Managing Your Organizational Knowledge

If you’ve ever thought about compiling everything everyone in your organization knows – or needs to know – about their jobs, you might quickly become overwhelmed. There is a lot of information in a lot of people’s brains.

How could you possibly capture it all? Well, you can’t but you can take steps to ensuring some of the most important information is collected.

Organizational knowledge is the sum of all knowledge contained within an organization that can provide business value. It’s what’s continually being learned, shared and preserved, and includes systems and processes, intellectual property and product knowledge.

If not well managed, your organization is at risk of role-specific knowledge vanishing each time an employee leaves or retires. That’s bad news, given the average new hire spends an estimated 200 unproductive hours on the job due to a lack of access to relevant knowledge.

Understanding the types of knowledge an organization possesses is an important step in being able to successfully capture and preserve it. There are two main types of knowledge: explicit and tacit.

Explicit knowledge includes policies, procedures, job descriptions and contracts – knowledge that is documented and indisputable, and can be updated, shared and accessed fairly easily.

Tacit knowledge is something else altogether. In his book, Managing Organizational Knowledge, Charles A. Tryon, Jr. says that tacit knowledge is the most important kind of organizational knowledge, as well as the most challenging to transfer.

Tacit knowledge is “knowing with certainty about something that cannot be reduced to words or physical media.” This is where capturing the knowledge of seasoned employees before they leave comes into play. “You may hand their documented procedures to replacement staff, but the new staff fails at the job because they don’t have the understanding that lives between the lines of the explicit knowledge.”

Think of that veteran employee on the shop floor who knows just what needs to be done to get that particular machine humming, beyond flipping the ON switch. It’s more about intuition or judgement than instructions and directions.

How an organization manages its knowledge is increasingly important as more and more jobs become specialized, with just a few people possessing certain job-specific knowledge.

But knowledge management isn’t just about collecting data. It’s about getting the right information to the right people at the right time. A successful knowledge management strategy involves processes, technology and people, which also means ensuring your organization creates an environment where employees actually want to share what they know.

Creating a digital knowledge repository that continuously captures and analyzes the knowledge of your organization is key to its management. And while knowledge can be captured in many places, the most common one is a knowledge management system (KMS), which includes anything from training materials and case studies to intranets and databases.

However, things are changing quickly in the world of knowledge management. It’s estimated that roughly 85% of data will be unstructured this year. With the advent of Industry 4.0, digital knowledge will be located in a continuously growing set of mediums. They are becoming more interconnected and accessible, allowing learners to locate and digest content as needed.

So, if your organization is already struggling to manage your collective knowledge, it’s likely going to get more difficult. Ensuring your organization has systems and strategies to capture both explicit and tacit knowledge will have a significant impact on your organization – now and into the future.

Xpan develops digital learning solutions for companies globally. From design to deployment, our team is making heroes of Learning and Development Officers and contributing to the worldwide number of individuals improving their workplace experience (and lives) with better learning.

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