Knowledge management strategy: an honest overview

Knowledge management strategy: an honest overview

February 17, 2022

Andrea Di Stefano

Technology Research Analyst

Those of you who have ever had the pleasure of reading the Divine Comedy might remember Canto XXVI, one of the most famous and fascinating sections of Dante's journey through the Nine Circles of Hell. During this passage, Ulysses tells Dante about his dramatic journey to cross the legendary Pillars of Hercules and venture into the unknown.

"You were not made to live your lives as brutes, but to be followers of worth and knowledge", are his last words to an exhausted and frightened crew before their ship is engulfed by the stormy sea. Obviously, comparing the pursuit of knowledge in a business scenario to Ulysses' tragic adventure might sound hyperbolic. After all, although onboarding actually refers to a naval term, the training of new employees rarely ends in a shipwreck.

However, acquiring and transmitting information or know-how in a corporate setting can be really challenging, as many employees may testify after feeling confused and guideless from a general lack of knowledge sharing and communication, just like a sailor navigating without a map. And here comes the importance of identifying and adopting a suitable knowledge management strategy in any enterprise. Let's define this concept and delve into its potential benefits, together with the obstacles you might find along your path.

Knowledge management today and tomorrow

Knowledge management (also referred as KM) encompasses strategies and techniques aimed at streamlining the creation, access, and sharing of information resources or expertise to get the most out of an organization's intellectual assets.

This holistic discipline is certainly not something new. Its importance in driving business performance and gaining a competitive edge on the market has been widely recognized over the last 30 years, resulting in the widespread adoption of tools and initiatives such as corporate training, mentoring, apprenticeship programs, forums, libraries, wikis, and more.

So much so that Deloitte's 2020 Global Human Capital Trends survey ranked knowledge management as the third most impactful factor influencing a company's success, even though many of the organizations surveyed may not be ready to leverage it yet.

Top factors for enterprise success

What is relatively new, however, is knowledge management's role in the age of social distancing and scattered workforces due to the COVID-19 pandemic. An unexpected event that, along with the general shift towards digitalization, will likely redefine our approach to this discipline and make it more relevant than ever.

In this regard, Deloitte's 2020 European Workforce Survey highlighted that knowledge sharing and transferring will be the backbone of the remote and hybrid working models and that companies prioritizing these aspects are perceived by employees as more competitive, innovative, and attractive for employment.

Indeed, the effect of an efficient knowledge management strategy, specifically in terms of knowledge transfer, seems to be a much higher percentage of employees considering it easy to get information both from knowledge management repository systems and from their colleagues.

Knowledge accessibility by knowledge transfer prioritization

As for the payoffs

While smoother access to corporate knowledge may represent an immediate operational advantage, the long-term benefits of a proper knowledge management strategy are way more far-reaching than that and typically include:

  • Speeding up employee onboarding via effective mentoring programs, facilitating staff upskilling with training initiatives and comprehensive knowledge bases, and therefore improving your workforce's overall performance.
  • Seizing a wider range of business opportunities that might be missed without a solid knowledge distribution and the availability of qualified staff to join profitable projects.
  • Making your business more resilient in the event of employee turnover (or health crisis, since it's 2022) thanks to better knowledge sharing and the consequent ability to preserve your organizational memory.
  • Providing your staff with an ongoing flow of valuable business insights from repositories and fellow employees, thus fostering innovation, creativity, and interchange of ideas, while preventing stagnation.
  • Enhancing your network of partners and clients with targeted training services, typically achieved by adopting an extended enterprise LMS and investing in LMS consulting.

Knowledge management strategy essentials

As we talked about the current state of knowledge management and mentioned its key benefits, you may have already spotted some of the most common strategies to properly leverage the intellectual assets within an organization. But before delving into this topic, allow me to give a more detailed definition of the nature of the aforementioned knowledge.

Various frameworks have been proposed to classify the different branches of knowledge. The most common one involves a separation between explicit knowledge and tacit knowledge. Explicit knowledge basically refers to formalized data and information stored in databases or any other type of repository and handled via proper IT infrastructures and management systems.

Tacit knowledge, on the other hand, represents the know-how developed and internalized by a human being through experience. Managing this type of knowledge may be much trickier since we're talking about information literally stored in our heads and whose transmission requires some sort of social interaction.

Tacit vs explicit knowledge

From this differentiation, we can notice a recurring (and perhaps predictable) pattern of any knowledge management strategy, namely the combination of human relationships and technological tools. The way companies balance between the two depends on the type of strategy adopted.

Pull vs push strategy

Most techniques for distributing knowledge fall into two main types of strategies respectively known as “push” and “pull”.

We may consider the pull strategy as a more social way of sharing knowledge, as it involves the interaction between requestors searching for answers and experts offering insights. This knowledge management approach, usually referred to as personalization, encourages active discussions and the direct transmission of notions by building networks of people, with technology playing a lesser role in streamlining communication among different actors.

Companies relying on the pull knowledge management strategy focus on building a solid collaborative environment and usually implement tools and techniques such as:

  • Brainstorming sessions
  • Videoconferences
  • Corporate training and courses
  • Communities of Practice
  • Workshops
  • After-action reviews
  • Expert directories

The push strategy, on the other hand, embraces a more tech-centric approach to knowledge management called codification. It implies the active encoding of personal knowledge into documents or other types of content and their storage into shared repositories (for example, intranet databases and knowledge bases) which can be used by other employees as information sources.

As you may expect, uploading and retrieving such documents requires adequate technological tools, i.e. software solutions equipped with advanced content management features such as:

  • Content editors
  • Collaborative authoring tools
  • Content taxonomy and tagging systems
  • Wikis and libraries
  • Bookmarking engines
  • Expert systems (software emulating human experts)
  • Smart search engines with filters

While the latter strategy is probably less effective in promoting social interaction in the workplace and creating a shared corporate culture, its strength lies in its high scalability thanks to the constant reuse of knowledge recovered from repositories, which cuts communication costs.

Pull and push strategy

Despite their different pros and cons, however, what these strategies have in common is a constant focus on knowledge sharing, along with the important (albeit variable) contribution of technology in achieving this goal. So, let’s have a look at the range of tech tools for managing and sharing intellectual resources at our disposal.

The knowledge management tech toolkit

Knowledge management is first and foremost a matter of establishing communication and empowering people. But denying the role of new technologies in enabling effective knowledge management (like the emergence of AR in education) would at least seem naive, especially in the age of big data and hyperconnectivity.

Nowadays, organizations can count on a remarkable array of software specifically designed to enable elearning content creation, store and share information within teams or across departments, and facilitate mentoring and upskilling programs. Here are some of the most relevant tools at our disposal:

Content management systems

Along with document management systems and workflow management systems, they provide a variety of features to optimize the digital content lifecycle, including advanced editors for content design, workflow monitoring tools, and content repositories.

Collaboration software

Also known as groupware, it acts as a unified hub to coordinate employees working on a common task, share information or documents, and communicate with colleagues and business partners through video conferencing and virtual meetings.

eLearning software

It includes learning management systems, eLearning portals, mLearning apps, VR education, and AI-based educational solutions enabling enterprises to streamline the design, organization, and delivery of customized training services and online educational resources to their staff.

Employee portals

They allow your workforce to easily access human resources services, as well as personal and corporate information stored in employee handbooks (policies and guidelines), staff directories (contacts, department, etc.), or product and service libraries (detailing your corporate offering).

A knowledge management roadmap

After framing some of the major knowledge management strategies and the most common technologies supporting them, you may be wondering how to identify and implement one that matches your business goals. These are the steps we consider essential for this purpose:

  1. Knowledge culture promotion. Knowledge culture is the motor oil that enables the knowledge management engine to work smoothly. Building a solid knowledge culture within your organization requires promoting awareness of the different types of knowledge as well as motivating knowledge sharing and networking with proper incentives and rewards.
  2. Knowledge mapping. This phase involves the discovery of your tacit and explicit knowledge assets and data sources, a comprehensive assessment of their actual use, and the identification of any knowledge gaps. This also includes locating knowledge owners who may share their expertise.
  3. Knowledge acquisition and codification. After identifying potential assets, it's time to gather such knowledge. This implies collecting explicit knowledge like files and documents from your corporate systems and uploading them into databases and repositories. As for tacit knowledge, it's possible to elicit it with focus groups, brainstorming, and interviews, and codify it through audio recording or other techniques that can turn it into a suitable storage format.
  4. Knowledge analysis and systematization. This step consists of an accurate assessment of the captured knowledge to spot patterns or trends and identify sensitive data that should be secured. Information can also be classified, tagged with metadata for easier search, and reengineered into a standardized format for future reuse.
  5. Knowledge distribution. The last phase encompasses all the previously described technologies and techniques leveraged to share knowledge, both in pull and push mode.
Knowledge management roadmap and enabling software

KM barriers: can we climb them?

So, by adopting the right knowledge management strategies, deploying proper tech tools with learning management system features, and following the aforementioned roadmap, you should be able to maximize the potential of your knowledge assets without too many hitches, right? Well, not so fast. Knowledge management is a tricky discipline that many companies fail to implement correctly, both in technological and professional terms. Let's find out some of the most common mistakes so that you are ready to face the same challenges.

The techy side of the wall

Technology represents one of the main reshapers of our way of working (think of the growing role of AI in the workplace). But, at the same time, it might be a potential solution to the new needs of enterprises and employees in terms of knowledge retention and transmission, which arose precisely because of the aforementioned transformations.

For example, digitization allowed us to embrace a remote working model involving geographically distributed teams and an alternative workforce that can easily switch from one project or role to another thanks to the spread of collaboration tools and digital workplaces. However, it also forces us to rethink the way we handle corporate training or employee onboarding because traditional in-person methods would not be suitable for greater worker mobility and may become obsolete very soon.

In this regard, Deloitte's aforementioned survey on human capital trends pointed out that 35% of respondents mentioned frequently shifting roles and ever-changing workforce composition as a major barrier to effective knowledge management. Furthermore, 52% of organizations surveyed are driven by workforce movement to proactively develop their own knowledge management strategy.

The growing implementation of the previously described technology tools, including AI-enhanced elearning software and repositories, can certainly mitigate this problem, allowing organizations to seamlessly share know-how across borders and protect corporate knowledge from disruptions of any kind.

Unfortunately, Deloitte's study also reported that about half of the respondents didn't offer alternative workforce any access to knowledge-sharing platforms and that 67% of the sample still haven’t implemented AI into their knowledge management strategy beyond a small extent. In simple terms? Organizations still have much to do to both modernize their knowledge management systems and properly leverage these tools on the ground.

AI implementation in knowledge management

The human factor

As we learned from The Lord of the Rings, giving others something precious may be the right thing, but it's not necessarily the easiest thing. This is as true for rings of power as it is for knowledge. Indeed, many employees tend to perceive their know-how as an asset to safeguard instead of a resource to share with their peers.

Deloitte's European Workforce Survey would seem to disprove such a pessimistic view, given that only 6% of respondents claimed to rarely share their knowledge. However, the report also pointed out that about a quarter of the professionals interviewed considered the information received to be inaccurate or of little value. On the other hand, the share of employees giving excellent feedback is only 8-9%. Summing up, employees technically share their knowledge but without putting too much effort into it.

Employees’ perception of shared information by value and accuracy

How to fix this issue? An answer comes from the same study, which highlighted how respondents, especially in the younger age group, mostly see knowledge sharing as beneficial to their careers, while older workers are guided by altruistic considerations.

If knowledge sharing is perceived as a potential professional advantage in terms of career advancement, it can be fostered with rewards and incentives. Are enterprises doing so? Not so well, since Deloitte's Global Human Capital Trends research showed that a lack of incentives is the second biggest barrier to effective knowledge management, right after the presence of organizational silos.

Solving these structural and motivational problems is not an easy task, but recognizing the value of personal knowledge sharing initiatives and systematically integrating knowledge communities and other best practices into your organizational structure and corporate workflows can help transform knowledge transfer into a routine of sorts.

Knowledge is power, maybe

Knowledge represents an invaluable asset but, unlike other resources available to corporations and public institutions (such as money), it's difficult to frame due to its "ethereal" nature and even more challenging to manage, especially within a distributed workforce. At the same time, many organizations tend to neglect its essential role in business success.

However, this trend is set to change given the growing importance of a solid knowledge management strategy for competing in a digitalized global market more and more driven by big data. Implementing techniques and tools to distribute knowledge while promoting a corporate culture focused on knowledge sharing and collaboration might be the key to enhancing business performance and, why not, creating a much more enjoyable workplace for everyone. After all, they say that sharing is caring. Why should knowledge sharing be different?