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How to Unlock the Hidden Knowledge in Your Organization

August 19, 2012

Are you fed up watching talented co-workers walk out the door–regardless of reason–taking valuable knowledge with them?

No, I’m not talking theft of intellectual or physical property; I’m referring to what’s called tacit knowledge, the stuff that resides between our two ears: the know-how, contacts and vast amounts of synthesized information we’re processed over time.

In contrast, explicit knowledge is information that’s been gathered, documented and codified, such as in corporate databases, manuals, reports, etc.

While both are vital to an organization’s lifeblood and how it survives in a turbulent world, tacit knowledge is the competitive game-changer. Yet many organizations, especially in a recession-plagued economy, pay scant attention to this asset, preferring to navel-gaze on the immediate quarter’s results.

This mindset, prevalent with American and Canadian companies, not to mention governments at national, state and provincial levels, is a gift to newly industrialized economies (eg, India, China, South Korea and Brazil) and emerging economies (eg, Indonesia, Turkey and Vietnam). These new competitors are eating our lunch while we wring our hands in despair over a prolonged economic recovery, a possible double-dip recession and U.S. cut-throat politics.

The last thing anyone is thinking about is how to create, manage, share and retain valuable corporate knowledge. The nineties decade was full of all sorts of exciting concepts and ideas about knowledge management. In the 2000s the excitement tapered off. Now, post 2010, there’s as much excitement about knowledge management as inviting President George Bush to a high school English teacher’s convention on the proper use of syntax. You might get hit with a tomato or two, but that would be the extent of the excitement.

So should we in 2012, with bad news omnipresent, really give a crap about this knowledge stuff?

Oh yeah. Big time!

Because if we don’t take action in North America, then it’s lights-out eventually for our integrated economy. Invention and innovation are the cornerstone of Canada’s and America’s economies; however, for companies large and small to thrive in the years ahead it’s essential to get a handle on not letting valuable corporate tacit knowledge walk out the door. This doesn’t mean that employees somehow can’t leave (though lowering turnover rates is usually a good idea), but it does mean that the knowledge and know-how each individual accumulates over time needs to be captured and shared through the organization.

Here are five ideas for you to reflect upon and to explore to help make your organization that much more effective.

1) A Vision for Knowledge Creation and Sharing
Take the initiative to help create a vision for how you and your co-workers can share knowledge more effectively, not just within your team but with other groups in your organization. Think about how you can bring customers and partners into the process. If you’re already in a management position, you’re a step in being able to initiate the process.


2) Identify the Movers and the Shakers

Who are the change leaders in your workplace, the people who come up with new ideas and who help disperse them. Build relationships with them to help your knowledge vision gain traction and so that you become an integral part of this mover and shaker network.


3) Create an environment to Foster Self-Empowerment

Whether you’re in management or not, self-empowerment comes from within. No one can empower you, not even the CEO. You empower yourself. However, what you can do is contribute to making the workplace more conducive to knowledge creation and sharing. Indeed, if you’re leading a team or in charge of several teams, you’re most important management responsibility is to create the working conditions that bring out the best in people.


4) Learn How to Manage Conversations

Sure, technology is important to knowledge sharing, but what’s key to remember is that it is simply an enabler. Creating and sharing new ideas and generating new knowledge happens through conversations, between individuals and among groups. Step forward and play a catalyst role in making conversations–at work and virtually–a daily part of your organization’s knowledge generation process.


5) Glocalize Your Oranization’s Knowledge

The growing inter-connectedness of our planet and the impact that events far away can have on your organization requires us to think from a world perspective. However, you also need to have your feet on the ground, which means you need to synthesize what’s going on in the global economy to what it means for your business. Think global, act local.

Take some time to reflect upon these five ideas and how they might help you in your own work. Initiate a conversation with your co-workers to explore how your organization could improve knowledge creation and sharing. In the end, it’s all about people and how they collaborate.JT


A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.
John Le Caré


Photo by J,Taggart (Hip Hop group Arrested Development at Ottawa Folk Festival)


Click here to download my complimentary e-white paper Leading in a Multipolar World: Four Forces Shaping Society.


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2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 26, 2012 6:32 pm

    Thanks for sharing the link to your new book, David. I read about it recently and it’s received excellent reviews. Lots of leadership lessons.

  2. August 26, 2012 4:10 pm

    Jim, totally agree. Your readers might be interested in the number 3 rated book on leadership.

    http://www.amazon.com/Turn-Ship-Around-Leadership-ebook/dp/B008N5QL34/ref=zg_tr_154953011_3

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