Effective Knowledge Management: A Framework

In the business world, knowledge management (KM) emerged in the mid-1990’s as a key element of process improvement, value creation, and thus overall performance.

A definition of KM: Academics and practitioners alike have written a lot about KM, especially over the past two decades. Most start with defining knowledge itself, often discussing the difference between explicit and tacit knowledge or distinguishing between data, information, and knowledge. Others also present a typology of the means organizations use to create value through knowledge. Few characterizations of KM, however, avoid using the words “knowledge” and “management.” The following definition avoids that tautology and synthesizes common elements found throughout the field:

Knowledge management is a formal approach to acquiring, creating, codifying, storing, sharing and using contextualized information, expertise and other intellectual assets to support achieving an objective.

Together, the processes, activities, practices, organizational arrangements and values associated with this approach make up the KM strategy of an organization. Note that this definition requires a deliberate and explicit effort. Otherwise, this definition would encompass aspects of how all work is accomplished in organizations today. In the absence of formal approaches to KM, people have some way (or ways) of managing knowledge; it just happens informally and without much acknowledgement.

KM effectiveness: To be effective at KM means producing net positive results at three levels: enterprise, organization and individual. “Enterprise” refers to the highest level of accountability for the KM effort. For instance, this may be an entire corporation or a single subsidiary; a university or only one of its schools or colleges; or, a branch of government or simply a department. That strategy needs to deliver value in the eyes of those who govern the allocation of resources. Senior leadership have made an investment and seek some return. Therefore, effectiveness at the enterprise level means the results of the KM effort meet or exceed the expectations of those who evaluate it against its stated, or even implicit, goals.

Once established, a KM effort must continue to reliably support KM activities and their associated processes. To that end, the methods used to build an organization’s KM capabilities should also sustain and improve them. An approach that leads to conflict between units or work groups, increased employee turnover or another dysfunctional outcome cannot be regarded as effective KM management.

Lastly, KM can only be effective to the extent people learn and follow the approach, and KM success requires a sustainable level of effort. All models of rational human behavior – whether from economics, psychology, or sociology – assume that people act in certain ways only when they believe they will be better off. Thus, effectiveness at the individual level means that participants in KM activities and processes experience more satisfaction than frustration from their efforts.

In summary, we can regard KM as effective when the results are more beneficial than harmful to the organization’s goals, capabilities and resources (including its people).

Connecting the 3 levels: Performance along these three criteria can generate a reinforcing cycle. For instance, when KM demonstrates its value, leaders are more likely to make additional investments in it such as increased incentives and rewards, which can increase participation, sustain KM capabilities and produce continued results. Conversely, if people are dissatisfied and resist using the KM system, it may induce more command and control oriented approaches that can impede reaching the goals, which makes further investments unlikely, threatens sustainability of KM efforts and decreases motivation.

Bottom Line for Action: Before undertaking a KM initiative, leaders and their teams need to understanding what KM is and what it means to be good at it. For higher ed audiences in particular it is important to avoid the temptation to indulge philosophical or theoretical ideas and take instead a pragmatic and action-oriented approach. Doing so can provide a clear road map to guide efforts to make effective use of what people know so they can use it to help the organization reach its goals.

Share what you know!
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on TumblrPrint this pageEmail this to someone

Post Navigation