“Turning individual knowledge into organizational knowledge is not a task for sissies.”

—Carla O’Dell, CEO, APQC

The term “knowledge management” (KM) conjures up all kinds of reactions and opinions, some pretty bad; perhaps you’ve heard a few of these:

 “Maybe we need it, but we’re not really sure what it is.”

 “We don’t need it; our people are already smart.”

“Yeah, we have some KM technology, I think.”

 “We’re not doing it till our competitors do it.”

“I got someone working on it, part time.”

 “Doesn’t look like training; not our job.”

 “Consultant or academic double talk.”

 “It’s just like training, isn’t it?”

 “This is something I.T. does.”

“Too daunting; impossible.”

“Been there, done that.”

 “Oh yeah, SharePoint.

“It doesn’t work.”

“Too expensive.”


Yes, knowledge management has had a difficult journey, hot one year and passé the next. People have been burned trying to make it work. They’ve come up against non-supportive leadership only to hear from those very same people that the organization’s intellectual capital is a mess and something needs to be done.

And there’s the rub—something does need to be done.

The problem is still with us

We work in organizations that live and die by their ability to leverage their collective “smarts.” But our inability to find the right information, right at the moment of need, costs us time and money. We stumble, reinvent the wheel, and miss insights, all because we can’t find the information we need, when we need it. Even when we can, we’re not always sure it’s accurate or complete. Our corporate intranets are in disarray and our people in the field run into productivity walls because they can’t get answers quickly and reliably enough.

So perhaps we’ve not done a stellar job with KM in the past. Maybe we bit off a little too much, tried half-baked technology solutions, or didn’t build a culture accepting of KM. But the problem has not gone away; instead, with more to know and less time to know it’s gotten worse.

Revisiting knowledge management

Time to revisit KM. This time, with a better understanding of what it is, and what it can and can’t do. This time, we’ll think big but start smaller. We’ll learn as we go along and we’ll be ready to scale when needed. We will embrace KM technology, not as the solution but rather as an enabler. And, most of all, we’ll bring users and stakeholders along with us, rather than shoving it down their organizational throats.

It’s so easy, so tempting to simply take information and put it into courseware. Then load it into our LMS and declare victory. We’ve done this time and time again. Sometimes, it’s the right move, but more likely, it’s not enough. Our people need access to information and expertise, not just in structured courses but also in the context of their work—and workflow. Together, with the right training, we can go from knowledge chaos to effective knowledge management.

A new white paper

The eLearning Guild’s new white paper, Managing Organizational Knowledge, written by Steve Foreman and me, addresses this critical issue. It explores KM’s potential and what it means for organizational learning. It defines KM and distinguishes it from other training and learning approaches, including eLearning and performance support. It looks at differing perspectives of KM, including “top-down” and “social” approaches, and provides an overview of the key components and technologies of a typical KM system. The white paper highlights key KM project steps and evaluation strategies, and presents several case studies. Finally, it discusses KM’s future and what it means—for organizations and for learning.

Maybe this time, you won’t call it knowledge management. Content management, information management, content curation, knowledge sharing, and other terms can work. Whatever name you give it, KM makes relevant content readily available without interrupting the flow of work. It is a natural partner to performance support. Organizations can speed learning and increase workforce productivity through effective KM practices supported by technology. By implementing KM, you have another important component of a learning and performance ecosystem at your disposal.

Download the white paper, for free, here.