Knowledge is one of the most important intangible assets of a company, and it should be measured and classified just like any other item that has the potential to generate value. While servicing and maintenance of machines and equipment are fully regulated and considered to be a usual business, maintaining a clean and updated database of knowledge is regarded as an unnecessary luxury.
This way of looking at corporate knowledge needs to change. Although knowledge mapping – which is gathering, classifying and updating expertise and know-how – is a long and challenging process, organizations should plan and implement this right away if they want to stay competitive.
Companies still need to understand the role and challenges of knowledge mapping. Also, they have to find the right answers to questions regarding structure and expected results. Finding or even creating the right tools for this process is no easy quest yet it should be addressed.
To create a conceptual framework for knowledge mapping is a daunting task since it is difficult to define the start and end points, to get the necessary time resources and to overcome resistance to change. For this, it’s always better to have a step-by-step vision.
First, you need to define the knowledge map type, as there are numerous possibilities including strategic, functional and process-oriented ones. Then, you should determine the scope of your mapping process, whether it is local (department-level), cross-functional or company-wide.
Next, you need to select the items that will be included in your map, as well as identify those responsible for each piece of information and process. Thirdly, be sure to create surveys that will help you source the information you need, scouting each employee’s know-how. Lastly, you should bring all data together in a central repository to create a searchable and referenceable tool.
You should strive to use a framework that automates these processes as much as possible, since manual tagging and referencing are slow, error-prone and inefficient. Consultancy companies can create customized solutions on top of off-the-shelf platforms like SharePoint and Office 365 which can perform much of the administrative work, giving users more time to focus on the input instead of worrying about data organization.
When starting a knowledge mapping process, you need to enlist the help of every employee, with a particular focus on subject matter experts. These people will be the champions of your project, helping lead it into every department and centralizing the results after careful data cleaning and organization.
Take enough time to let them get familiar with the initiative, listen to their suggestions regarding both implementation and expected results. Negotiate with them the reasonable time frame for the project and address any concerns related to productivity losses before the project starts.
Collaboration is an essential activity during the knowledge mapping process. As an owner of this project, you will need the help of HR specialists, line managers, and project managers.
This initiative is one of the most time-consuming while no immediate results are possible. It takes the longest just to get the process outlined first for everything to run smoothly once the mapping starts. However, failing to implement it could have disastrous consequences in the long term.
To get the spirits up and have some sense of progress, don’t shy away from picking some low-hanging fruit. For example, by starting with the knowledge you can map without involving employees.
Usually, the most extensive process is interviewing employees to uncover specific expertise that makes a difference and gives you a competitive advantage. This resource-intensive, high-value activity should be next on your list. You can save some time by creating a clear interviewing process and structuring knowledge as soon as you get it. Avoid long pointless meetings and always restrain the size of the interviewed group as much as possible to avoid digression.
To get maximum engagement, plan your activities in advance and don’t squeeze them in lunch or coffee breaks. This approach is not only counter-productive, but it could backfire, creating irritation and making people avoid collaboration.
Treat knowledge management like any other project. Define the action points, evaluate the necessary effort in person-hours divided for each contributor, and add them up to understand the total energy needed. This also helps to highlight any potential time-related pitfalls before starting the implementation.
Possible action points include:
In the case of a large organization, the total time budget could seem intimidating, but through parallelizing the efforts in each department, the entire project for a company with 1,000+ employees could be done as quickly as for a group of 50 people.
The first challenge is not to get sucked into document management so much that you forget to uncover tacit knowledge. The role of knowledge mapping is also to discover some of the undocumented know-how which could be lost with the resignation or retirement of valuable employees.
Secondly, knowledge should be organized in a way that makes it accessible, searchable and actionable. The repository where it is stored should have keywords, meta-tags and designated managers that ensure information is up to date. You not only have to gather existing knowledge at some specific point but to enrich it with every new portfolio item or lesson learned.
Finally, an organization must acknowledge that there is no golden standard of knowledge mapping. Each entity should define where to start first depending on their business objectives and leverage existing resources, without jeopardizing regular business processes in the meantime.
Perhaps, the worst scenario of knowledge mapping is doing this in an environment which is reluctant to change and doesn’t value growth, with people doing just the bare minimum for their job. In this situation, it is advisable to start by changing the culture first. Create a collaborative environment, make people value knowledge and reward them for providing each other with insights to ensure knowledge mapping does bring positive results instead of becoming just another annoying chore on the list.
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