Short history of knowledge management
Over the years, management theorists such as Peter Drucker, Paul Strassmann and Peter Senge have contributed to the significant evolution of knowledge management. By the mid-80s, the importance of this concept as an organizational resource and professional competence was already established. Despite classical economic theory disregarding knowledge as an asset, the first organizations with proper knowledge management strategies appeared.
New concepts such as “knowledge acquisition,” “knowledge-based systems” and “computer-based ontologies” started to appear. The term “knowledge management” was coined and a group of US companies founded the Initiative for Managing Knowledge Assets in 1989.
Even so, “knowledge management” made it to the mainstream in 1991, after Tom Steward published “Brainpower” in Fortune Magazine. The most popular work on the subject to this day is Ikujiro Nonaka’s and Hirotaka Takeuchi’s “The Knowledge-Creating Company: How Japanese Companies Create the Dynamics of Innovation”, from 1995.
A few years later, other initiatives flourished thanks to the development of the Internet. The International Knowledge Management Network (IKMN) based in Europe went online, and was soon joined by the Knowledge Management Forum based in the US, as well as many other KM-related publications and groups.
Scalable learning: the new knowledge management strategy
To this day, many companies rely on materials and courses developed by external experts in order to educate and engage employees. And at the core, this is not a bad strategy. However, this type of organizational learning is not scalable.
Scalable learning is a relatively new concept that relies on encouraging employees to generate content. This way, they insert the knowledge in a context that is both familiar and helpful to their colleagues.
How to motivate employees to generate knowledge
1. Tacit knowledge may be the key
Nowadays enterprises focus on documenting processes in great detail, so that it is clear to employees what action to take in addressing a specific scenario. This is what explicit knowledge is all about: writing down and sharing with others with ease.
However, a great part of employees’s experiences comes in the form of tacit knowledge: the information that resides in our heads, but we have a hard time articulating to ourselves, as well as to others. Make sure your employees have access to a knowledge sharing platform where they can easily generate content and share with their colleagues how they dealt with difficult situations.
2. Small workgroups are always better
If your organization is keen on scalable efficiency, the focus will always be on sharing explicit knowledge, since employees want to constantly learn. On the other side, if the focus is shifted towards exposing tacit knowledge, learning will be streamlined in small workgroups.
The optimal structure of the groups consists of people with various skills and perspectives, who are open to trying new things and who are able to quickly develop relationships. They can learn even faster if they’re connected through networks with other workgroups.
3. Learning attracts performance improvement
Some leaders believe that learning always requires a significant upfront investment, in order to ensure access to course materials. Moreover, they also take people out of their work so they can take part in the actual training program. The purpose is to improve performance and raise employee retention rates, but you might feel taken aback by the initial investment.
Why not try to implement a learning system within the work environment? Through scalable learning shifts, employees address performance challenges as they arise. They not only share new approaches and solutions with their peers, but they also turn learning into a by-product of this experience.
4. What used to work in the past is not always evergreen
Over time, people keep accumulating knowledge, stacking it over the information they already possess. However, work environment is rapidly changing. In order to keep up, employees must sometimes unlearn some things. After all, what used to work one year ago, may no longer work.
Create a safe environment where employees can experiment and let go of assumptions without questioning themselves. Help them develop the ability to learn about new approaches that may turn out to be better than old ones.
5. Skills versus capabilities
People working in static environments often focus on acquiring new skills, which usually have a shorter lifespan. They are indeed required for success, but it’s more effective to aim for developing capabilities which can accelerate the learning process, so you can acquire skills quicker.
What capabilities, you ask? Curiosity, critical thinking, creativity, emotional intelligence and more. They will help employees evolve quicker and stay ahead of the game.
One thing is certain: the way we learn and share knowledge in a professional environment should change at the same rhythm as the world does. How do you make learning efficient for yourself and your colleagues? Drop us a tweet at @QuandoraQA and share some tips and tricks.