Knowledge Management in Organizations – What do we know today?

So what we know to say about Knowledge Management in organizations today, fifteen years since we started work on this issue in Israel (and abroad?)?

My main lesson from dealing with such an intense topic is that, like in life, good things happen (but they happen a little, and slowly …), along with bad things that happen (and those things happen – a lot, and fast …).

Here are ten insights, perhaps not so popular, but – are best practice and lesson learned “from the field:

1. Knowledge Management is not only “management of knowledge, yet rather: “Management in the knowledge era”. Not only that; Knowledge Management is a management approach which incorporates cultural, enterprise core business processes, and supportive infrastructures – all for intelligent extraction of knowledge in the organization and for creating new knowledge – in order to meet and support the organizational vision and organization’s business objectives. It has two main purposes: to help the organization to be more effective (Effectiveness), i.e: to create value, and also help the organization to act more efficient (efficiency), i.e: to increase capital.

In the Knowledge Era, managers are challenged by new and unfamiliar experience for them: they experience the need to manage “Knowers” (“Clever People”, people who know more of them …), a reality which they were not trained to handle in the past. However, workers are also challenged by a new experience for them: they experience the need to manage knowledge. Their own knowledge. That is, they should understand and internalize that the sole and exclusive ends at an era of knowledge, and they must find and connect with colleagues to work together. Goffee & Jones published a fascinating study titled “Leading Clever People” and the sub-line says: “How do you manage people who don’t want to be lead and they maybe smarter than you“. Here they discuss the subject:

2. Knowledge Management is not a ‘system’, certainly not a ‘technological system’, nor an ‘information system’. We know that ‘Knowledge’ is a-morphic, soft, while management is hierarchical, bureaucratic/ Knowledge is always growing, developing, evolving, dynamic, multi-dimensional, contextual, depending on the environment and culture. The expression, ‘Knowledge Management’ is not particularly successful; largely because it is conceptually difficult to merge between ‘manage’ and ‘knowledge’, ‘hard’ with ‘soft’. More than that, the essence of Knowledge Management is the integration between culture, processes and infrastructure, when it became clear that this is a continuous process and not an Ad-Hoc act. Yet, technological solution providers help to “jump” quickly from ‘Knowledge Management’ to ‘information management’ or to ‘data management, and from that point, there has been a short distance to all technology solutions provider to offer a solution in the form of a technological system to be called “Knowledge Management System.” Here is a clip of David Gurteen, one of the world’s leading Knowledge Management experts, clarifies:

3. (following the previous insight), Knowledge Management is very hard to ‘see’ or to demonstrate – and organizations, must ‘show’ something…. After all, we live in a world of ‘Bottom lines. There is always a pressure to show results, fast, contemporary, in real time. According to Israeli “un-written law” that: “Today, maximum tomorrow morning, if possible – yesterday, and for free …”. It was a convenient basis to offer organizations information systems and display technologies as sustains the principle: “If we build it – they will come’. So we can find today Document Management Systems, enterprise portals, CRM systems, E-Learning, ERP and more, presented as Knowledge Management System.

4. Know, Tell, Write – a common Knowledge Management goal statement is often heard as follows: “to capture/derive/extract/preserve/pump (God forbid …) the tacit knowledge in the minds and heads of employees and convert it to be explicit, visible and make it accessible to everyone” and also that “Organization protect/preserve/manage their own knowledge.”. It is just a mirage … Michael Polanyi of the world’s leading researchers to address the issue of Tacit and Explicit knowledge, followed by Dave Snowden, a leading expert in Complexity in Organizations, stated that:

“You always know more than you can tell, and you always tell more than you can write down”.

In other words, something “happens” on the way from our head (Know), to our mouth (Tell), and then, from our mouth to our hand (Write). It is impossible to document, take out, extract, distribute, maintain – knowledge. What then can we do?

You can take all the documents, reports, presentations, layout sheets, drawings etc. (Write) – and store it in a database and allow this database to be searched. But – who assure us that someone will bother to look into this database? And, is this database which was built a year ago, is relevant to the need today?

But, this solution is easy, which can ‘show’, and you have a enterprise portal with all the documents that are created in the organization. But is this knowledge that the organization needs it? No. It is Data, or information. Not knowledge. We can do something else: Tell. I mean, we can meet, talk and maintain dialog. We can also record and document with technological means the stories told. But the nature of a story is, especially in an organization, lengthy, detailed, data-intensive, and time-consuming. Here, read here how Steve Denning, former World Bank knowledge discovered the power of story as a way to effectively share knowledge. Here is describing how he found it:

5. ‘Get to the point’ Vs. Instant – On 2003, after acting as a Knowledge manager for few years, I published a paper on “Status” Management magazine. I did it because at that time whenever I have speaking on the subject of Knowledge Management, focusing on the need to deal with corporate culture, core processes, and infrastructure, the response was (and still remains): “Okay, understood, got that… now get to the point!”. Suddenly, it became apparent to me: in organizations, when they say “Get to the point”, actually they mean “instant “….i.e., people, managers and organizations do not have the patience needed to long processes, even though this is what must be done. I always say that dealing with Knowledge Management, the product is the process – not the project. So, to clarify the difference between the two, I wrote this article, you are welcome to read it here (in Hebrew…).

6. Knowledge is not an “It – I first heard that from Larry Prusak, when we met in Tel-Aviv while he was visiting Israel in 2004 (In Hebrew). Though, Knowledge, therefore, cannot be “transferred”. Knowledge is subjective, amorphous, contextual, multi – dimensional and multi – means, not a universal truth. It can be seen in different ways, it depends on time, place, culture, values, and associations. It deals mainly on ‘how’ and less on ‘what’, but in the business and organizations scene, the importance of ‘how’ often exceeds the importance of ‘what’. Knowledge develops and grows, not stagnate on one dimensional and certain time frame. Knowledge is the product of continuing and ongoing conversation between the common interests of donors, which together create new knowledge all the time. The conclusion derived from the fact that organizations refuse to face the clear and simple fact – it is not really possible to ‘manage’ knowledge, none the less to do it using technology, whatever advanced it may be. In fact, there is such a technology that manages Knowledge. It exists since the dawn of creation – it is the human brain and the transmissions thorough the synapses during a conversation between humans. How can one manage it with technology? In the same sense, we can also say that one cannot “maintain” knowledge, because knowledge is a dynamic, growing and growing all the time. Also say that you cannot “extract” knowledge from the mind of a person, not “capture” the knowledge.

7. Knowledge is for ‘action’, not (only) for ‘storage’ – It is certainly important to collect, preserve, organize, store, the data and information in organizations. But all this is done only for one purpose – to action. So it will support the need for a real organization, ie, the organization will be quickly available and accessible for decision making, will serve as a support act. Dave Snowden published few years ago his seven principles for managing knowledge. One of them says as follows:

‘knowledge is something that you know only when you need to know it …

8. “You can ‘get’ Knowledge from ‘knowers’ – nicely, not with power…” – we all remember Francis Bacon saying that “Knowledge is power.” The point is that something (bad…) happened to the original meaning of Bacon’s saying; Today it characterized the attribute of an expert who holds his knowledge and know-how to himself, and not sharing it with other colleagues. And why he act like that? In order to keep and to maintain his organizational “power”, so he would not get fired. .. To the best of our knowledge today, there is nothing more wrong than that: the truth is that one who knows, an expert in his field, is ‘deadly’ anxious to share what he knows! But – he do not always has audience, people who really want to hear and learn from him. Why? Many reasons which are all ingrained in human nature: for example, we believe that us, and only us, solely, can produce something, lead a project, or develop a product. We tend to be individualistic in terms of knowledge, despite the fact that we are social creatures, who are eager to get in touch with people of our kind, of mutual interests. We are less open to learn from others and tend to ‘reinvent the wheel’ ourselves. But, knowledge is ‘social’, it develops and grows when social interactions between people occur. Even if you point a gun to an expert and order him: “Give me everything you know …!” He will give you a puzzled look, not a scared look. One who shares, must be convinced that he does so with those who really want to hear it, learn from it. The main principle here is to build trust, not building “technology to capture knowledge…”.

9. Knowledge Management Statistics is ‘qualitative’ rather than ‘quantitative’ – Ok. So we set up an organization enterprise portal, and it has all the good on earth inside: the most beautiful graphics, well-designed Look & Feel in correlate with branding of the organization, all the recent technological Features of possible or available, and how we can measure the effectiveness of this infrastructure? Let me tell you this: If you (only) measure entries or hits or unique – you are in the wrong direction/ If you (only) a measure how many newsgroups and how many discussions take place in them – you are heading in a false course. What organizations should do, is to ask users to share if they find wjat they were looking for, easily and quickly – not how many times they enter the portal. That the real test is this: ‘how many times I looked for something and receive it immediately in response to what I asked?” or: “Is the document I found helped me immediately to move my project forward?”

10. ‘Assist, enable and encourage experts to meet and talk – don’t force or order them to do it…” – a knowledgeable expert does not need your guidance to contact or talk with another knowledgeable expert. You do not have to ‘manage’ it. You do not need to explain the experts why they should meet and talk, they know that…Instead, help them that such a dialogue will take place, and for that, they need assistance in areas they are not so familiar or capable with. The organization should allow them to create a supportive environment for knowledge. Always ask them what they lack, what they need? What could help them? Offer them your assistance. Organizations must not forget that whoever act in a role of a ‘Knowledge Manager’ or a ‘Knowledge management facilitator’ does not act promote himself as the knowledge manager, yet, to the creation of new knowledge in the organization lead the organization in his field.

And lastly, but the most important and significant insight I have learned:

Do not mention within the organization the two words ‘Knowledge Management’ – I know it seems strange and odd (to say the least …), but her is a major lesson we have learned: If you want that your organization will support Organizational Learning and Knowledge Management, if you anxious to promote and maintain a knowledge-supportive environment, if you want that your organization will share knowledge, will create new knowledge, if you want that knowledge management processes will support core processes, that your organization will orchestrate smoothly, if you are interested that your organization will operate in an atmosphere that respect knowledge and ‘knowers’, If you want it that to be your organization – do not mention the two words “Knowledge Management.

A Dairy company produces milk, not Knowledge Management. Telecommunication Corporation produces communications solutions, not Knowledge Management. Aviation Corporation manufactures aeronautical systems, not Knowledge Management. Academia engaging in study and research, they do not manage knowledge. Banks engaged in finance, medicine companies, health care services and hospitals are not managing knowledge. Company engaged in supplying electric power and ports authorities focus on transporting goods and marine transportation. Not Knowledge Management. Insurance companies are challenged by growing competition in the insurance business and not on Knowledge Management.

If you want to engage the managers and workers in your organization, the engineers, technicians, sales and marketing personnel, R & D and operations personnel, the members of customer support centers, if you wish that your organization that will lead in the field, and if it is clear that the organization’s knowledge is an asset that supports the organization’s efforts to lead in the field, so do not confuse them (neither waste their precious time) with lectures on Knowledge Management (they are not interested), on the crucial importance of knowledge to the organization (it is definitely clear to them), do not tell them about Case Studies in other organizations (they have their own troubles – to hear what happening in other organizations will only annoy them …).

If you ask them, “What can I can do for you, how I can help you do what you do faster, better?”, if you get deeper into the soul of who knowers, if you really understand the deep meaning of knowledge in the organization, you will enjoy and have a great chance to get action, enthusiasm and cooperation.

Good luck!

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