Knowing about Knowledge: So you can manage more effectively

The organisational knowledge resource can so easily be misunderstood, yet it is a vital component of all organisations. Like other components of organisations, the knowledge resource can benefit from good management. The converse is also true, good managers can benefit from knowing something about the knowledge resource.

Knowledge however, is so tightly linked to human beings that the knowledge resource often performs perfectly well without managing it at all. That is because the human workforce causes this to happen by maintaining, developing, sharing and of course, applying the knowledge they hold on behalf of the organisation.

Unfortunately, the knowledge resource is not guaranteed to perform well without good management. What can so easily happen when managers don’t know very much about the knowledge resource is that they manage in problems which prevent the knowledge resource from performing well. This might happen when key knowledge holders are allowed to leave the organisation without managers activating knowledge retention plans. It might happen when managers reorganise, moving key knowledge holders to different jobs and potentially disabling important knowledge. The knowledge resource can be damaged in several ways as a result of organisational change.

But if managers don’t know very much about the knowledge resource which drives their organisation, how can they really be blamed for ignoring it when making important business decisions. Of course, managers need to know how to manage; they don’t need to know how to do everything which is within their area of management. But managers can know about the knowledge resource. They can know what it involves, they can know who the key knowledge holders are and what their areas of expertise are, and they can understand knowledge risk and know where the significant knowledge risks are. They can know much more than this and they can arrange for the knowledge resource to be studied and presented to them as a reference resource to enable good management practice.

It is both easy and convenient to think that once everything which needs to be done is properly documented or recorded, then that is knowledge management sorted out. Yet it is typically still people who need to apply the knowledge in order to deliver business services. Documenting knowledge simply adds to or changes the reference source for good practice, it does not cause it to happen; people still do that.

So when we consider what managers might need to know about the knowledge resource in order to manage more effectively, we are not talking about knowing where the documentation is, we are talking about knowing what the people who apply the knowledge need to know in order to apply it effectively. Whatever we do with knowledge management, we still need to know what people need to know.

Of course, there is a lot of good knowledge management practice, such as documentation techniques (and much more), which can provide considerable benefit to organisations. But it is still important to understand what the staff need to know. This could also apply to managers themselves. What does an effective manager need to know and what parts of that knowledge represent a significant risk to an organisation.