A recent report from the Management Consultancies Association predicted that the company of the future will be the 'knowledge company' whose core activity will focus on the capture and retention of its most valuable asset: knowledge. For the growing company, knowing exactly what you know is a gnawing concern. The hectic pace of expansion often leaves little time for introspection, but if knowledge isn't shared, the result is duplicated effort and a vacuum when somebody leaves. So what can you do?
FIND OUT WHAT YOU'VE GOT. Knowledge management is still in its infancy but most companies start by conducting some form of audit. Astrid Perris of consultants Smythe Dorward Lambert, says: 'You should log all of your current knowledge management activities - anything that is about creating, capturing or sharing knowledge - and assess the contribution of each to achieving your desired business outcome.' Another approach is knowledge mapping, in which you identify where knowledge is in the organisation and where it is needed.
PICK YOUR TRIBE. Your knowledge needs will depend on the type of company you are. Systems integrator CMG has identified three 'tribes' with different needs. Knowledge seekers operate top down; they want to capture intelligence on their customers, markets and themselves. Knowledge makers are often service companies (consultancies, publishers, lawyers) who create, sell and disseminate knowledge. Knowledge users are companies which learn from experience to develop a core competency - for example, running call centres. They tend to embed their acquired knowledge in procedures. Work out what you are trying to achieve.
CREATE AN INFRASTRUCTURE. To disseminate knowledge within the organisation, you need four pieces of technology, says Owen Wilson, a consultant in knowledge management at CMG. You need a network (eg an intranet or extranet); communications groupware to provide the collaborative element; a storage database; and search, retrieval and publishing software.
CREATE KNOWLEDGE EVENTS. Technology is not the only way to share and create knowledge. Get-togethers such as breakfast briefings or away days can provide a forum to exchange lessons learned in different parts of the business. SDL has a 'wall of knowledge' in its kitchen area where anybody can post useful material relating to their work.
CREATE YOUR OWN YELLOW PAGES. One of the most efficient ways of sharing knowledge is to compile a directory of who knows what, so individuals can approach colleagues directly.
INCENTIVISE. The biggest shortcoming of many knowledge-management programmes is apathy. The infrastructure may be there but why bother to contribute when extra work is involved and there is no obvious payback? 'One trick is to make the return on investment obvious so that people do bother,' says Perris, 'and work the knowledge-sharing ethos into goal-setting and appraisals, so that it plays a part in determining bonuses and salaries.' MAKE SOMEONE RESPONSIBLE. In the US, some 20% of Fortune 500 companies now have a 'chief knowledge officer'. Smaller companies might not be able to afford that but you can still make knowledge management an area of responsibility.
DO SAY: 'Knowledge is power. We're going to ride on the crest of the knowledge economy wave.'
DON'T SAY: 'We operate the mushroom school of knowledge management - I feed my staff manure and keep them in the dark.'.