What is Knowledge Management and Why Should My Company Care?

What is Knowledge Management and Why Should My Company Care?

Increasingly today, companies are in the business of applying knowledge to solve complex problems. As a result, executives in every industry rely heavily on the intellect of their employees and the established processes that carry their business. While this requires a highly skilled workforce, it also affords companies the opportunity to identify and adopt best practices, institutionalize the associated knowledge, and spread this content broadly to promote the success of the organization holistically. In doing so, this also reduces reliance on individual contributors.

In order to achieve this end, companies must think strategically about how they capture, evaluate, distribute, and maintain their most valuable content; the way that they do this defines their knowledge management (KM) strategy.

While KM has been a prevalent concept in business for decades, understanding how to define it and its relevance to your business can be a challenge. To help clear things up, we offer the following points of consideration:

What do we consider knowledge?

To understanding this concept we must separate knowledge from broader operational content. Simply put, knowledge is content developed for the specific intent of future reference by a broad but specific audience. This content should offer synthesized and easily referenced insights and should be written with a specific use case in mind. A simple SharePoint that warehouses the working documents or historical contracts of a business group, as an example, would not be considered knowledge in a KM context because this content is written for a specific business end rather than for operational guidance or to promote the development of an individual or team. A preferred vendor list, instructions to execute a specific process, or design templates, on the other hand, fit well within the definition above.

What is Knowledge Management?

Knowledge Management emerged as an area of focus in the 1980’s with the advent of the internet and has evolved ever since. An early advocate, Tom Davenport, defined Knowledge Management as “the process of capturing, distributing, and effectively using knowledge.” Today’s definition has broadened to include the careful evaluation of captured content, the placement and storage of said content, and the ongoing maintenance of stored materials. With big company tools like intranets, companies have been able to compile their valuable databases, documents, policies, procedures, and expertise to develop dashboards, expertise locators, best practice locators, communities, directories, response teams, libraries, and internal search engines.

The ecosystem of resources you create defines the strategy, and that strategy should be deeply informed by the front-line employees that will be using it.

Why does it matter to my business?

With a defined and maintained strategy, companies can create open and meaningful lines of communication and deploy this content broadly to their employees. This a critical capability when organizations onboard new employees, handle role successions, and create consistent practices across an organization. At some point, this content is the only way to ensure business continuity in the face of change and challenge. The KM strategy is what keeps content organized, accessible, and well communicated across an organization.

If this is a topic that interests you, I invite you to follow my three-part blog series. From here we’ll discuss how to determine whether or not your organization is ready to implement a KM strategy, and, further, give you a step-by-step process to implementing a grassroots KM solution at your company.

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