Knowledge Management. You’ve heard this term in meetings, in TED Talks, or when networking, but perhaps you really don’t understand what it means. Well, it’s time to learn because knowledge management has an incredible effect on how companies operate, especially now that so many are transitioning to a fully remote or hybrid environment. The McKinsey Global institute reports that a top-notch knowledge management system (KMS) can raise organization-wide productivity by 20 to 25 percent. The same report indicates that the same KMS can reduce the time employees search for information by up to 35 percent. What’s not to like?
Simply stated, knowledge management (KM) refers to how your organization creates, accesses, shares, and maintains your resources. Instead of wasting time trying to figure out who to ask for information, then tracking that person down, you need only check the KMS to find the answer to those questions that are asked over and over.
There are three types of knowledge you must include in your KMS:
- Explicit knowledge: information that is easy to document in writing and share with colleagues. Examples include FAQs, instructions, reports and their raw data. It’s any type of formal documentation used to do a job, make a decision, or inform an audience. In today’s workplace, it’s more important than ever that your team knows how to find crucial information.
- Implicit knowledge: learned skills, “know-how.” After you find the explicit knowledge needed, you apply it to a situation. For example, explicit knowledge is a book about employment law, implicit knowledge is how you apply that knowledge in a courtroom. Creating a best practices document for specific projects is one way of sharing implicit knowledge in a KMS.
- Tacit knowledge: information that is understood without necessarily being said. This is a bit more difficult, as tacit knowledge is often personal or cultural, and usually learned over time. Social tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and WhatsApp are often used to communicate more quickly between colleagues and can also be used as a search engine for company information. While some employees seem to innately understand etiquette for these tools, others have questions: Do I have to respond immediately, or can I wait to finish my project? How late may I Slack a colleague? To add this tacit knowledge to a KMS, create a simple list of etiquette regarding these and other questions.
One famous KMS is IBM’s Watson, featured several years ago on “Jeopardy.” “Watson Discovery is AI-powered search that uses natural language processing (NLP) to retrieve answers and uncover insights buried in documents, webpages and big data. Watson Discovery cuts down search time by more than 75 percent.” (IBM) Watson interprets human language and understands context, using this understanding to quickly find relevant documents and webpages.
These are the types of knowledge you need to collect, store, and share with your organization. But that’s not the end: consistently updating your knowledge base is extremely important. If your new hire uses your current billing system but the only information in your KMS is for the previous system, that information is useless. The new biller now needs to figure out the system by trial and error or take time from a co-worker who, hopefully, knows something about it. When employees leave, they take a treasure trove of knowledge with them. It’s imperative to keep that knowledge in the KMS so that it is not lost forever.
The most important aspect of knowledge management is using it. It’s great to have a KMS in place, but it does no good if an organization does not train employees how to use it and consistently reinforces that training. If your staff works from locations around the country – or globe – easy access to this information is imperative. Don’t let all that knowledge go to waste!