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The state of knowledge management
A survey suggests ways to attain more satisfied users.

How is it possible to address innovation and to develop organization knowledge resources, without building in mechanisms to optimize the contribution of people? How is it possible to manage knowledge in an organization without engaging with and managing human resources? How can organizations expect people to contribute to the vision, mission and purpose of the organization unless they get the right people, doing the right job in a way that binds them to the organization's needs? To begin to answer those questions, organizations must understand three key elements that determine the value of knowledge outputs:

  • the needs of the organization,
  • the needs of the people who operate within its boundaries, and
  • the processes that bind the two together.

If people are at the core of KM activity, then the third aspect on the list must involve human resource professionals and frameworks. That means understanding and influencing key HR processes in the organization, as well as asking searching questions:

  • Do human resource policies reflect the knowledge needs of the organization?
  • Are knowledge-driven activities outlined in job descriptions? Do they have enough importance to be considered as a core part of the job analysis?
  • Recruitment and selection-Are knowledge requirements reflected in selection criteria and the way in which interviews are conducted?
  • Appraisal processes-Are key knowledge activities reflected in employee goals and/or performance indicators?
  • How are knowledge activities weighted within the annual pay and rewards policy?
  • How are learning interventions identified when it comes to developing skills and behaviors for knowledge-intensive operational activities?
  • Does the HR manager/director participate in the development of knowledge activities, processes and policies?

The survey findings suggest that too few organizations are addressing the links between KM-related activities and human resource processes.

How is it possible to manage something unless there is an attempt to define and/or frame its parameters? How is it possible to begin to measure output or quality of performance?

It is one thing to acknowledge the importance of knowledge resources, it is another thing to define and communicate the meaning to the wider organization. From the responding organizations, only 39 percent defined what they mean by knowledge in an operational sense, and only 37 percent communicated to staff what they mean by knowledge. It is marginally better when discussing the definition of KM in operational terms, with 45 percent defining the concept and 43 percent communicating the definition to the wider organization. To be clear, this is not about producing a philosophical brief for the organization. This is about defining knowledge in terms of what the organization wants to capture, store, use, develop and share, such as, know-how, know-what, know-who, know-where, know-when and know-why.

This brings the argument back to the opening point of dissatisfaction. Survey findings suggested that only 28 percent of organizations were "highly" or "mostly" satisfied with the strategic performance of KM activities. The satisfaction diminished when respondents were asked to rate operational performance, with only 24 percent being "highly" or "mostly" satisfied.

Looking at the cause behind the dissatisfaction, respondents focused on a lack of understanding of what the KM function is, how it is managed, a lack of value, time given to participate in KM activities and a dependence on technology. "Time" brings the argument back to human resource frameworks. Knowledge-driven activities should be a natural part of the work program for the wider work force; they shouldn't be seen as being "in addition" to an existing workload. If that is how they are observed, perhaps that is an indicator of how the organization gets KM wrong.

Perhaps it is time to say that something is amiss and address the issues before the KM concept is consigned to the scrapheap of past fads. The need for knowledge in organizations endures, and the only question that remains is what can KM professionals do to improve its performance? 

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