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Articles: Starting Out

A Short Course in Knowledge Management (page 4)
Author: Jerry Ash

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Understanding Knowledge
Auditing Knowledge
Restructuring for Knowledge
Changing the work culture
Building Knowledge Networks
Utilising Computer Technology
Getting Started

Building knowledge networks

Knowledge management cannot be layered on top of an already-existing work process. In an open, knowledge-based organization, interdepartmental cooperation and collaboration must become an integral part of the daily routine. Teams will not be appointed; they will form naturally in a knowledge-friendly environment through the free flow of information and ideas, leading to common goals that are dependent on the interaction of skills, knowledge and resources of cross-functional groups (not teams).

Individuals will not only be aware of "the big picture" but actively involved in shaping it from the bottom up. No longer will the organization's best thinkers wait for directives from on high. Groups will not be limited to staff participants. In fact, knowledge networks should provide an interactive link with every conceivable knowledge resource, not the least of which is the members.

When members become directly involved in the interaction of a knowledge network, they will be the communicators -- not the recipients -- of communication and they will be much less likely to yell "stop the fax machines." In fact, they will be actively involved in solving problems not pointing to them through the traditional market study approach to member satisfaction.

While knowledge networks are forming naturally in such a positive environment, the systematic management of networks will be essential if all this energy is to be productively directed toward the goals and objectives of the organization. We can just as easily be overwhelmed by "knowledge overload" as information overload. Knowledge itself is a seemingly limitless resource, but handling knowledge has its limits. Strategic thinking, planning and action are just as important in selecting and managing knowledge networks as in begetting committees. Decentralization must not mean disorganization.

The knowledge-driven organization needs leadership from the governing board, the chief executive and the management team. They will be the knowledge champions. At the same time, someone will have to assume the important new role of knowledge manager and it will be difficult to find the person who will fit the position profile. Colleges aren't turning out knowledge management professionals just yet, although a few business programs are beginning to offer the course. Meanwhile, the new knowledge manager will likely be found in one of those old pigeon holes we hope to abolish.

Information management specialists see the opportunity and many are campaigning for the knowledge manager's job. But while they talk "knowledge," it sounds too much like "information" -- remember, 80 percent of knowledge isn't in computers. Human resource and education professionals have some of the skills needed by a knowledge manager and they are moving up to the position. But they too bear the burden of narrow backgrounds.

One answer to this dilemma might be the formation of the first network, made up of a blend of talented people from operations, human resources, education, communication, member services, marketing and information services. No one person possesses all that knowledge, but this little network would. Then the network coordinator (they don't have "chairmen" authority figures) could act as knowledge manager. That would not only provide a solution to the problem but demonstrate the very purpose of knowledge networking.

Utilising Computer Technology >>

Jerry Ash is Senior Counsellor, The Forbes Group and
Chief Executive, Association of Knowledgework
Article used with permission