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Knowledge Management (KM)

Dorothy I. Mitstifer
-Kappa Omicron Nu Dialogue, 10(2), October, 2000. Reprinted by permission of Kappa Omicron Nu.

The theme of the October 2000 issue of Knowledge Management entitled "What's So Scary about KM?" was the intriguing question that lead to this article. The cutting edge trend of "knowledge management" in the business world is a popular approach for utilizing formal and informal intellectual capital to increase the effectiveness and quality of work life and the business enterprise.

Failures Inform

Although a recent survey reported that 80 percent of the world's biggest companies have knowledge management efforts underway, the success rate is low. As a way to develop principles for managing knowledge, Barth (2000) recounts the failures:

  • The Field of Dreams trap - Instead of assuming that "if you build it they will come" to a project planned to share knowledge and add to the knowledge capacity of the organization, there must be a clear problem to solve. If you don't have a focus"a problem, don't do it.

  • Lax quality control - A database and a method of collecting and monitoring knowledge are essential for archiving the content and conserving it. Intellectual capital must be accessible to have value.

  • Incomplete theoretical framework (understanding just enough to be dangerous) - The notion of knowledge management is potent, but the need for a collaborative, sharing culture is not well understood. New ideas, technologies, and reengineering of processes are perceived as the secrets to successful outcomes but do not materialize without the appropriate culture.

  • Fear of commitment - Knowledge sharing and innovation are often the desired outcomes, but behavior often reflects the opposite. When professional standing depends on what one knows that others don't, there is a negative consequence to sharing.

  • Incompatible networking technology - Electronic compatibility is an essential foundation for sharing within and across sites. The ability to communicate easily is a basic necessity.

  • The bogeyman - "The concept that unarticulated knowledge is an asset-like gold, manufacturing equipment, or real estate-is profoundly wrong. Knowledge is an emergent property of interpersonal relationships, and the only way to manage it is to create an environment in which open collaboration is the norm, not the exception" (Boyd, 2000).

Although there is often more learning from mistakes than successes, it makes good sense to learn from somebody else's mistakes to create principles for success.

KM and Leadership

The relationship of KM to leadership, and particularly Reflective Human Action, is obvious to this writer. The following leadership principles are described in KM perspectives as a possible rubric for success:

  1. Accept chaos - Similar to the phenomenon of order coming out of chaos, "knowledge is both a thing and a capability. . . .Capabilities are more dynamic and more useful. You don't manage capabilities like machines because they constantly evolve. You manage capabilities as an ecology" (Barth, 2000). Complexity theory helps link organizational learning and KM.

  2. Share information - The culture needs to create mechanisms and trust to support the value of sharing. Research to extract the values and rule sets by which a community is organized will provide insight into acceptable means of sharing information in that setting. Story telling is being explored as a way of sharing tacit knowledge.

  3. Develop relationships - "Effective communities of practice increase . . . social capital: the economic value of the relationships within an organization" (Eisenhart, 2000). As with leadership, relationships are at the core of KM.

  4. Embrace vision - Snowden (2000) states that the journey is more important than the goal. "All you can do is decide what direction you are going . . . and create a sense-and-respond organization that can change direction if necessary."

Because of this relationship between leadership and KM, what are the implications for Kappa Omicron Nu and its mission of empowered leaders?

KM and Kappa Omicron Nu

Certainly an honor society should value and embrace knowledge management. The challenge is to value it enough to change our organizational behavior. As stated above, it isn't enough to build and they will come. National Kappa Omicron Nu has built the structures; now it is time to agree on the clear problem to be solved.

It is interesting to note that George Washington University has recently inaugurated a knowledge management graduate certificate program for masters and doctoral programs. But what are baccalaureate programs doing to prepare graduates to enter the professional world and function effectively in knowledge management environments? Because of the complimentary nature of leadership and KM, Kappa Omicron Nu has the opportunity to provide leadership education through utilizing its very own Reflective Human Action theory to integrate co-curricular and academic goals in this domain. The writer trusts that this article has made the case for the problem: How do we prepare graduates to enter the professional world and function in the era of KM and dependence on social capital?

References

Barth, S. (2000). The organic approach to the organization. Knowledge
space Management, 3(10), 22-25.

Barth, S. (2000). KM horror stories. Knowledge Management, 3(10), 37-40.

Eisenhart, M. (2000). Around the virtual water cooler. Knowledge
space Management, 3(10), 49-52.

Knowledge Management: A Durable Asset

Dorothy I. Mitstifer
" Kappa Omicron Nu Dialogue, 10(3), June, 2001. Reprinted by permission of Kappa Omicron Nu.

The current focus on knowledge management has raised the credibility of learning and experience as durable assets for one's personal and professional development. Experiential learning and a commitment to life-long learning combine with information to build capacity.

Knowledge management becomes basic to one's work in light of the massive knowledge bases available in this era where information multiplies so rapidly. Within this environment, decision making is a highly prized skill for clarifying the options within a knowledge base. "That is the most typical problem in every human's life. We have to get away from this idea that there is a right answer to find. Knowledge is about understanding our choices and the consequences of those choices, then making a decision not about what is right, but about what we can live with" (Barth, 2000).

Because information plus constraints of theory create knowledge, it is useful to clarify the important role of these concepts. Ballard (Barth, 2000) described information as the form of knowledge that we pay for day by day but theory is what "we learn and pay for once, then own forever" (p. 26). Information comes from the questions: why, where, when, and how much. And theory answers the questions of why, how, and what if.

From a decision-making perspective, there are fewer choices when knowledge is broad and deep. Knowledge management therefore is an exercise in decreasing the number of possibilities and constraining the problem. From clear choices there can be rational decisions.

Individuals have a durable asset in their ability to manage knowledge, and this asset is tradable in a career and in life generally. Curricular and educational reform as well as the professional development enterprise would do well to consider how knowledge management could inform practice.

Reference

Barth, S. (2000, November). Toward knowledge-based computing: A conversation
space with KM pioneer Richard L. Ballard. Knowledge Management, 3(11), 25-28.

Knowledge Harvesting

Sound bizarre? Knowledge harvesting is an important notion in this day and age of team work in organizations and business and reliance on knowledge management. Because the assets of institutions reside in the heads of its employees, it makes sense to harvest expertise to assure utilization of these assets.

Knowledge harvesting is valuable in so many ways. For example, an in-house expert suddenly becomes ill; the important functions of that individual are no longer available. An important task is assigned to a team; before the team can move forward it needs to conduct a knowledge audit to determine what other resources are needed. A retirement is coming up, and the accumulated skills and expertise will no longer be available. A specialized body of information can be made available to colleagues across the country. If expertise is not harvested, others will need to go through their own trial-and-error experiences to develop best practices. Although knowledge harvesting is important for documenting what somebody already knows, it also takes advantage of insights from unlikely sources because the culture supports harvesting ideas "on the fly."

Making tacit knowledge (which people accumulate as they do their jobs) available is not easy. According to Eisenhart (2001), there are eight steps in this process:

1. Focus - What knowledge is being sought and why. Strategies and techniques for eliciting the knowledge will need to be determined.

2. Find - Who has the knowledge? And what do you already know about the expertise of this person?

3. Elicit - Interview the expert.

4. Organize - Categorize the content.

5. Package - Assemble in a tangible form.

6. Share - Make the knowledge available (probably in an electronic repository these days).

7. Apply - Assure that the archived knowledge is accessed.

8. Evaluate and Adapt - Determine the continuing value and maintain its relevance.

"If knowledge harvesting is to be productive, it must take place in an environment where people are comfortable with sharing knowledge" (Eisenhart, 2001, p. 51). Some cultures do not reward sharing and collaboration; people guard their knowledge and individual expertise is rewarded. If intellectual capital is jealously guarded, it can walk out the door at great loss to the institution. When the culture is supportive, employees no longer waste time on redundant issues and focus, instead, on doing new work to add value to the enterprise.

The "information revolution" requires us all to seek ways to increase the asset value of knowledge. By honoring knowledge production through scholarship and research, we also place value on experiential and life-long learning as well as on continuing personal and professional development. Knowledge Harvesters: the new professional mantra-what an extraordinary way to empower Kappa Omicron Nu members!

Reference

Eisenhart, M. (2001, April). Gathering knowledge while It's ripe. Knowledge
space Management Magazine, 4(4), 48-54.

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