Some Misconceptions About Knowledge Management
In 2012, the second edition of the Knowledge Management Handbook: Collaboration and Social Networking (J. Liebowitz, Ed.) and the second edition of Knowledge Management: Theory and Practice (K. Dalkir) will be published. In spite of these second editions and many other knowledge management articles and books that have been published over the years, misconceptions about knowledge management (KM) still accrue. What are they and why is this so?
Misconception #1: KM = IT
Many people still view knowledge management with an IT focus. Certainly, technology is an important part of making KM a reality; however, people, culture, and process still play the dominant roles. Finding ways to build and nurture a knowledge-sharing culture should trump technology. If there isn’t interpersonal trust, respect, and recognition within the organization’s culture, then knowledge sharing will be difficult to achieve even with the best technologies at work. In addition, if KM is something else that needs to be done on top of an already full plate of activities for employees, then it won’t happen. Seamlessly embedding KM processes into the daily work lives of the employees in order to help them in performing their tasks is an important part of gaining acceptance of knowledge management.
Misconception #2: KM is a Fad
Another misconception about knowledge management is that it’s the “management fad of the day.” Some people have lumped KM into such areas as Total Quality Management, Total Quality Leadership, Business Process Reengineering, and other sweeping reforms. Certainly, knowledge management contributes to succession planning, workforce development, business workflows, quality management, and human capital strategy. However, it really shouldn’t be judged as a “fad”. The underlying tenets of knowledge management—how best can we build a continuously learning culture to promote innovation—should be embraced by every organization. In addition, dealing with knowledge retention & transfer issues should be important considerations for every organization before critical knowledge is lost.
Misconception #3: KM is Expensive
A third misconception is that we need to invest a huge sum of money and resources to make knowledge management a reality. Certainly, it helps to have a knowledge management strategy in place for the organization, but there are a number of low-hanging fruit that could be done in a low-cost, grass-roots manner. Having brown bag Lunch & Learns or requiring employees to give a brown bag as a conference trip report are examples of easy ways to promote knowledge sharing. Or, before final sign-off is made to complete a project, a requirement to include lessons learned from the project into the organization’s repository could be done. Thus, there are many things that could be accomplished in terms of creating a knowledge sharing culture in the organization without much financial investment.
Misconception #4: KM Exists in a Vacuum
A final misconception is that knowledge management should be done almost in isolation, as a separate entity of sorts. This defeats the purpose of knowledge management—namely to serve as an integrative mechanism across the functional silos in the organization. Knowledge management is a multidisciplinary field taking advantage of such disciplines as sociology, library and information sciences, human resources, organizational development, communications, education, law, and other domains. Knowledge management should really be part of the corporate strategy.
Once these misconceptions are overcome, knowledge management will have a healthier life in the organization. Until then, we will be sub-optimizing without gaining the full value of what knowledge management can truly offer.