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Is knowledge management the future of HR?

This article appears in the issue April 1999 [Volume 8, Issue 4]


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Creating a sharing culture becomes primary task

During the past 18 months, I’ ve spoken with a number of HR managers who are astounded by the amount of executive interest in the emerging discipline of knowledge management. Most of the reaction I’ ve received within the HR community involves senior management interest in developing ways to implement knowledge sharing programs that provide sustainable competitive advantage.

Listening to those senior executives, it becomes apparent that two issues are driving the need to implement KM programs: In this emerging knowledge economy, KM is a necessity for any organization that wishes to remain competitive, and/or the competition has allocated budgets and personnel to develop an internal KM program.

In many cases, KM has emerged as a key lever in strategic planning. In other organizations, IT executives have found that leading the effort to develop an infrastructure that allows the free exchange of employee experience and expertise has expanded their role outside traditional limits. Because KM results in the creation of an information infrastructure providing solid, measurable benefits to the organization, many senior IT managers have experienced an increase in their ability to influence strategic decisions. KM has provided a quantifiable method of measuring the contribution of IT to the entire organization.

The emergence of the HR executive

A similar trend is now emerging within human resource management. While the involvement of IT is critical to any successful KM program, it is becoming increasingly apparent that HR plays an equal, if not more important, role in designing a system to share employee knowledge. The establishment of a sophisticated infrastructure that allows knowledge to be collected and disseminated across an organization can only benefit those who understand the advantages it provides. HR managers who realize the value of KM can provide the cultural direction needed to ensure success.

Barnett’ s (www.barnettinternational .com) Knowledge Management Group has conducted a number of employee focus groups across a variety of industries. That research makes it clear that employees will not share knowledge and expertise until they believe they will be rewarded for it. To maximize the value of knowledge sharing, employees must understand the following:

  • the benefits that sharing knowledge and experience provide to them as individuals,
  • the advantages that will be gained to the organization as a whole,
  • senior management recognizes the sharing of knowledge,
  • knowledge sharing has become an integral part of every employee’ s daily function,
  • a compensation/reward system is in place to recognize and promote employees who adopt that new behavior.

Many companies expend resources developing a corporate culture of sharing knowledge and experience. Leveraging that investment, successful HR managers recognize that unlike fixed assets, the intellectual assets contained in the minds of employees are the only assets that gain value every time they’ re used. The most creative and innovative employees have always been the highest in demand and cause the greatest loss in value when lured to a competitor, and companies that fail to capture their employees’ collective knowledge suffer the loss of that wisdom every time an employee walks out the door.

HR’ s new job

A critical factor in developing the type of knowledge transfer that will put an organization ahead of the competition is the ability to convince employees to share their expertise. That is emerging as HR’ s most important function.

The HR executive who can create and implement a process to maximize the intellectual assets of an organization will become as important to the organization as the CFO. As the knowledge economy continues to emerge, organizations, which for years have been satisfied with the status quo, will quickly realize that maximizing the value of intellectual assets is more important than maximizing fixed assets. Once that becomes apparent, what CEOs want to tell their board of directors that they’ ve done a great job managing the company’ s cash and a lousy job managing human capital?

The experience that Barnett’ s Knowledge Management Group has gained in the creation and implementation of KM initiatives has led to the development of a training program that HR can use during the implementation of a KM system. It has also been used in new hire training, training of newly promoted managers and as annual training for sales, marketing and research personnel.

Knowledge management training modules include: What is Knowledge Management, The Market for Knowledge Management, Knowledge Management Roles, Knowledge Management Technology, Intellectual vs. Fixed Capital, Knowledge Management Within the Industry (customized for each), Interactive Case Study, Sharing of Best Practices, Implementation and Glossary.

Those types of formulized training programs are only one step in helping human resources create a knowledge sharing culture within an organization. Another activity that is useful in ensuring maximum value is a review of compensation systems to identify the existence of barriers that might stifle the sharing of knowledge. A number of firms have changed their interviewing process to more accurately identify prospective employees who will easily adapt and flourish in an organization that seeks to maximize collaboration.


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