Training professionals need to take a firm grasp of the knowledge management reins
Training professionals could be forgiven for getting a feeling of déjà vu, when they hear the phrase “knowledge management”. Is there really any difference between what we now call KM and what a few years ago we described with missionary zeal as “becoming a learning organisation”?
No, suggests Christine Evans, an associate at the Roffey Park Institute, whose report, Developing a Knowledge Creating Culture, was published last summer. “The learning organisation never really took off because it was perceived as a human resources need, not a business need. But KM is perceived as a business need,” Evans says.
But don’t despair, and don’t dismiss knowledge management as an IT project or something for strategists. IT folk are slowly losing their grip on KM and learning is now an integral part - which means training managers have to get their oar in.
Furthermore, experts advise that such projects don’t work if they are left to technical enthusiasts alone. “The project team should include people from a range of backgrounds. It should include marketing, IT, learning and HR people,” Evans says.
Knowledge management is essentially the creating, capturing and sharing of information. On the one hand there is all the explicit information, such as how systems work, technical and skills knowledge, which can be contained within manuals and directories. But beyond that there is the push to capture an organisation’s “tacit” knowledge - the mass of its experience.
Much of the push to set up a knowledge management system has come out of the downsizing and delayering of the past 15 years. The speed of change, the need to react swiftly to market conditions and competition for scarce skills has put further pressure on the need to keep hold of the knowledge base. At the same time, the development of the Internet and intranets has provided a powerful solution.
But as firms develop their KM systems it is clear that it is not just about databanks and document retrieval. IBM has a fairly well-developed knowledge management system based on levels of knowledge sharing. Much of it does go on via e-mail, says