Managing knowledge requires new paradigm

At this year’s annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, a survey conducted by Price Waterhouse Coopers revealed that 97 percent of senior executives believe knowledge management is a critical issue for them.

The world’s leading corporations are realising that the larger they grow, the more difficult it is to keep track of who knows what within the organisation.

They now recognise that, with the emergence of the global knowledge economy, continuing success and, in fact, survival will be increasingly affected by and related to knowledge management.

A look at the global knowledge economy in 1999 in most advanced economies would reveal a very small minority of knowledge-rich and knowledge-skilled companies and a ponderous majority of knowledge clumsy businesses.

Professionals working at the coalface with knowledge management issues have discovered and are continually contending with some interesting paradoxes:

• using knowledge does not consume it.

• transferring knowledge does not lose it

• knowledge is abundant, but the ability to use it is scarce

• producing knowledge resists organisation

• much of it walks out the door at the end of the day.

In the new economy, a company’s knowledge base is quickly becoming its most sustainable competitive advantage – hence the rising interest in protecting, cultivating and sharing the knowledge resource effectively among company employees.

Knowledge management has emerged as the systematic process of finding, selecting, organising, distilling and presenting information so as to improve employee comprehension in a specific area of interest.

Various knowledge management activities are now being fine-tuned to improve problem solving, dynamic learning and strategic planning.

Many organisations simply “don’t know what they know” and frequently become involved in costly duplication of effort and loss of organisational knowledge through employee attrition.

The most practical of strategies involves a series of fundamental steps – establishing effective information management systems and processes, locating key knowledge within the company, codifying the knowledge, developing suitable knowledge transfer methodologies and promoting individual knowledge development.

Worldwide experience with the introduction of knowledge management programs across a range of different cultures has produced some interesting common realities worthy of consideration by managers about to take the first step:

• knowledge management can be expensive but so is stupidity

• effective management of knowledge requires hybrid solutions of people and technology.

• knowledge management never ends.

• knowledge management can be highly political within the firm.

• sharing and using knowledge are often unnatural acts.

• knowledge management means improving knowledge work processes

• knowledge management requires knowledge managers

• knowledge access is only the beginning

• commitment from senior management is critical.

• appropriate funding for knowledge management incentives is a key to success.

Notwithstanding these realities, many companies are discovering that when they have figured out how to give their employees the organisational knowledge they need, at the point and time needed, they can position themselves to be winners in the marketplace.

• Mal Bryce is a former WA Deputy Premier and Minister of Technology.

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