professionals need to take a firm grasp of the knowledge management reins
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”?
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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 senior consultant in knowledge management at IBM Mark Watkinson, but it
has not, contrary to original expectations eradicated the human contact. “It
doesn’t all go on over the Internet and there will always be an element of
intervention,” he says.
what can training offer the KM project? To start with there are the basic
skills needed to operate the system. This does not just mean technical skills
that go with a particular piece of software, says head of organisational
learning at BT Marc Auckland. There are other skills implicit in the knowledge
economy, such as presentation, managing relationships, networking and other
interpersonal skills that make the system come alive.
addition there is a massive editing job needed on the information that gets on
to the KM system – which would benefit from some of the skills of the training
manager. Stephen Carlin is business consultant, people and knowledge, at Meta4,
a software supplier that is linking its KM systems in with personnel. Carlin
highlights two levels of editing.
first level is basically translating some of the explicit, technical knowledge
into a document that non-techies will read and understand.
a more strategic level there is the issue of deciding what an organisation
needs to know and so what goes into the knowledge depository. “There is a
serious danger of information overload if there is no editorial control in the
KM system,” Carlin says. He argues that an organisation will have more success
if it e-mails staff several well-edited documents with the essential
to this is the issue of how information or knowledge is delivered. This is
absolutely in the training arena. Training specialists have spent years
analysing how people learn and how they retain information in a way that they
can use it. Now is the time to make the most of that experience. As Evans
points out, trainers “are the experts in enabling learning”.
process is also about harnessing KM to meet your ends as a trainer. At IBM, for
example, Mark Watkinson says e-learning is very much part of the knowledge
management system – an important mechanism for delivering information and
skills to the workforce.
take care, warns Paul English, head of marketing at e-learning supplier
Futuremedia. There are plenty of products on the market, but no one has really
created the interface between e-learning and knowledge management systems. “People won’t genuinely be doing this until
2002-3,” English estimates.
training has a crucial role to play in terms of the cultural change that is
implicit in knowledge management. As Stephen Carlin points out, knowledge is
power and if you are asking people to share it, you need to create a sharing
culture. This has huge implications for your management and communications as
well as reward systems. Training has to be in there with a strategy using all
their own explicit and tacit knowledge about management and team development.
before you go knocking on the chief knowledge officer’s door, make sure you
know that whatever you are offering is linked to a cultural change strategy.
you need the know-how
Training professionals are driving the dialogue around capabilities,
competencies and performance. KM represents an extended dimension to this.
As we shift from classroom-based training towards broader models of learning,
the knowledge transfer aspects of KM must be integral to learning delivery, and
developed within the extended frameworks of eLearning and e-HR.
Technology approaches to support KM and those to support learning are closely
In a market where companies are differentiated by their knowledge workers, HR
and training must embrace a larger role. Competency-based assessments and staff
development are part of a broader move towards performance-centric working. KM
provides a set of tools to accelerate this shift and manage its outcomes.
with the help of David Wilson, managing director of eLearnity