Knowledge management is the process of creating value from an organization's intangible assets. Simply put, knowledge management deals with how best to leverage knowledge internally and externally. Knowledge management is concerned with how to capture, share, apply, and create knowledge throughout the organization and for the organization's stakeholders. The knowledge comes from the organization's employees, customers, stakeholders, retirees, contractors, partners, and other knowledge sources. This knowledge base is derived from the organization's human capital.
The human capital in an organization primarily emanates from the "brainpower" of the organization's employees. The sharing of lessons learned, best practices, cases, stories, and anecdotes are examples of how knowledge can be passed from one individual to another. Mentoring is a wonderful way to share the tacit knowledge of an expert with the mentee. Finding ways to preserve, share, replenish, and grow knowledge are important objectives for a knowledge management, and human capital, strategy. Identifying the core competencies of the organization and understanding the organization's mission, strategy, and business goals are critical elements that need to be determined before a knowledge management or human capital strategy can be developed. The knowledge management and human capital strategy should be aligned with the organizational mission and strategy in order to maximize the contributions of the organization's human capital.
At NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), the Knowledge Management Officer created a mapping of the knowledge management (KM) strategy based upon the overall strategy and goals of the organization, as shown in Figure 1.1 The Knowledge Management Officer at NASA Goddard learned some valuable lessons to help organizations use knowledge management effectively and counteract the criticism sometimes associated with knowledge management. First, it is easier to apply knowledge management strategies that fit an organization's culture than to first change the organizational culture and then apply knowledge management. For a large organization, academic studies indicate that it takes ten to fourteen years to change an organization's culture. In order to show some quick wins from KM to overcome skepticism, we don't have the luxury of time to wait for the organization's culture to change before applying KM. Use knowledge management strategically by aligning it with the particular subculture where it will be used. This will eliminate some of the resistance to change and allow KM to have a greater likelihood of success.
Figure 1.1: Linking Knowledge Management to Organizational Strategies at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC).
Second, don't try to do everything at once. Develop a knowledge management strategic plan for the organization, and then have a two to three year knowledge management implementation plan to carry out the strategy. For example, at NASA Goddard, a two-year knowledge management implementation plan was developed whereby the first year was devoted to creating an awareness of KM at all levels of the organization, educating people on KM, initiating quick-win KM pilots with metrics for success (peppered throughout the organization), developing the technology infrastructure to support knowledge sharing, and incorporating KM into the organization's human capital strategy. The second year was devoted to developing the organizational infrastructure to support knowledge management, embedding KM processes into the daily working activities of the employees, developing a recognition and reward system to promote knowledge sharing behaviors, and expanding the KM pilots into full-fledged KM projects.
Third, apply knowledge management to the core competencies of the organization and show value-added benefits. At Goddard, for example, developing satellite missions and projects is one of the core areas. By injecting knowledge management into these satellite projects, stories can then be told about how knowledge management helped to improve productivity or increase collaboration to achieve results and mission success. If another project hears this story, then this project and others will most likely want to apply KM as well in order to better address their mission goals.
Fourth, there will always be skeptics of anything. With knowledge management, the same holds true. Some people may feel that it is the "management fad of the day." Others will see the real value that knowledge management may bring to the organization. Link up with the KM advocates early on to build a cadre of KM spokespersons. This could be through a KM working group (comprised of advocates from across the organization, as we had done at Goddard) and through having the support of senior leadership (who typically seem to appreciate the value of knowledge management and human capital in an organization). It is also important to use both a bottom-up and top-down strategy in gaining support for KM. By exciting the working levels of the organization on the virtues of KM, they will tell their management who will in turn tell their leadership. A top-down approach is also helpful, as the organization sees that there is senior sponsorship and support for KM activities.
Last, don't put the cart before the horse. Try not to force-fit solutions to requirements. In other words, try to find out the "pains" of the organization in terms of business needs and then see how knowledge management might be able to address these pains.
Whether you want to call "knowledge management" by that name or some other alias such as "knowledge sharing," "working better together," "leveraging knowledge," or the like, it is up to you to assess what works best for your organization. The bottom line is that KM should be a key pillar in an organization's human capital strategy. Without it, organizations will be missing the mark in the near future!