People often associate knowledge management with large, searchable data warehouses that require expensive information technology. The thought is, ï¿½If you build it, they will come.ï¿½ But this is not necessarily the best way to go.
You have to start with people. After all, they are the real repository of tacit knowledge in your organization. Your people first have to buy in to the idea of knowledge sharing. They should use whatever technology and processes are already in place for knowledge management. Without a supportive culture within your organization, money spent on bigger and fancier technology is just wasted.
To looks at it another way, you must understand what knowledge really is. Itï¿½s not data, which are merely raw facts and numbers that are easily stored in databases, but are not useable without information and knowledge. Information is data in context, revealing trends and relationships. Knowledge puts it all together: information, human experience, judgment, intuition and insights.
Knowledge management seeks to capture the tacit and explicit knowledge that is revealed when people share their experiences and wisdom. An effective knowledge management strategy consists of people, processes and technology, with human factors and organizational culture accounting for 80 percent and technology accounting for only 20 percent of the strategy.
For example, University of Toyota had several libraries and shared databases, but was challenged to get people to use what existed. The organization needed to create a knowledge-sharing culture. This began with a knowledge management forum to raise awareness, followed by measuring and evaluating the needs and capabilities of each department. From there, University of Toyota created a knowledge management team, including ï¿½KM Championsï¿½ representing each department. These representatives set the team goals and direction, and prioritized activities. They are part of the crucial effort to develop a knowledge management culture within the University.
A large part of the KM Championsï¿½ role is to be advocates for knowledge management, taking information back to their organizations and returning with feedback from their teams to share with the other champions. You need to have a group of people who can talk about goals at the work-group level, answer questions at staff meetings and explain to the group why the University is doing what itï¿½s doing. In this way, systems and processes are shaped with input from everyone and buy-in up front. Success is the result of relationships and technological infrastructure that are built simultaneously.
An extra benefit of the KM Champions is their ability to take a step back and see the bigger picture. They bring the viewpoints of their different areas to the table at each knowledge management team meeting, which enables them to look at how effective University of Toyota is overall, and in the Toyota spirit of ï¿½kaizen,ï¿½ identify ways to continuously improve.
In ï¿½If Only We Knew What We Know,ï¿½ Oï¿½Dell, Grayson and Essaides write, ï¿½Inside an organization, once people start helping and sharing with one another, the effort becomes a self-perpetuating cycle. We find the communities of practice and project teams are popping up in knowledge-managing organizations like so many mushrooms after the rain. They are the vehicles by which the rich, tacit knowledge gets shared among people who feel an obligation to help each other.ï¿½
Enabling knowledge management within your organization is all about changing the culture to accept knowledge sharing. The strongest motivator for sharing and transferring knowledge is the realization that doing so helps everyone do their own job better. Some people may think that hoarding knowledge is power, but the fact is that the people and organizations who share their knowledge are the most powerful.
Chuck Oï¿½Keefe is national manager, associate dean for the University of Toyota, responsible for the schoolï¿½s skills-based curriculum development, operations, strategic alliances, research, measurement and evaluation, quality management and e-learning for a student body of more than 100,000 Toyota dealer associates. Chuck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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