Growing Great Companies


Managing and Retaining Your Company's Knowledge

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Methods and Tools for Gathering and Storing Knowledge

To establish a successful KM program, you must determine how to capture key knowledge. The following are some of the methods available:

Creating and Discovering Knowledge:

  • Creative brainstorming techniques
  • Concept mapping
  • Data mining
  • Text mining (See the Resources section for a great article on text mining from Chemical Week entitled Knowledge Management: Mining for Gold in the Lab.)
  • Business simulation
  • Content analysis
  • Social network analysis

Sharing Knowledge:

  • Learning networks / e-learning
  • Sharing best practices
  • After-action reviews
  • Structured dialogue
  • Share fairs
  • Cross functional teams
  • Decision diaries
  • Mentoring
  • Knowledge bases

Organizing and Managing Knowledge:

  • Knowledge centers
  • Infrastructure tools such as groupware, intranets, KM suites
  • Expertise profiling
  • Knowledge mapping
  • Data warehouses
  • Document management systems/software

KM and Your Workforce

Successful KM programs start and end with the hiring process. Employees must understand from the beginning that gathering and sharing critical knowledge is an integral part of their jobs. When they decide to leave, you must employ systems and tools to retain as much of their knowledge as possible.

Create a KM Culture

According to De Long and Mann, the key to making knowledge management work is to develop a “shared sense of mission, trust, and commitment to the individual. Employees are much more likely to want to share their knowledge if they feel emotionally committed to the organization’s long-term mission.” As an executive, your role is to hire the right people—those who have a knowledge sharing mentality. Provide the right tools. And foster a culture that encourages collaboration, shared learning, and a commitment to common goals.

Hire Knowledge Naturals

Filling your organization with people who desire to collect and share knowledge doesn’t happen by accident. Making the following functions part of the hiring process can help ensure the individuals you hire are “knowledge naturals”.

Job Descriptions

Make KM a formal and measurable part of all job descriptions. When you perform evaluations, make sure that you review each employee’s record of capturing and sharing knowledge. By holding employees accountable, there’s a greater chance that they will participate in the KM program.

Behavioral Assessment

Hiring people based on skills and experience is not sufficient to ensure a good hire. The people you hire must also thrive in a corporate culture that values KM. Too often in the chemical industry, potential employees believe that success (or at least security) comes with hoarding knowledge. These candidates will never advance the cause of KM in your company.

Behavioral assessment is a process that can help you evaluate cultural fit. It combines structured interviewing with analytical assessments to gauge the personality traits of a potential candidate. Your objective is to discover if each candidate’s personality style is the right fit for a knowledge-based organization.

Orientation Programs

Newly hired personnel typically wish to follow company norms, so use your orientation program to focus on the importance of KM. Define critical knowledge and review the tools used to store and retrieve that knowledge.

Because company culture is not determined solely by the formal orientation process, develop learning methods that extend into ongoing management practices. For example, you may create a mentoring system, matching your most sincere proponents of KM with incoming employees.

Mitigate Knowledge-Loss Risk

When feasible, critical knowledge and responsibilities should be shared by at least two people. At Shell (the energy and petrochemical group), they have created a technical skills management process to identify their long-term human capital needs and to help develop the skills required to bring new plants online. Global skill-resource managers make sure that Shell has people ready if vacancies occur in critical positions. Shell strives to have three people prepared with the necessary skill and knowledge at any given time to step into any critical position that might open up even at a moment’s notice.

Knowledge-Based Exit Interviews

When people do leave your organization, make sure you or your managers give exit interviews that gather critical job-related knowledge. Make sure to record detailed information about the processes and techniques that each departing employee used. Then ask general questions like, “What were your greatest challenges? How did you overcome them?” Be sure to document the data completely during the review. When done correctly, knowledge interviews can provide information to help you fill the job opening, improve your organization, and aid incumbents and new employees.

Putting the Power of Knowledge to Work

Developing a company that truly values KM is not easy. It takes strong leadership, commitment to a culture that values learning, and open lines of communication. But a successfully executed KM program is an excellent way to maintain your competitive advantage. And in today’s knowledge economy, it’s an avenue you can’t afford to ignore.

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