Knowledge management occupies one of the preeminent places among the critical human resource responsibilities. As economies transform from activity to knowledge-based, more attention should be devoted to what needs to be known and how best to disseminate that knowledge. Knowledge management is the process of capturing the relevant knowledge within or valuable to an organization and ensuring that the right people possess that knowledge. The two primary actions for managing knowledge include accumulating the actual knowledge and determining who needs the knowledge. The act of transferring knowledge from one person or area to another reduces the cost of learning, improves performance, and further develops an organization.
Although there is considerable value to managing knowledge, few organizations are successful when initiating programs and realizing the benefits. A recent survey by HCS found that only 28 percent of 400 surveyed organizations designed and implemented a knowledge management strategy in the last five years. Twelve (12) percent considering their knowledge management process a success. The additional 70 percent of respondents consider knowledge management a critical component to their organization’s success. However, they have not begun the process of developing a strategy.
Given the recognition of its importance and availability of tools, why do such a high percentage of organizations fail to invest in knowledge management?
There are three challenges that reduce commitment as well as chance of successful implementation:
Human Nature: Knowledge is very valuable and holding any type of organizational currency gives an employee perceived or actual advantage. We have all heard an employee proclaim that he or she holds unique and critical knowledge that prevents anyone from taking adverse action against them. The flattening of organizations coupled with years of downsizing has reduced the depth of many knowledge pools within organizations resulting in a finite number of employees holding specific segments of organizational knowledge. Instead of numerous employees holding redundant knowledge like a decade or two ago, there may literally be one or two people that understand a process, operate certain equipment, or perform a task. These guardians of knowledge typically oppose efforts to consolidate and transfer knowledge. Even if they comply with transfer efforts, they can make the process more expensive and time consuming.
Format and Location: One of the biggest challenges for managing knowledge relates to the plethora of formats and diverse locations of knowledge. Most organizations have information in paper files, courses, publications, emails, websites, presentations, automated files in multiple formats, and employee personal knowledge. Once identifying all the various sources of knowledge, it is a herculean task to merge these various sources into an accessible and cost effective central resource.
Return on Investment: The battle against human nature joined with the overwhelming distribution of information led many organizations to conclude that the return on investment is too slow. When leaders weigh options, more short-term alternatives appear more worthwhile and desirable. In addition to timing, the high resource (human and financial) cost joined with the unknown and not completely understood value of the benefit causes leaders to select other strategic projects and continue to lose knowledge.