Knowledge Management … or Managing Knowledge?

Is knowledge management leading to a more secretive workforce?

Despite its recent popularity in the business sector, the phrase knowledge management remains pretty nebulous. Over the past couple of decades, it has come to refer to the efficient handling and organization of information and various resources into one communal unit. Employees in data migration and communications departments, as well as senior managers across the board, can now be considered knowledge management practitioners.

But does this democratic accessibility make the principles of knowledge management more susceptible to improper use and execution? Even worse, are KM techniques sometimes hoarded by self-promoting professionals who hope to use them for their own career advancement?

About that new guy…

Tough economic times can lead to increased office tensions. What once might have been creative and honest working relationships between peers and superiors can become competitive and suspicions, fueled by fear of alienation or failure. No one wants to sound like the rookie who has no idea what he is talking about. With companies downsizing for economic reasons, intra-office secrecy can rear its ugly head, and even employees with extreme creative potential can clam up for fear of expressing a “bad idea.”

This can backfire on both the employee and management, undermining the corporation’s success in the long run. An up-and-coming KM youngster may be wiser beyond his years than management ever gets to see. The last thing that a company—especially one that is struggling with economic cutbacks—can afford to lose is a fresh take on an old idea or methodology.

But the burden doesn’t entirely fall on employers. New employees should also note that knowledge management is an asset like any other—it should not be held back from managers or superiors. Best-case scenario, the organization is looking for smart KM talent and will appreciate the input. If not, the insights could still help operations improve and develop.

Out with the old?

Of course, the value of constructively utilizing KM principles is not reserved for new employees. Suppose a company and a veteran employee decide to “mutually” part ways. Not only is the company losing a wealth of knowledge and experience at a potentially key position, but the departing employee is likely to share his knowledge—or even leverage valuable company protocols—with the competition. In such a situation, an organization’s attempt to save money by hiring new blood might not be worth the loss of the veteran’s experience and savvy. As knowledge management gains momentum in the workplace, it can be used by more seasoned employees to save their jobs.

In either case, it is now, more than ever, imperative that new and existing employees share their knowledge openly and without reservation. In an age where the gathering and utilization of up-to-date information is at its peak, there can be no more holding back of knowledge and knowledge management practices. Used correctly, the free exchange of information can help solidify and strengthen the employee/manager relationship.

How are knowledge management techniques used in your company? Do they work in favor of, or against, employees and management?

Charlie Gagliardi has written for local newspapers, national television magazines, digital resources, and self-preservation for the past 15 years. He graduated from Temple University in 1999 with a BA in Journalism and lives in South Philadelphia with his wife, daughter, and kittens. Charlie enjoys bowling, blackjack, coffee, holidays, and procrastination while remaining a lifelong, diehard Flyers and Phillies fan. He currently works for StyleMatters as a Technical Writer in Center City and is a firm believer that he will make retirement along the beach a peaceful reality someday.

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