Companies in the know…

According to a new study, if employers want to ensure that important
information and expertise stays within their organisation, it is up to the HR
teams to take responsibility for shaping organisational knowledge management.
Paul Nelson reports.

KPMG has included the sharing of information in the company’s values and
assesses staff in their annual appraisal on their ability to share knowledge
and coach fellow employees.

John Bailey, senior HR manager and adviser on management development,
believes the linking of knowledge management and career development has moved
the organisation away from the ‘knowledge is power’ mindset.

It is now natural for KPMG staff to share knowledge and information because
they will hinder their careers if they don’t.

Bailey said: "If you are an expert in an area, passing knowledge on to
others in the organisation does not undermine your position but, in fact, helps
you to do your role.

"If staff do not share knowledge then, ultimately, they are not
performing as the organisation expects and, in return, they would expect this
to impact on their reward," Bailey added.

HR rather than IT departments must take the prime responsibility for
knowledge management if employers want to ensure important information and
expertise remains within their organisation.

This is the key finding of research by Roffey Park, released exclusively to
Personnel Today, which analyses how five organisations retain and manage the
knowledge of their employees.

The study, Developing and Retaining Organisational Knowledge, assesses how
knowledge management is achieved by the BBC, KPMG, PPP Healthcare, English
Nature and Lewisham Council.

The report urges HR to take a strategic role in shaping organisational
knowledge management.

Christina Evans, Roffey Park associate and report author, claims that HR’s
increased involvement in knowledge management is partly the result of a failure
by IT departments to create a knowledge-sharing culture.

She said: "Traditionally, HR has not been seen as championing knowledge
management. Though this is now shifting because organisations are realising
that a technology focus is not working and bringing the right solutions.

"Instead, knowledge management is being seen more as a part of HR’s
strategic role of developing and retaining knowledge with-in a company. It is
HR’s role to help shape the culture of an organisation."

The report cites a recent Roffey Park survey which reveals that last year,
half of the employers reported that knowledge management is a key business
priority compared to only a third the previous year. The survey also reveals
the proportion of companies where HR is taking a lead role in knowledge
management has increased from 3 per cent to a fifth over the last 12 months.

Evans thinks that when organisations talk about the retention of talent,
they are really concerned with the retention of knowledge and expertise.

She highlights the case of English Nature, which has introduced a knowledge
management initiative because of concerns that it will lose organisational
know-how when key staff retire.

The government agency is aiming to retain information and skills within the
organisation through the creation of a video and audio tape knowledge
management library. It is set to embark on an 18-month project to produce a
library of cassettes, which will all be available on the organisation’s
intranet.

Videos will be produced for three types of knowledge; those held by
individuals, projects and communities.

The move is in response to a successful knowledge management pilot that
included videos on lessons learned from an office move, a public inquiry and
what is newsworthy.

Ron Donaldson, information systems manager at English Nature, said: "We
are using organic storytelling knowledge management. The idea being that we
tell stories as though we are in a pub or around a campfire, so sharing
knowledge in an informal and accessible manner."

Through the pilot scheme, the organisation learned that 80 per cent of it
information is in the heads of its 800 staff.

Donaldson said: "A lot of our knowledge is tied up within the heads of
a few experts, some of whom will be retiring soon. This could create a big hole
in our knowledge, so the challenge is creating a culture where these people are
prepared to give up their knowledge and help train and share it with the young
staff."

The CIPD, responding to the report’s findings, believes that if employers
are to manage knowledge effectively, HR must work closely with the IT team.

Diane Sinclair, lead adviser on public policy, said: "HR is absolutely
central to the future success of knowledge management initiatives, but it must
work closely with its company’s IT department to ensure knowledge management
works.

"Know-how is as important as the ability to deliver. But those
knowledge management projects that do not have an HR focus tend to concentrate
on the latter, ignoring the critical people management issues."

The study uses the example of the BBC, which has found the right balance
between HR and IT in its approach to knowledge management. Its system is
delivered via the intranet but managed by the HR department.

The BBC’s innovation and learning team, which reports to the central
training and development group, has set up an intranet discussion forum for
staff to answer each other’s questions. The team used the forum to help build
connections among staff across the organisation. The intranet is also used so
employees can share details of their particular areas of interests.

The innovation group works closely with other teams throughout the duration
of particular projects to learn how they develop and how to help overcome
potential difficulties. These ‘live and learn’ session are put on the intranet
for all staff to access.

The Roffey Park report also finds that staff must be incentivised to give up
knowledge if an organisation wants to create a successful information sharing
culture.

Evans said business professional services firm KPMG has achieved this by
linking the sharing of knowledge with career development. The report concludes
that knowledge management will remain critical to the future success of
business and urges HR to ensure it is at the heart of initiatives to capture
staff expertise and information.

"The scene is now being set for HR to move more centre stage and take
more of a lead role in the knowledge management arena.

"There are two things steering HR in this direction – the HR function
in general is adopting a more strategic role, through the business partner
role, and the growing consensus that what knowledge management is really about
is learning and change, is something that maps directly on to HR’s core
competence," said Evans.

Case study: sharing is a company value

KPMG has included the sharing of information in the company’s values and
assesses staff in their annual appraisal on their ability to share knowledge
and coach fellow employees.

John Bailey, senior HR manager and adviser on management development,
believes the linking of knowledge management and career development has moved
the organisation away from the "knowledge is power" mindset.

It is now natural for KPMG staff to share knowledge and information because
they will hinder their careers if they don’t.

Bailey said: "If you are an expert in an area, passing knowledge on to
others in the organisation does not undermine your position but, in fact, helps
you to do your role.

"If staff do not share knowledge then, ultimately, they are not
performing as the organisation expects and in return they would expect this to impact
on their reward," Bailey added.

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