When someone is hired at a company, it’s not just for the skills or competencies directly relevant to their role, but because they possess a wealth of knowledge and experience both directly and indirectly relevant to for their job. However, many organisations are unable to harness all the knowledge available to them because of poor processes, unhealthy communication or simply an unwillingness to learn. You wouldn’t buy an Iphone and just use it as an alarm clock, so why do we let so much knowledge go to waste within organisations? In order for any company to reach its goals, it needs to harness the knowledge it already has and foster environments or situations where new knowledge can be created and shared with those who need it.
Knowledge in an organisation consists of all the knowledge of the people who work there, plus the data, paperwork, processes and projects that they’ve created, and the interaction between all these things.
A report commisioned by the NHS written by Géraud Servin describes two types of knowledge that a company aims to extract: explicit and tacit.
Explicit knowledge is knowledge that can be captured and documented, like instruction manuals, data or research.
Tacit knowledge is the knowledge in our heads, lived or learned experiences that are difficult to document.
For example, you could try to write an instruction manual or give a presentation on how to make an excel sheet, but trying to do the same for how to be a parent would be almost impossible. Sure, you could offer data-based solutions, but being a parent is about lived, contextual experience, the combination of personal history, insight and the way external forces inform the task at hand. This is why an intern can’t spontaneously become a manager. Although they might have a lot of explicit knowledge that they learned during their studies, they lack the tacit knowledge, the practical, lived experience that comes with doing the job day in, day out. Both explicit and tacit knowledge are imperative to a functioning organisation.
Knowledge management is effectively the collection and application of all the knowledge a company has available and the facilitation of environments where it can produce more. It assesses what knowledge the company has, what knowledge it needs to meet its objectives and develops a process for getting the right knowledge to the right place or person at the right time. It retains and archives current knowledge for future use and creates situations for generating new knowledge. Extracting and consolidating knowledge while making room for new knowledge to grow is a complex and labour-intensive process, but it can be narrowed down to a few simple points:
Integral to knowledge management is the streamlining of processes so that knowledge doesn’t get lost and, even more importantly, so that it doesn’t become chaotic and unmanageable. Paperwork, emails, irrelevant meetings, etc. shouldn’t get in the way of sharing and learning. Dismantling outdated and inefficient processes and organising workflows so that all employees can share, develop and learn is integral to the proliferation of knowledge.
Technology can be used to record, store and share knowledge, but knowledge management is also about fostering a company mindset and processes where knowledge can grow and be shared. Back to the Iphone analogy: an Iphone is useless without a user to operate it and exploit its potential. To the extent that technology can enhance the documentation, sharing, and creation of knowledge, it’s dependent on the people who use it to make it an effective tool.
Organisations who employ knowledge management recognise that facilitating connections between people and setting up situations where new knowledge can flourish is the key to unlocking the true potential of any company. Employees need a structure where they can impart the knowledge they have to others, but also to be creative and learn. Knowledge is best created in unstructured environments where creativity can flourish and failure is seen as key to learning. This could be achieved by designing a workspace for people to convene, communicate, share, and collaborate or organising group events or trainings to help employees improve and grow.
There is arguably nothing more important to a highly competitive organisation than its knowledge, which gives way to successful innovations, collaborations, and successes. Knowledge management can be an effective method for harnessing the power of any organisation to prosper by exploiting all the knowledge that is already there and creating situations where that knowledge can expand and grow.