Knowledge management poses a major challenge to a lot of organizations, and a poorly laid-out strategy will result in failure. But before we get into the challenges of implementing a knowledge management strategy, we need to understand why knowledge management is important in the first place. As an organization evolves, it accumulates diverse experience. Every new challenge presents opportunities to learn, innovate and solve. These experiences could be around strategies, processes, algorithms or domain-specific knowledge. It is important for an organization to syndicate this knowledge because it will equip the organization to deal a little better with a situation that has precedence and can ultimately lead to competitive advantage. When an organization is small, syndication is less of a challenge because everybody is aware of what others do. However, as an organization grows, operations become compartmentalized and knowledge sharing does not naturally occur; therefore, a more conscious effort is needed to implement an effective knowledge management system.
Recognizing the importance of knowledge management is just the beginning. It is also necessary to consider the likely pitfalls to should avoid while devising an effective knowledge management strategy. A useful knowledge management strategy must address the following points: Cultivating a culture that encourages knowledge sharing, Understanding the need for intellectual property protection, and Devising a cohesive strategy for dissemination. Culture
While all three of these steps in the process are crucial, perhaps the most impactful is building a culture that encourages knowledge sharing. This step is the foundation to success and needs the attention and support of the senior management team to attain the desired goal. All organizations have mechanisms to reward their best and brightest. These could be awards or recognition, bonuses and other financial incentives or promotions. While these mechanisms are very effective in incenting employees to perform better, they do have the undesirable outcome of pitting peers against each other. While some competition is healthy, it tends to make people unwilling to share the secret ingredient of their success with their peers. This is never a good thing for any organization; therefore senior management should establish measures that will facilitate knowledge sharing. For example, there should be incentives to share knowledge such as recognition during performance evaluations. Emphasis on the benefits of knowledge sharing should start at the very top of the organization. If the CEO and other senior leaders mandate and promote knowledge sharing, employees will recognize its importance and understand that failure to comply could negatively impact their progress in the organization.
Confidentiality and Intellectual Property Issues
An important issue to consider in devising knowledge management programs is the confidentiality and intellectual property requirements of the organization. Some or all aspects of a project might be confidential for a variety of reasons from a corporation point of view, the case may be due to strategic reasons, while consulting firms might face client confidentiality constraints. Again with intellectual property, while it is important to use new experiences to gain a strategic advantage, one needs to be careful about not making the secret ingredient public knowledge that would be easily acquired by competitors.
To tackle these issues, an organization first needs to define what is confidential and what can be shared. Again, this is an element that requires the involvement and attention of the senior management team. Very often an organization takes a tiered approach to knowledge management, with access to confidential material increasing with seniority.
For some organizations, in addition to seniority in the firm and client requirements, noncompete clauses must also be figured into the mix. Once it has been decided what can be shared with whom, steps need to be taken to ensure that confidential information and intellectual property do not disappear completely when employees leave the organization.
An example of effective IP protection is illustrated in a program implemented by a leading consulting firm. This firm developed a set of algorithms to create more effective customer targeting models. While it was imperative for the organization to make the lessons learned available to all their analysts, they did not want to run the risks of their competitors gaining access to this information. To overcome this challenge, they created a process by which everybody outside a very small and core group had a high level understanding of the process and knew how to use the algorithm. The algorithm itself was encrypted and designed not to run outside the organizations environment.
While this approach would work well with algorithms and processes, it would be hard to replicate this success when the knowledge in question is strategic or qualitative. However, implementing controls surrounding the level of details at which the information is shared across the organization could go a long way to prevent leaking the information to competitive audiences.
These are tough issues that a knowledge manager must consider upfront, but working in concert with the senior management team will guarantee that a strong strategy will be developed, supported and put into practice.
Finally, a carefully planned dissemination strategy for the knowledge management framework is the last step in the process to successful implementation. There are several aspects of dissemination to be considered.
A buzz around the importance of knowledge management needs to be created within the organization and supported by regular sessions that illustrate and reinforce the goal of internal sharing.
When planning these sessions, the nature of the organization needs to be considered. Are employees at one location, or are they dispersed across geographies or time zones? For dispersed organizations, it is always beneficial to have employees at each geographic location involved in the process to champion the efforts from each location; for instance, utilizing Web-based tools to organize common sessions across geographies and time zones.
There is no single optimal approach. The knowledge manager needs to understand the organizational constraints and then devise a solution that will result in maximum mileage for the knowledge-sharing efforts.
Another important element of knowledge dissemination is the creation of a knowledge-sharing portal. The portal acts as a repository for relevant documents, such as case studies, training materials, best practices, metadata and other materials deemed useful for attaining the overall goal. A tool, such as a portal, should be easy to use, but like any aspect of a program that helps an organization attain a competitive edge, real attention should be given to security capabilities. Elements such as access control should be looked at carefully. A useful feature is the ability to track document usage by users. Not only does it help restrict access to unauthorized users but it also helps the knowledge manager understand what sections of the portal appeal to different types of users and aids in the improvement of the content.
The foundations of a successful knowledge management paradigm lie in creating the right organizational culture for knowledge sharing, ensuring that appropriate measures are in place to protect strategic information and intellectual property, and ensuring that dissemination of knowledge is done effectively by appropriate means, such as regular sessions and creation of tools, such as a knowledge portal. All elements need to be carefully thought out while designing an effective knowledge management system as each layer builds upon the other, and a weak link could lead to the failure of the entire effort.
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