How to Use Effective Knowledge Management Systems to Support Continuous Organisational Capability Building
A knowledge management system is a software tool used to organise documentation and information in an accessible location for employees. Use of these systems involves capturing answers to frequently asked questions, evaluating the value of captured knowledge and storing knowledge in appropriate formats in order for a sustainable catalogue to be created.
Why should you use effective knowledge management systems in pursuit of continuous capability building?
Building capability means little if you don’t have the systems in place to sustain and share it when and where it’s needed. Which is the biggest benefit of knowledge management systems for continuous learning: It underpins the sustainability and efficiency of capability development.
Take the implicit knowledge of subject matter experts (SMEs). Much of it is a deep, personal understanding—great for value add to intellectual capital but not so easily disseminated by one high performer to the masses. A knowledge management system allows them to make that knowledge explicit and readily available amongst the workforce with little time commitment on their end.
When critical knowledge becomes accessible (subject matter expertise or otherwise), process improvement occurs. That means:
- Success is trackable and therefore repeatable
- New knowledge and innovation are quickly captured and transferred
- Change is more easily managed by leveraging existing knowledge of past inefficiencies
- Skills and capability assessments are better informed by oversight of available and limited resources.
And this is what makes knowledge management systems particularly powerful when building organisational capability, because they give you all the components that make a capability such as tools, processes, skills and behaviours.
What are the barriers to effectively using knowledge management systems for capability building?
Starting at a really high-level, if you haven’t defined your exact capabilities for organisational capability, and can’t clearly articulate the processes, tools, behaviours and skills needed to develop the capability, no knowledge management system will offer a silver built. So this first and rather large barrier is what you need to tackle head-on to begin with.
From here on in, the perfect storm of lacking knowledge management strategy, outdated technology and low employee buy-in can impede effective use of knowledge management systems.
Without clear set rules around the knowledge that is mission-critical or key to employee day to day, just about anything could be entered into the system. That only makes the system ineffective for continuous learning, since employees would have to make their own judgements on what is strategic knowledge. To add to this, a lack of clarity around what the collective knowledge will do for an organisation will negate the need for implementing a system.
Then again, creating explicit knowledge management systems where there were previously none can both disrupt a status quo and embed a new one to the discomfort of employees. And that can detract from their buy-in.
Lacking executive champions and compliance, the tool may be used inappropriately (such as an employee’s own personal knowledge repository) rather than for operational efficiency (e.g. lessons learned evaluations post-project completion). It’ll also be unclear how to integrate knowledge management and the system into existing processes.
This is only made worse by a tool that does not keep pace with change, especially so if the system owner does not consistently seek out innovations. For example: Decentralised architecture from other internal systems. That’d be when your knowledge management system is cloud-based but projects are on a native network.
What is the impact of not utilising knowledge management systems as part of building organisational capability?
Whilst a capability is much more than simply knowledge, management of said knowledge, plus the skills, processes and tools that come with it, requires a home base (figuratively speaking).
Immature or lacking knowledge systems put the burden of building, nurturing and sharing critical knowledge back on your people, and commonly one person, usually an SME. The only way to transfer that tacit and implicit knowledge is then through socialisation, which requires the initiative and time of the SME to do.
On the flip side, relying solely on knowledge cascades—generally casual tiers through which knowledge flows in your organisation—is a bit like playing Chinese Whispers. Key details can be muddied or miscommunicated, creating inefficiencies and conflicting or irreplicable ways of work.
Consider, then, a high-performing SME leaves your organisation, but their knowledge isn’t codified. Their replacement cannot replicate the work to the SME’s standard, which only causes lags in the projected maturity of capabilities in that role and team. Down the line, the more capabilities are at-risk or still maturing impacts the ability of employees to continuously learn—since they won’t have the systems to support them.
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