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Knowledge management: does your organization know what it knows?

by Technologia
Knowledge management: does your organization know what it knows?

What is knowledge? This may seem a philosophical question, but it has a very tangible definition that distinguishes it from the notions of "data" or "information". Firstly, knowledge is intangible, existing only in the mind of its holder. This, in fact, is one of the challenges of knowledge management: too many people are wrongly convinced that if they have a ton of data, information and documents at their fingertips, they necessarily possess knowledge.

The Harvard Business Review article "Knowledge management: back to the future" points out that the weakness of organizations is precisely their inability to capture the knowledge that resides in the minds of their employees. When one employee leaves, 70% of their know-how disappears. So how can you help your organization better capture, store and retain what it knows? The first question is whether your company knows what it knows. Do you still follow?

Start with the basics: Identify the "fragments" of knowledge

HBR magazine's study mentions that only 30% of knowledge is documented in one way or another. In today's knowledge-based economy, a company's ability to store and manage knowledge is a strategic asset for all types of organization, enabling them to remain competitive and constantly innovate. Like any other strategic asset, knowledge must be managed, and to do so, it must first be identified.

Let's go back to the misconception that having documents and information at hand is equivalent to possessing knowledge. To illustrate our point, a pile of bricks is not a wall in itself. The same applies to what is merely an accumulation of information, which does not necessarily translate into real knowledge. The example in this study is equally true: you could have access to the world's largest library if you haven't read the books, or even if you've read them all without understanding their meaning, you won't be any better equipped to act differently than you were before you read them. This belief stems from three terms that are naturally linked: data creates information, and information opens the door to knowledge. However, correctly classifying data is merely document management. It's an excellent starting point, but we're a long way from bringing knowledge to life.

How the organization benefits from knowledge management

We were referring to the fact that when employees leave the company, they take 70% of their know-how with them. Imagine if many employees left your organization and didn't come back the next day. Is this such an unlikely scenario? It happened at OpenAI at the end of 2023, with the dismissal of CTO Sam Altman, where 95% of employees were prepared to follow suit and resign. Presumably, if this had happened, OpenAI would not have been able to preserve this "intellectual capital". The experience acquired and the historical knowledge accumulated over time could not have been recovered in a normal timeframe. That said, during and after the Covid-19 pandemic, 47 million people left their jobs in the United States, a phenomenon that has been dubbed "the great resignation". Companies are not immune to this phenomenon, which is all the more reason to organize their "knowledge" to ensure their long-term survival.

Helping organizations "know what they know

Lew Platt, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, once mentioned that "if only HP knew what HP knows, we'd be 3 times more profitable". What does that mean? This colorful comment pointed out that the company had few ways of capturing, storing, classifying and transmitting all the information, data and experiences within the organization to enable it "globally" to learn and evolve. The latter refers in particular to experiences: tacit knowledge, ways of doing things, shared standards, without this information being written down or explained.

CoPs are groups of individuals, from different units, with similar interests and challenges, interested in learning from each other in a collaborative and voluntary way. This pooling creates knowledge artifacts that will be useful to newcomers in reducing their learning time, while preserving knowledge of that CoP's domain.

There is also another, more formal way of capturing workers' expertise. This is knowledge (or skill) modeling. An expert/cognitician conducts guided interviews with the employee and creates, in real time, a structured graphical model of the knowledge expressed. The model becomes an explicit representation of the employee's (often implicit) knowledge,

In conclusion: Sharing information for the future

Studies show that employees leave their company with an impressive amount of knowledge and experience that is not shared, written down or captured by the organization when they leave. As a result, new ways of sharing employee activities and experiences, such as communities of practice and knowledge modeling, have emerged in recent years. In fact, a group of international experts have agreed to create the ISO 30401 standard on enterprise knowledge management, which sets out a series of requirements and guidelines, their implementation and maintenance over time. Social networks have also simplified the exchange of knowledge with people outside the organization, such as international communities of experts or enthusiasts, thus promoting the exploitation of collective knowledge. Like the warmth of a house in winter, the information created and accumulated within an organization should never be lost.

To find out more :

Skills development: assess needs and draw up a plan

Sources : RIBIÈRE, Vincent. Harvard Business Review. “La gestion des connaissances: retour vers le futur », 9 mars 2024.

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