Knowledge Management (KM) is a relatively young concept, having been introduced less than 30 years ago. For many business management practitioners, KM is evolving into a proven strategy for their organizational success. But there are still many leaders out there that are struggling to understand the power of KM. In order to clarify this ongoing struggle, it’s important to define what KM means in today’s business setting. An extremely important question is: What is Knowledge Management and how can it help my organization?
There are many definitions for knowledge management, including Wikipedia’s that states KM comprises of a range of practices used in an organization to identify, create, represent, distribute and enable adoption of insights and experiences. I’m partial to a definition I found in a thesis paper written by Dr. Michael Kull that simply defines KM as a business model for which companies can move from an industrial age of running a business into the information age. I don’t know which one of Dr Kull’s interviewees stated this definition, but for me, it sums up my feelings on how KM is changing the way businesses ought to be run today and into the future. KM is a relatively new model and has only been around since the mid 1980s. There have been may pioneers who have written and spoken about KM, and Peter Drucker,a business management expert and author, has been on of the most influential and prolific thinkers about the KM movement.
The pioneers describe KM as having three phases from its inception. The approximate phase dates reflect the first phase occurring from 1985 to 1994. This phase was centered on collaboration and information sharing. The second phase, from 1994 to 2002, centered on information management and software advancements. The third phase, from 2002 to the present, centers knowledge innovation and the management of intellectual capital and intellectual assets as the primary business strategy. Phase three will continue to impact how leaders conduct business processes such as customer management, marketing management, information management and performance management. For example, with the advancement of Web 2.0 technologies, workers are able to communicate and share in multiple formats like the popular social media sites or in company blogs, wikis or private web portals known as intranets.
The KM movement is shifting from the old school process of team meetings and water cooler discussions to the online world of instant messaging, emails, twitter (a micro blogging platform), Facebook and online virtual meetings. It is a larger model than just implementing change management initiatives seen during the total quality movement and six sigma days. As workers and business processes continue to evolve with these technology enablers,leaders are being challenged to re-tool how they lead knowledge workers. The old management process of building organization charts in a hierarchy fashion is being enveloped by empowered workers who don’t want to be controlled, but rather allowed to be innovative and creative to build customer value. The 20th century business leadership curriculum is in conflict with how 21st century workers expect to be lead. KM is at the heart of this leadership evolution being witnessed today. KM as a management strategy is definitely gaining traction and is here to stay.