Summary: Knowledge Management Best Practices

This section offers an overview of the main points discussed thus far in the knowledge management processes and knowledge management strategy sections.

First, let us take a step back and look at the enablers of knowledge management (KM). According to Botha et al (2008) these are:

  • Culture: One which is supportive of knowledge management, and the processes it implies - particularly knowledge sharing.
  • Infrastructure: Support systems, teams, structures, and collaboration.
  • Measures: Developing a process and design for managing change.
  • Technology: Can offer great advantages in certain areas. Similarly, if misused, it can sabotage the KM process. Whether technology deserves its status as an enabler is debatable, but it is nonetheless important.

According to the authors, these aspects are what make KM possible. For instance, KM initiatives implemented in a company with a competitive culture that shuns knowledge sharing are doomed to fail from the start. I would not go as far as to call technology an enabler, but it is an important aspect nonetheless and an unavoidable part of any modern knowledge management best practices.

With this in mind, I will now recap the main KM processes. The knowledge management best practices summary below will cover all the categories mentioned above.

Determining the Organization's Knowledge and Know-how:

  • Knowledge Discovery and Detection: Refers to the processes of identifying existing knowledge sources, as well as discovering hidden knowledge in data and information. This knowledge resides both inside the organization and externally, in customers, suppliers, partners, etc.
    • Explicit knowledge: Document management, intelligence gathering, data mining, text mining etc. IT is useful/crucial in this respect.
    • Tacit (embodied) knowledge: Includes tools/practices such as knowledge surveys, questionnaires, individual interviews, group interviews, focus groups, network analysis, and observation. IT has a more limited and indirect role.
    • Embedded knowledge Includes observation, analysis, reverse engineering, and modeling tools to identify knowledge stored within procedures, products, etc.
  • Knowledge Organization & Assessment: The process of mapping, categorizing, indexing, and evaluating organizational knowledge assets.
    • This is heavily supported by IT, which can use complex categorization and retrieval mechanisms to organize knowledge assets in multiple ways.
    • Tacit (embodied) knowledge: This is done through the use of focus groups, expertise guides, and knowledge coordinators (Gamble & Blackwell 2001).
    • Embedded knowledge: Tools include job/workplace design, workflow analyses and performance measures (Gamble & Blackwell 2001)

Tactical Knowledge Management Best Practices:

  • Knowledge Sharing: Perhaps the most important process in KM, it plays a determinant role for both knowledge reuse and knowledge creation. The factors below summarize the key considerations with the exception of cultural issues, which are discussed further down.
    • Explicit knowledge: Depends on articulation of needs, awareness of knowledge, access to knowledge, guidance in the knowledge sharing process, and completeness of the knowledge sources (Bukowitz & Williams 1999). IT systems and content management are extremely important in this process.
    • Tacit (embodied) knowledge: This depends on socialization, particularly within informal networks. Culture is particularly important in this area. Tacit knowledge can rarely be effectively codified without losing the essence that makes it so valuable to begin with, so the focus should be on supporting work relationships. IT has a secondary supporting role in this context, primarily as an expert finder and as offering support in the socialization process (e.g. through groupware applications).
    • Embedded knowledge: Use of scenario planning, after action reviews, and management training (Gamble & Blackwell 2001). IT has a role in mapping, modeling, creating simulations, and as an embedded knowledge repository.
  • Knowledge Reuse: Involves three roles, the knowledge producer, intermediary, and consumer (Markus 2001), which are involved in creating, preparing, and actually reusing the knowledge. Two keys elements here are culture and cost - particularly relating to tacit knowledge (where indexing the source rather than the knowledge itself is often more viable). Markus identifies four reuse situations:
    • Shared work producers
    • Shared work practitioners
    • Expert seeking novices
    • Miners of secondary knowledge
  • Knowledge Creation: This process depends upon knowledge sharing (as defined above), collaboration, and access to relevant information and data. Cook and Brown (1999) suggest that knowledge creation is an interplay between knowledge and knowing, or in other words, putting knowledge into practice. The role of management in this process was identified as:
    • Enabling knowledge sharing: As above
    • Creating suitable work related environments: The focus here is on unstructured work environments where experimentation, trial and error, and theory in use are promoted. Self-organizing, semi- or fully-autonomous project teams are identified as one useful tool in this endeavor.
    • Providing access to collaborative IT systems: Groupware applications can be used for this purpose. These must support and not interfere with the ideal work environment.
    • Providing access to relevant data and information: From information systems, data warehouses, data mining, etc. These can act as building blocks in the knowledge creation process.
  • Knowledge Acquisition: The firm can acquire knowledge externally from customers, suppliers, competitors, partners, and mergers. The role of KM varies in each process (as does the type of available knowledge), but at its core its function is to establish the right channels to transfer relevant knowledge from existing partnerships into the firm, and to integrate this knowledge as best as possible. To do so, KM can use a wide range of tools including:
    • Common IT systems
    • Common projects
    • Interaction and socialization
    • Involvement of partners in certain organizational processes (e.g. design)
    • Cultural alignment (for mergers or joint ventures)
    • Setting up the right incentive systems
    • Identifying and protecting crucial knowledge assets: when such knowledge should not be shared with a partner

Strategic Knowledge Management Best Practices:

  • KM and Organizational Structures: Two types were defined: formal and informal.
    • Formal structure: These will interfere with KM if very rigidly enforced. The choice of structure, and the physical division of the firm, will also affect knowledge flows. Studies seem to show that decentralized structures seem to be best for KM (Choi & Lee 2000, Claver-Cort├ęs et al 2007, Chen & Huang 2007).
    • Informal structures: The firm should be perceived as a community consisting of a collection of communities (Brown & Duguid 1992). Management can affect these through the use of project teams, teamwork, social functions, etc.
  • KM and Organizational Culture Change: This must be recognized and managed carefully and deliberately. By introducing anomalies that challenge the accepted premises of organizational culture, management can influence organizational members to abandon certain aspects in favor of others (Gardner 1997). Use of incentives and common vision and goals are also effective tools. One of the most important goals is to create a culture where knowledge sharing is perceived as beneficial rather than detrimental to the individual.
  • KM and Knowledge Retention: Knowledge retention is the part of KM that is concerned with making sure that important knowledge assets remain in the firm over time, e.g. when key employees leave the firm or retire. Formulating a knowledge retention strategy depends upon understanding which knowledge is important, which knowledge is at risk and what it takes to keep this knowledge in the organization. Depending upon its knowledge retention strategy a firm may choose to implement one of many initiatives and tools including reward structurers, mentoring, interviews, and utilizing knowledge knowledge from retirees.
  • KM and Core Competencies: The management of core competencies consists of four processes: identifying, sustaining, building, and unlearning. KM plays a key supporting role throughout this process by:
    • Identifying what the firm knows, and what its main expertise is.
    • Leveraging knowledge assets across the organization.
    • Building the right know-how and expertise to match strategic requirements.
    • Isolating and removing/changing obsolete knowledge.
  • KM and the External Network: As mentioned before, external knowledge sources include customers, suppliers, competitors, partners, mergers, etc. KM plays a role in the assessment of potential partners, by helping to determine what the organization knows, what it needs to know, and the best ways of getting that knowledge. It is also a key element during the cooperation process to ensure that the right knowledge is transferred and integrated into the organization.
  • KM and Knowledge Management Systems: This very ambiguous category of systems refers to most systems used in the sharing, discovery, and creation of knowledge. Failures are generally due to an over reliance on technology, a lack of understanding of the limitations of these systems, improper fit with organizational practices, lack of acceptance, etc. Proper implementation implies paying attention to:
    • Organizational fit: Carry out internal assessment of needs and work practices, cost-benefit analysis, etc.
    • Organizational acceptance: by involving the user in the design and implementation, through managerial and technical support, and with product champions, etc.
    • Continued use: A function of perceived attractiveness factors and content management (Gamble and Blackwell 2001).

This concludes the summary of knowledge management best practices. KM is a process that spreads throughout the organization. Its scope is difficult to define and its effects are hard to measure - e.g. how do you determine the ROI on a discipline designed to subtly improve most aspects of the organization? Nonetheless, if properly implemented, it is a worthwhile investment that will promote efficiency, learning, innovation, and competitive advantage.

Alan Frost M.Sc., 2010 - Updated 2015

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