject few organizations even understand let alone use.

A major part of this blog will be about exploring what the world’s best organizations are doing in this area to ensure that when the markets are falling faster than ever and the “World” is in trouble you have solutions in order to replicate what is best practice not from another country but in many cases within your own organisation.

We will also be looking at how interventions occur in the worlds largest organisations around Human Resources, Talent Identification, Performance Management, Human Performance, Change Management and other related areas.

If you have other questions on these topics that are not answered here, a good research resource can be found at www.behaviourchange.com.au/White-Papers.html

All comments are appreciated and welcomed!