When rigid organizational structures impede corporate knowledge flows, companies can no longer take advantage of the knowledge they have. Fortunately, knowledge maps and dissemination tools can facilitate knowledge circulation.
What happens when knowledge clashes with the hierarchy?
While the hierarchy regulates vertical subordination, fixes employees’ positions and defines borders of teams, knowledge management requires that corporate knowledge be passed easily from one employee to another, regardless of their hierarchical status. This contradiction has the following downside: When locked within a rigid hierarchy, organizational knowledge falls apart into several independent knowledge islands.
In this rather negative scenario, when it comes to finding particular pieces of knowledge, employees search within their own knowledge islands exclusively and never go beyond them. If employees can’t find anything, they don’t come to search in other islands but rather start from scratch. This can slow down business processes, lead to knowledge duplication or inconsistency and even mistakes.
Unfortunately, even knowledge management software can hardly help organizations to free their knowledge from this hierarchal dominance. On the contrary, KM solutions often follow organizational structures, support collaboration groups based on hierarchical relationships, and this keeps knowledge within even stiffer limits.
So how to make knowledge circulation in an organization more dynamic along with respecting the organizational hierarchy?
Knowledge mapping overcomes silos
To release corporate knowledge from hierarchical boundaries and make it generally available, organizations can turn to knowledge mapping. Helping to address common KM challenges, knowledge mapping is the way to provide employees with organizationwide knowledge. To increase a knowledge map’s value, companies can:
- Enable easy navigation across both tacit and explicit knowledge. Companies can create a knowledge map relying not only on knowledge assets (KAs) such as templates, case studies, etc., but also on knowledge items (KIs) that represent theoretical understanding or a practical skill in a specific area of practice and include employees’ tacit and explicit knowledge alike.
- Connect KIs with knowledge owners (KOs). This way, employees will be able to see the full list of people from different departments and branches who have knowledge in a particular domain.
- Define the knowledge depth for each KO. This will let employees see knowledge leaders who possess the broadest knowledge on the topic from the entire company.
- Provide the possibility to contact a KO. Companies can use their knowledge map as a starting point for employees to contact KOs within the same system, in order to facilitate knowledge acquisition and exchange. For example, this approach suits companies that develop their knowledge management system on top of Microsoft SharePoint.
How to map knowledge easier
Despite multiple advantages, knowledge mapping is time-consuming and complex, especially if the headcount reaches thousands of employees. To facilitate the process, companies can consider:
- Integrating a KMS with a competency management system to enable automatic upload of competencies to a knowledge management solution and simplify their breakdown by domains in a map. This approach has one pitfall, though: if a competency doesn’t equal a KI, a knowledge manager will have to “translate” competencies into KIs first, then locate them on the map correctly.
- Developing questionnaires within the same system to reduce the time of interviewing employees and make a quicker assessment of employees’ knowledge. Possible options: either develop a centralized, complex questionnaire with questions based on an employee’s previous answer or create several questionnaires each for a different knowledge domain.
- Mapping knowledge iteratively to cover larger knowledge domains first, then to define smaller knowledge subdomains. For example, a chemical company producing various coatings can start with analyzing its knowledge in architectural and industrial coatings, then investigate knowledge in each domain (for architectural coatings, these can be interior and exterior coatings divided into primers, masonry, wood, stain and so on). This step also supposes that companies fill a knowledge map constantly with new KIs, KAs and KOs.
Knowledge dissemination tones up the flows
Even with a detailed map on hands, employees can still neglect knowledge and use it half-heartedly. Sometimes they don’t use it because they don’t know it exists and rarely communicate with relevant KOs. With this in mind, it’s absolutely necessary to enable knowledge dissemination through both pull and push distribution modes.
The pull mode can be supported with the following knowledge management tools:
- Intelligent search and filters to help employees quickly find required KIs, KAs located in the knowledgebase or enterprise systems, along with their KOs.
- Knowledge relationship managementtools to let employees find both requested and related knowledge.
- Topic subscriptionsto allow employees to subscribe to latest updates on particular knowledge items.
The push mode can be enabled through:
- Thematic mailing to keep employees informed about the latest knowledge updates in their domains.
- Trainings and courses to distribute corporate expertise among different groups of employees, as well as expand their knowledge areas.
- Collaborative knowledge transfer to reinvigorate communities of practice, organize workshops, enable discussion forums and blogs, and thus enable employees to freely share what they know personally and get knowledge from their teammates.
Why mapping and dissemination should go together
Although knowledge mapping and dissemination are different aspects of KM, they both help organizations to elicit and circulate knowledge easier in spite of hierarchical boundaries. Knowledge mapping is an effective way for organizations to clearly understand what knowledge they have, classify it and correlate with knowledge domains and owners. At the same time, knowledge dissemination is what allows companies to use this knowledge more actively and fill in knowledge gaps continuously.