Guest-blog: Stephanie Barnes discusses the importance of knowledge management

Stephanie Barnes

Peter Drucker once said: ‘that today knowledge has power because it controls access to opportunity and advancement’.

The 4th Industrial Revolution is undoubtedly the century of knowledge. The everyday usage of available advanced information, business and internet technologies in business activities confirm that this is not only a phrase from the literature, but true reality.

Globalisation has brought many modern trends, and companies have the task to be flexible and adapt as quickly, easily and painlessly as they can in order to survive in the competitive market.

The vital strategic resource today is the knowledge; individual and organisational. By realising the major value of intellectual resources, companies have begun to manage rationally and improve them.

Hence the importance of knowledge management as a concept of organisational knowledge, aimed at effective application of knowledge to make quality decisions. Leadership has a central role.

Intellectual resources, and the first place knowledge, contribute to the company as a revenue contribution of products and services, preserve and increase the reputation, through the reduction of operating costs, create barriers to entry of potential competitors, by increasing customer loyalty and create innovation. The success of organisations largely depends on continual investment in learning and acquiring new knowledge that creates new businesses and improves existing performances.

Brian Tracy once said ‘Those people who develop the ability to continuously acquire new and better forms of knowledge that they can apply to their work and to their lives will be the movers and shakers in our society for the indefinite future.’

Knowledge management serves a true purpose being a fundamental business enabler, knowledge management will help organisations:
• Protect their intellectual capital
• Focus on their most important assets: their human capital
• Re-orient their culture by opting for an optimal knowledge-sharing strategy
• Link people to people by setting up collaborative methods

Today I have the distinct pleasure of introducing another Guest Blogger, Stephanie Barnes, Stephanie has over 25 years successful, experience in knowledge management and accounting in the High Technology, Health Care, and Public Accounting sectors. She is also an accomplished artist having had exhibitions in Toronto and Berlin.

Stephanie is a knowledge management consultant at Entelechy working with clients in a variety of sectors. In her consulting practice she focuses on aligning people, process, and technology to not only help organisations be more efficient and effective with what they know, but to be more innovative and creative, too. Stephanie has been bringing success to knowledge management for more than 20 years.

Stephanie graduated from Brock University with a BBA in Accounting and from McMaster University with an MBA in Information Technology. She is ITIL Masters certified, has a Business Systems Analysis certificate, as well as completing a certificate in Gamification.

Stephanie is going to talk to us today about the importance of knowledge management in today’s business world.

Thank you Geoff, I am honoured to be here on Freedom After the Sharks discussing such an important subject, lets us now introduce the subject:

We are well established in the Knowledge Age and have been for a while, yet many organisations still have an Industrial Age mind-set, treating their people like cogs in a wheel and their operations like a production line. Have you made the transition to the Knowledge Age?

Are you taking care of your knowledge and your most important knowledge asset, your people? Taking care of your knowledge means addressing people, process, and technology, in a strategic, meaningful way:
• People: what they know, how/what they learn, how they are treated;
• Process: how they create knowledge, share it, and manage it;
• Technology: supports and enables peoples and process.

Getting Started

In its simplest form, knowledge management is about connecting people to the knowledge they need to do their jobs. It gets more complicated as we look at how to do that. Is it people? Is it process? Is it technology? What do we need to do and what does this really mean?

The truth is knowledge management is about all of those things people, process, and technology. We have to know how to balance those things, to do that we need to have a strategy, so that’s where we start.

To develop a strategy we look at the organization its goals and objectives we talk to the users and see what their needs are what would make their lives easier, understand how they do their jobs, the language they use, the processes they execute, the people they work with, we need to understand all of these things.

Once we understand the internal situation of the organisation and how we would like to be working we can look at the external environment and observe what is happening in other organisations.

Not, just organisations in our industry, sector, or country, but more generally in any/all industries, sectors, or countries—there is much to be learned from any and all of them. Knowledge Management is not specific to one sector: the people, processes, and technology enable behaviours and are largely content-independent.

Reasons for having a Knowledge Management Program

There are four main reasons/purposes organisations implement knowledge management activities. These are not the only ones, and in some cases, they might be combined to make a new one, depending on the situation and the organisation.
1. Operational Excellence: improving internal processes through the application of knowledge
2. Customer Knowledge: building a better understanding of customers wants and needs and how to satisfy them
3. Innovation: creating new and better products
4. Growth and Change: replicating existing success in new markets or with new staff

For each of these purposes, there are different supporting people, process, and technology components. For example, operational excellence may focus on lessons learned, while innovation may focus on ways to help people develop their critical thinking, and creativity.

Benefits

The benefits of knowledge management are many and can be quite complex when it comes to trying to measure them, but it is possible to measure many of the benefits, the organisation just needs to be thoughtful and careful not to measure things that can drive the wrong behaviours. What follows is a brief discussion of some of the benefits of implementing a knowledge management program, as you will see many of them tie into efficiency and effectiveness, but not all. Some help people be more creative and innovative, while also improving employee engagement because of the underlying behaviour changes that are encouraged and supported.

People

In the Knowledge Age, people are the most important part of any organisation, regardless of whether the organisation has a tangible product or not, people are at the front lines, interacting with customers/clients/stakeholders, they are developing and delivering products and services. They know where the problems are, what could be better, what would be easier, involving them in developing and rolling out knowledge management activities helps ensure that they:
• Know where to find what they need;
• Share what they know;
• Collaborate with others
• Create what they need to create, and reuse what can be reused;
• Innovate when necessary;
• Apply critical thinking when things aren’t working as expected;
• Learn and adapt to new situations and information; all of this improves
• Employee engagement, which reduces turnover costs, among other things.

Process
There are two types of processes that are part of a knowledge management program, those that specifically have to do with knowledge management, e.g. lessons learned or community of practice processes, and those that have to do with the organisation’s operations, e.g. accounting and finance, sales and marketing, research and development, that benefit from having some form of knowledge management applied to them. Generally speaking, focusing on processes means that:
• Efficiency and effectiveness are improved; that the processes are aligned to
• Support the organisation’s goals and objectives; and
• Improve quality; while
• Reducing errors; and allowing for
• Continuous improvement.

The idea of continuous improvement isn’t just about efficiency and effectiveness. Continuous improvement can also be about innovation and doing things differently when the “same old way” isn’t working any more. I will discuss innovation a bit more later in this article.

Technology
While I could discuss each of the different types and purposes of supporting technology, and there are many, in general, they do two things:
• Support and enable the organisations’ goals and objectives; and
• Enable the benefits of People and Process described above.

Knowledge Management technology is not an end in itself, many organisations believe that it is, and this is where things can get stuck (more on that later), but the benefit to technology is that it supports the people and the process pieces of the knowledge management puzzle and makes them more scalable, repeatable, not to mention efficient and effective.

How to be successful
The first step to being successful with knowledge management is to develop a strategy and a plan. Knowledge management has many different reasons and components, so it’s important to understand how they all fit together and work on them in a balanced, simultaneous way without focusing on one part to the detriment of the others, e.g. focusing only on technology and ignoring the role that people and process play.

That said, based on my experience one of the keys to being successful with knowledge management is to work across the silos of the organisation, this makes a lot of people very nervous, but it’s the only way to do it and be successful. This means talking to people, involving them, keeping them informed.

Another key is to involve users. This often gets called design thinking, these days, but design thinking wasn’t something I’d heard of when I first did it 20 years ago, it was just the right thing to do. I certainly didn’t know what would make people’s jobs easier, and reduce their workload, or at least not increase it, so I asked them. I talked to them about their processes, what they call things, how they are organised, the things that worked for them, what didn’t work for them.

Once I get user/stakeholder input I created wireframes and prototypes and validated them with the people I’d talked to, making modifications where I’d misunderstood something or not asked enough questions. We often did this 2-3 times until we got it right. Today, this gets call agile, trying and failing, or iteration; again, it just seemed to be the right thing to do when I first did it. I was realistic enough to know that I wasn’t an expert in whatever my users were, so if I was going to help them, I was going to need their help–it was a team effort, we were in this together.

Something else that is critical is keeping everyone informed: users, management, other stakeholders. We had regular emails, updates, and meetings as well as documents being posted online for people to access. It takes a lot of communication!

It’s also critical to ask questions and ensure alignment. When something doesn’t make sense, go back to the users, the use cases they had described, the organisation’s vision or strategy, whatever helps me ensure we are moving in the right direction, in the best interests of the people I was working with and the organisation as a whole. If I have conflicting information, we talk about it and make a decision, sometimes, I make the decision, sometimes the team does, whatever keeps us moving towards the goal and has buy-in and support. The times that I make the decision, I explain my rationale and reasoning, so that people don’t feel excluded, like I have “done it to them”. We are in this together, we only succeed together.

I treat people like equals, with the trust and respect they deserve. They come to trust me and work with me to achieve our objectives. It is hard. Lots of people don’t like it. Lots of people want a command and control approach, but that’s not going to be successful. We’re in the age of the knowledge worker and have been for a long time. It demands a different approach than the industrial age.

have to be passionate, tenacious, and willing to admit you don’t have all the answers, but you’ll find out. Success takes leadership, not a place on the hierarchy.

Three Reasons People get Stuck or Fail with Knowledge Management

There are almost as many reasons why knowledge management programs get stuck or fail as there are organisations implementing it. But, based on my experience, these three arise most often:
1. The knowledge management project/program manager is new to knowledge management and they are confused about where/how to start;
2. The organisation underestimated the complexity of the task, e.g. the need to work cross-functionally;
3. The organisation focused only on Information Technology.

Reading this article/blog post can help you figure out how to address these things, and hopefully, by reading it, it’s also becoming clear how complex it is, and that giving responsibility to someone with knowledge management experience and expertise regardless of their other subject matter knowledge makes sense.

Three Stages of Knowledge Management Execution and What to do First in Each Stage

There are three stages of knowledge management. Those organisations who are just starting and wondering what to do or where to start. Often the person responsible is new to knowledge management and expects to treat it like they have treated other projects or programs that they have run, however, all too often those other projects or programs were centred on one idea/technology/content area, nothing is quite as complex as knowledge management. These organisations need to develop a strategy and a plan for knowledge management, identifying a prioritised list of activities as part of this plan for moving forward.

The second stage is made up of companies who have been working on knowledge management for 3-5 years and who have had some success. These organisations need to assess the maturity of what they have accomplished and plan out next steps for taking knowledge management to other parts of the organisation or maturing the use of the activities within the organisation, i.e. making the application of knowledge management processes more consistent.

Finally, the third stage is when the knowledge management program is being asked to broaden their activities to include other purposes/motivations, like helping the organisation be more innovative and creative. Again, in this stage, the organisation needs to develop a strategy and a plan, and consider what activities will help them meet this new purpose.

In some cases, like with innovation and creativity, the knowledge management program may need to look outside of the typical knowledge management activities and consider other disciplines, like design, or art (in the case of creativity and innovation).

What a Knowledge Sharing Culture Really Means

A knowledge-sharing culture means that the organisation is open to and encourages the sharing of knowledge. This means that people are expected to ask questions and search for the knowledge they need, and also, that the people who have the knowledge are expected to give it to those who need it. Although, like the rest of knowledge management, it is more complicated than this would lead one to believe.

People need to feel that it is safe to ask questions and admit that they don’t know something. They need to be given time for research and reflection. Those with the knowledge to share need to know that it is okay to take the time to share, and they need to understand the value of sharing both to themselves and the organisation.

There is a common belief in many organisations that people should hoard knowledge rather than share it, because they are afraid that by sharing their knowledge, they decrease their importance and open themselves up to being laid-off and replaced by someone at a lower salary. However, this is not true, the value in the knowledge is in the sharing of it and a person’s worth increases the more they share and are seen to be sharing.

When organisations start to consider increasing the knowledge sharing that happens, they need to help support these behaviours by redesigning performance reviews and rewards as well as putting activities in place to help encourage sharing, e.g. communities of practice.

Summary

It is time for knowledge management to be more than an after-thought for many organisations, in the Knowledge Age, it is time that knowledge be taken seriously and treated like the strategic asset that it is. Knowledge is alive, it lives, and it breathes through its sharing, it is not an information technology project, it is a people, process, and technology program. It encompasses all of the complexity of an ecosystem and needs to be understood as such.

You can contact Stephanie on the web:
www.realisation-of-potential.com
– LinkedIn www.linkedin.com/in/stephanieabarnes
– Email: Stephanie AT realisation-of-potential.com (removing all the spaces)

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