KM at Work: A Look at How Organizations Maximize Knowledge to Deliver Results

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KM Goes Social

The merger of knowledge management and social media is no passing trend. It represents a fundamental shift in the accepted endgame of KM. A successful KM pursuit once meant finding the right document. Now success is making a connection with the right expert and perhaps tying into a network as well.

Likewise, the field of experts has opened up from those in roles established by their professions to those who earn ratings for their insights in whatever forum is being used. In fact, the highly rated experts are often those working outside the official roles they hold in their organization. According to Brian Magierski, EVP of corporate development and finance at nGenera, "In the old way of work, employees were locked into specific roles and in specific departments, even though they may have had skills and value to offer outside of their strictly defined role. In a company that has adopted collaborative [knowledge] management, the talent is networked and peer-reviewed, much like we review products on Amazon or restaurants on Yelp."

Hence, for most organizations, new goals have been added in an effort to maximize KM. Now it is the flow of knowledge and the resulting ability to make teams more fluid and more productive (and in some cases more global) that are the primary objectives. O'Dell points out that a great deal of the benefit in KM and knowledge sharing is the team building possible across global corporations that surely have vast pockets of underutilized employees hiding in their various outposts. Another benefit of giving employees a forum to share experience and research knowledge, according to Magierski, is that it provides "the senior executive team ... a direct line of sight into who are their most engaged employees and what are their key customer product and services issues."

More Work to Do

Despite the obvious seductive benefits of having a store of knowledge-the veritable brains of an organization stored and searchable, available to employees or customers, helping companies to never repeat the mistakes of the past-KM is often shunted far down on the list of priorities for many organizations.

Musing on the topic on his blog, Magierski says, "This situation does amaze me, as it seems clear that collaborative management processes and the software that powers these processes will drive the next great wave of business productivity."

Of course, a likely solution is also that overcoming organizational resistance is overwhelming for some companies. Carol Anne Ogdin, an organizational consultant and founder of Deep Woods Technology, Inc. points out, "One of the truisms of the corporate world is that knowledge is power, and what they really mean is that my knowledge is power over you." She says that it takes visionary leadership to overcome this kind of thinking. The leadership, combined with the rise of the Gen X-ers and the Millennials into middle-management roles, continually puts the squeeze on those reticent to see their comments committed to pixels.

Around the time Stewart attempted to define the growing corporate need to have a reliable knowledge store, I was a young employee at General Electric. Then, there were two ways to find something out: you went to a corporate library and hoped to find your Holy Grail buried in a three-ring binder, or you networked and schmoozed your way to the universally acknowledged guru on the subject at hand. This was usually a somewhat crotchety male who basked in the glow of his continuous accumulation of knowledge thanks to his position in the organization and, moreover, thanks to the stream of young serfs who brought their projects and information to him. To boot, as a young newbie, you basically had to cajole the information out of him. In a sense it was a right of passage, a "Little Grasshopper" moment in which you had to be deemed worthy of the knowledge.

Looking back, I realize that this subject matter guru was a one-man wiki. So I posit the following question: In today's technology world, is our guru really part of the Web 2.0 party? Is he happily blogging and wiki-ing away his vast stores of knowledge for all to see? Or does every company still have a stable of somewhat crotchety subject matter gurus to whom minions and leaders alike must kowtow for their survival? The answer, according to everyone questioned for this article, is that both situations exist.

Pointing to the generation of new managers coming up through the ranks, Ogdin says it is just a matter of time before it will be the absolute norm to solve problems by openly sharing information for comment. Quoting Thomas Kuhn, the man who coined the term "paradigm shift," Ogdin says, "For a paradigm shift, the new generation has to wait until the old generation dies off." As an organizational consultant, she is referring to the Darwinian battles that take place inside corporations when new rules begin to apply and some managers allow themselves to be sidelined rather than play by them.

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