Carole Nicolaides

Article Summary:

An introduction to knowledge management, and how you can start your own initiative.

Starting a Knowledge Management Initiative

Everybody is talking about knowledge management today - but do you understand the term when you hear it for the first time? Knowledge Management, Information Management - they both basically relate to making sure that you get a grip on your organizational knowledge. So what exactly is knowledge management and how can you manage knowledge after all?

Knowledge is not easy to describe - after all what I know may simply mean nothing to you. In organizational settings, knowledge is equal to the intellectual capital; your people's knowledge - what they know, your intellectual properties, etc. If you don't have a good knowledge management system in place, your best investment is walking out the door! Knowledge is not about having the brightest brains in your company, it's about leveraging them correctly. It is simply about putting to use what your people know and getting them to share what they know.

Many argue that this management theory is something new, yet through the research I've done, I believe knowledge management always existed in some form or another- it just didn't have a formal name. Knowledge Management was formally born the last decade because of the need to managing the lost knowledge of the workers who lost their job or left the company. Anytime there is turnover, regardless of the reason, it leaves a hole. This is why corporations struggle while trying to fill a job opening. When the employee left, so did the knowledge.

Effective Knowledge Management (KM) is empowerment for the intelligent organization. Imagine being able to collectively share the intellect and the experiences of all your working people. It gives you the advantage of addressing your competition on the basis of what they know- simply it gives you a new strategic advantage.

When you have an organization where you are able to reuse customer solutions, when you are able to utilize knowledge for daily operations, integrate knowledge from other knowledge workers to your own - all this will enable you to be more competitive.

Many companies have spent millions of dollars in initiating a KM project with no success. IT managers were surveyed by Information Week Research in April 1999. This is what Information Week said about the IT managers, " all of them had initiated some kind of knowledge management initiative, yet only 36% had some formal policies in place for sharing knowledge assets." Most of them felt that they were losing more than half of their intellectual capital.

What's the solution? How do you harness such an intangible commodity? How do you get your employees to open up rather than viewing knowledge as "job security"? Below are a few basics you need to have in place prior of starting a KM initiative. Implementing these first will help ensure success for your new program.

1. First, you need to be motivated and inspired by this new process - Consider the implementation of a KM program as a "lifestyle change". This is not a one-time deal where consultants come in, pitch you about the new program and leave. KM needs to be part of your organizational culture - an integrated philosophy of how you are doing business.

2. Get closer to your customer - Knowledge is Power - The more you know about your customers the better you will be able to serve them. What information do they need you to provide? Can you provide it in a timely and effective manner? Do your employees have access to the information they need to serve your customers well?

3. Give your teams permission to explore the new process - You will need to allow team members time to explore and become familiar with this process. This can be as simple as arranging temporary "visitation" in other departments. A simple, one-day visit to each department within the organization can provide an entirely new understanding of what is available to them. In reality, you can not force anyone to share their knowledge, but what you can do is expose them to an environment where they will be able to get to know each other on a personal level. After this, the information flow will open wide.

4. Provide your people with the technical resources - Without the technology in place it will be very difficult to have a true KM environment. There are many wonderful KM programs out in the market. If your company is interested in acquiring one of these, you can view several KM vendors by visiting a trusted website: www.kmworld.com. One inexpensive and effective intelligence system can be created by integrating your email system with a database program. A few reliable software combinations would be Lotus Notes or Microsoft Outlook in conjunction with Microsoft Exchange. Most companies already use a form of email software. All that's left to do is add an intelligent database to the existing email software.

Microsoft and Lotus have done excellent work with Lotus Domino and Microsoft Digital Board. One application might be one of your employees working on a special project in Japan. He can direct his virtual agent to go and look for information on all Japanese related projects. A database of people that served in various projects could be made available and your employee would be able to search according to their knowledge, skills and experience. With a pointer system that directs the user to a subject matter (SME) or another key employee, you can have extraordinary results.

5. Built knowledge networks - Support the formation of groups and communities. Create a network of people within your organization. Networking communities is the best way of creating true KM environments. By encouraging employees to communicate among themselves you are in fact developing human databases. The cross training or knowledge sharing effect naturally emerges.

6. Integrate your knowledge sharing work with your business strategy - Making decisions without gathering complete data from each and every department is dangerous. Don't assume any longer. The knowledge transfer must reach from entry-level employees all the way to the top. The executives that decide about next year's objectives need to know and be aware of everything that goes on at every level. An effective KM program can make this insurmountable task manageable.

A KM program is not something that only allows organizations to collect knowledge. This is a program that benefits employees and customers alike. Work becomes more productive and fun, frustration diminishes because information is readily available, employee retention increases due to improved job satisfaction and customer satisfaction rates increase also.

We have touched on only a few points about how a KM environment can be set up and be functional with the resources that you have in house. The key is to get people to see the benefits of this program to them personally. Once overall corporate support has been gained, your new KM program will flourish on its own.

Carole Nicolaides, MBA, is the President of Progressive Leadership, Inc. She offers Personal & Business Success Coaching, customized coaching-consulting, teleclass services in the areas of Branding Strategy, Business Planning and Leadership Development. Carole thrives in assisting entrepreneurs and executives reaching their full potential and living their best life. Subscribe to her FREE Ezine or book your FREE coaching session by visiting her site at Progressive Leadership.

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