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What is knowledge management and how to implement it?

The Netherlands is a knowledge economy. We hear this regularly. As such, we are quite high up the ladder worldwide when it comes to knowledge. But knowledge, that is an abstract concept. Because knowledge is something that is mainly in people’s heads. With knowledge management, as an organisation you can try to capture and secure that knowledge. But how do you give this process a place in your organisation?

What is knowledge?

Knowledge is a very abstract concept, which, by the way, we use very often. This question has been debated since ancient times, especially in the philosophical field. By now, we have a standard answer:

“Knowledge is known and applied by an individual, group of individuals or any (other) part of society. Knowledge includes information, descriptions of it or skills acquired through experience or training. Knowledge theory or epistemology examines what knowledge is and whether claims to knowledge are justified. Accordingly, over time, various ideas have developed about what is knowledgeable and to what extent there should be doubt.’’

A distinction can be made between theoretical and practical knowledge. There are many types of knowledge, for example self-knowledge, professional knowledge and scientific knowledge.”

Source: Wikipedia

Or, in short, knowledge is that which you know and can apply. Professor Mathieu Weggeman described it as: Knowledge = information x (experience x skills x attitude). Knowledge can be information, but it can also be how you do things. So you can have knowledge of mathematics (solving sums), but knowing how to drive a truck is also knowledge. Knowledge is mainly in people’s heads. And therein lies the challenge for organisations: how do you make sure that this knowledge comes out of those heads and that others can learn from it in order to make it their own? The answer can be found in knowledge management.

What is knowledge management?

Knowledge management focuses on capturing, sharing, using and managing knowledge. This involves, as mentioned above, tangible, explicit knowledge. But it is also about the non-tangible, implicit knowledge. This is the knowledge about how things work, how they can be interpreted, experienced, etc. The challenge in knowledge management is often not in how to deal with tangible knowledge. This is because it remains present even if an employee goes home in the evening, or decides to leave the organisation. This information is quite easy to capture and thus transfer.

The challenge lies mainly in how to deal with the implicit knowledge. This is the knowledge that is in the heads of employees, and therefore disappears the moment that employee is not present for whatever reason. This is knowledge that is incredibly valuable, and so you try to capture it as best you can.

Why knowledge management?

It is important to record knowledge; this prevents knowledge from disappearing and/or the wheel from having to be reinvented over and over again. Thanks to knowledge management, you can reuse knowledge and minimise knowledge loss, but you can also make optimal use of knowledge and make it usable within your organisation, provided it is properly implemented. It is also said that knowledge management aims to make the knowledge of the individual become the knowledge of the organisation. In other words, collective knowledge is accumulated and recorded.

With a well-designed knowledge management system, you can also achieve the following sub-goals within your organisation:

  • Increasing speed and flexibility, which is not unimportant in the VUCA world
  • Increase efficiency and productivity, which can lead to cost reduction
  • Secure and improve quality
  • Promote innovation, creativity, continuity and employee retention

Knowledge management is a discipline that interfaces with many other disciplines and departments within an organisation. These include organisational science, economics, communication sciences, IT and ICT, business administration, information science but also HRM and psychology and sociology.

How do you place knowledge management in your organisation?

Now that we know why knowledge management is important, but also that it is a complex thing, it is time to give it a place within your organisation. Do you also want this  but have no idea where to start?

Here are our 5 tips:

Tip 1. If you do not already have them: introduce collaboration tools

Think of tools like Teams for quick and easy mutual communication, or SharePoint for document collaboration. If you already have these tools, check whether they are being used as intended, and adjust where necessary. By working together, employees learn from each other more easily, and if you do this using tools, the knowledge is stored more easily.

Tip 2. See how to record informal knowledge sharing safely and efficiently

A lot of knowledge is shared one-on-one, whether at the coffee machine or in the corridors, for example. That is great, but this knowledge is not simply recorded somewhere by itself. It is therefore important to recognise these moments of knowledge sharing and to motivate people to record this knowledge somewhere, for instance as instructions in a document management system.

Tip 3. Make use of social tools

Consider an intranet, where people can share ideas, but where knowledge can also be shared among themselves. Linking it to a DMS for work instructions and protocols. this makes an intranet even more powerful, hopefully making it a one-stop shop for gathering and sharing knowledge.

Tip 4. Keep learning

One way to gain knowledge is to learn. Therefore, offer employees the opportunity to keep learning, whether by attending internal or external training courses or through e-learnings, for example.

Tip 5. Evaluate and improve

The world does not stand still, your organisation changes and people change with it. So regularly evaluate whether the knowledge sharing within the organisation still meets the current situation. And adjust components if the situation demands it. Only then can you continue to secure knowledge sharing and will knowledge management become a continuous part of your organisation.

This is how knowledge management becomes a success

Writing down, structuring and maintaining knowledge is, by definition, something that suits ‘blue‘ people. They thrive on structure. But many employees within the organisation are often not ‘blue’ by nature and may even have an aversion to structure. So it is important to realise that knowledge sharing is done in a way that suits as many people as possible. You might even consider sharing (or having shared) the same knowledge in different ways. After all, everyone learns in a different way; one person learns most from reading something, while another learns best from doing it in practice. And there are many more ways in between. By appealing to as many learning methods as possible, you ensure that absorbing and sharing knowledge becomes fun and instructive for everyone.

Things that can help are:

  • Crowd sourcing: anyone can add and modify knowledge in the system. If you search on a particular term, you will find not only explanations, but also the names of experts on that topic. But perhaps the most important part of crowd sourcing is the ability to rate knowledge. By rating a particular piece, others see that you have found it valuable and so you naturally create a database full of shared knowledge. The best example of crowd sourcing is the widely known Wikipedia, the people’s encyclopaedia. You can extend this process with gamification, challenging the employee to actively participate in the game of knowledge sharing. This can be done, for example, by handing out batches based on the amount of input and interaction.
  • Self-learning: by knowing the user’s level or function, you can tailor information to their needs. Search history can also be useful here. You can also use a few questions to determine which section of a document is relevant at that moment, without the user having to go through the whole document. The best example of a self-learning knowledge system is Google: your results for a search can turn out very different from those of your colleague who searches for the same term.

Knowledge management is something you can do together!

Much of whether or not the above is successful depends on collaboration. You cannot share knowledge alone. Communication is all about how the receiver of the message understands something. And that also applies to knowledge transfer. The sender can mean well, if the receiver does not understand, no transfer will take place. That is why it is good to adapt knowledge management to different personalities, to different ways of sharing and learning and, above all, to make it as fun and inviting as possible.

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