August 22, 2012
Managers are bombarded with an almost constant stream of data every day. According to David Derbyshire, “Scientists have worked out exactly how much data is sent to a typical person in the course of a year – the equivalent of every person in the world reading 174 newspapers every single day” (Derbyshire, 2011, p. 1).
This overload of data is making knowledge management increasingly more important. Three key reasons why actively managing knowledge is important to a company’s success are: 1.) Facilitates decision-making capabilities, 2.) Builds learning organizations by making learning routine, and, 3.) Stimulates cultural change and innovation.
Facilitates Decision-Making Capabilities
Data can offer managers a wealth of information but processing overwhelming amounts can get in the way of achieving high-quality decisions. GE’s Corporate Executive Council (CEC) is an example of how one company put a knowledge management system in place to help executives cut through the noise, share information, and improve their decision-making. The CEC is composed of the heads of GE’s fourteen major businesses and the two-day sessions are forums for sharing best practices, accelerating progress, and discussing successes, failures, and experiences (Garvin, 2000, p. 195). While information overload or needing knowledge from people in other parts of the company for decision-making can handicap managers, putting in place knowledge management systems can facilitate better, more informed decisions.
Builds Learning Organizations by Making Learning Routine
In his book, Learning in Action: A Guide to Putting the Learning Organization to Work, author David Garvin (2000) notes, “To move ahead, one must often first look behind” (p. 106). The U.S. Army’s After Action Reviews (AARs) are an example of a knowledge management system that has helped build the Army into a learning organization by making learning routine. This has created a culture where everyone continuously assesses themselves, their units, and their organization, looking for ways to improve. After every important activity or event, Army teams review assignments, identify successes and failures, and seek ways to perform better the next time (Garvin, 2000, p. 106). This approach to capturing learning from experience builds knowledge that can then be used to streamline operations and improve processes.
Stimulates Cultural Change and Innovation
Actively managing organizational knowledge can also stimulate cultural change and innovation by encouraging the free flow of ideas. For example, GE’s Change Acceleration Process (CAP) program includes management development, business-unit leadership, and focused workshops. CAP was created to not only “convey the latest knowledge to up-and-coming managers” but also “open up dialogue, instill corporate values, and stimulate cultural change” (Garvin, 2000, p. 125). In this complex, global business environment, these types of knowledge management programs can help managers embrace change and encourage ideas and insight, which often lead to innovation, even for local mom and pop business owners.
Fortune 500 companies lose roughly “$31.5 billion a year by failing to share knowledge” (Babcock, 2004, p. 46), a very scary figure in this global economy filled with turbulence and change. Actively managing knowledge can help companies increase their chances of success by facilitating decision-making, building learning environments by making learning routine, and stimulating cultural change and innovation. By proactively implementing knowledge management systems, companies can re-write the old saying, “Change is inevitable, growth is optional” to “Change is inevitable, growth is intentional.”
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