Common Elements of Successful Knowledge Management Systems

University of Florida - UF Health Science Center – Jacksonville

Knowledge management systems that consistently yield the most effective results for their organizations typically have a few factors in common. The systems incorporate both documented knowledge and the wisdom that is housed exclusively in the minds and practices of experienced employees. They also present that information in formats that match user preferences.

These formats range from paper-based file-and-folder setups to combinations of sophisticated software, and they often are built on existing structures, such as additions to the organization’s current intranet.

  • The systems include step-by-step procedures for compiling, confirming, circulating, and updating organizational knowledge.
  • Job descriptions are created for every member of the KM system development team to ensure that there is accountability for work done at each of the five stages of the KM development initiative.
  • Where applicable, technology such as specialized software, electronic communication systems, and the use of the organizations intranet makes the accumulated and archived knowledge available to those who need it in distant locations. (Although high-tech tools are not prerequisites for creating a useful KM system, most organizations that have multiple locations find such tools to be necessary components.)
  • To capture the knowledge and expertise of retiring employees, organizations use formal documentation, video and audio recordings, one-on-one interviews, and succession-focused mentoring.
  • The systems establish gathering places, such as online communities of practice or collaborative work spaces where current employees can share knowledge and discuss ongoing projects.
  • The organizations work toward creating cultures of knowledge sharing through various incentives, such as rewarding contributions to the knowledge base, spotlighting executive personnels use of the knowledge base, and recognizing innovations developed from information gathered through the KM system.
  • The systems are updated continually and are revised and upgraded to answer new challenges that occur within the organization.

Organization-wide support for your KM system

Knowledge management is not solely the responsibility of an organizations information technology, human resources, or training departments. To be effective, a KM system should be organization-wide, both in its contributors and in its users. When the system is in its early development phase, engaging broad support may be a challenge because of organization members natural resistance to new directions and initiatives.

This resistance may stem from fear of not being able to understand and use this new KM system. It may be connected to the idea that documenting the knowledge they have in their heads will replace the need to keep them in the organization. Its also a step out of the comfort zones that they’ve been operating in, even if that comfort zone was inefficient and outdated. And, ultimately, employees may not see the need for a KM system because they simply cant visualize the potential benefits for them.

The following activities are good ways to overcome some of that resistance and promote your KM system throughout an entire organization:

  • Encourage executive support for the KM initiative by developing a well-defined project plan that includes a detailed timeline, documented project roles and authority levels, resource requirements, accountability and evaluation methods, risk mitigation and management plans, a training plan, and an ongoing communications strategy.
  • Publicize the support of executive-level managers through organization communications and reveal the degree of their support by highlighting their allocation of time and resources.Be selective in your use of the term knowledge management. The term itself can cause confusion and link your effort to the failures that may have happened in earlier KM efforts. Instead, create your program as an answer to a current challenge, linking it directly to organizational goals to counter potential resistance and gain acceptance.
  • Create a steering committee with representatives from across the organization. An effective KM system ultimately must address the needs of all departments, even if it begins with a focus in a limited area.
    If the system will include a customer service component, get input from current customers.
  • Request input from the information technology department early in the process. At some point, the KM system will require computer-based tools and access to make it grow. Planning with that growth in mind ensures that the selected input and user formats will make the eventual transition seamless.
  • Start small and expand incrementally. Introducing your KM program on too broad a basis will make inevitable small missteps at rollout appear disastrous.

Note: This article is excerpted from Knowledge Management Basics by Christee Gabour Atwood.

Christee Gabour Atwood

Christee Gabour Atwood’s background includes radio announcer, newspaper columnist, television anchor, stand-up comic, association executive (which is another version of a stand-up comic), and Universal Studios tour guide (which taught her to point to her left and right).

She’s the best-selling author of five business and training books, which have been translated to both Japanese and Chinese, and are used in universities from the United States to Korea and Lebanon. She’s coordinated skills development systems and the sharing of knowledge within organizations ranging from governmental agencies and municipalities, corporate and retail organizations, associations, and nonprofits.

Christee and HRDQ-U are hosting a free webinar on July 22th at 2pm. Sign up for it now!

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