Be an Agent of Knowledge Management


One of the universal lessons of science is that the work transcends the scientist. Through a combination of experimentation, the verification of results, and vindication of a theory or conclusion in a credible journal, the work speaks for itself. The responsible scientist may move on, the affiliated institution may vastly change or even disappear, but the work—properly recorded—is essentially immortal.

Indeed, many of the writings of Greek physician Hippocrates (c.460 - c.375 BC) are readily available.

Such preservation of scientific works surely represents knowledge management in the purest form. Applying that standard to the business world, a subject I have addressed before and continue to explore here, is critical.

Consider this column a sequel to my initial thoughts on this matter because, as I wrote then and reiterate now, we need leaders, we need statesmen. But in our search for the best and the brightest, and as those individuals transition as they might, we can ill afford the loss of knowledge.

If an executive were to suddenly depart—or die—then a company, especially a small to medium-sized business, could be vulnerable to a host of serious problems. Preventing that scenario is critical because it affects everything from employee morale to the very life of an organization.

To corporate leaders, I ask: What is your plan for knowledge management? Do you even have a plan to capture, preserve—and further—the work of an otherwise essential employee? Do you know the consequences of inaction, the price you will pay—in the loss of operations, client trust and/or negative publicity—if you do not approach knowledge management as a top priority?

I'll let Paul Cevolani of Novus Origo (the name means "New Beginning") weigh in:

"Knowledge management and the associated change management activities can be the difference between adapting—and thriving—amidst difficult circumstances, versus acquiescing to the same forces. If we can make this process a part of a company's standard operations—if we make the situation less tumultuous and more of a smooth transition—then we can save companies the emotional cost, and the financial expense, of trying to replace the lost knowledge or crucial work product from a former employee."

The alternative, as Cevolani argues, is unacceptable because "it is irresponsible for any company to leave so much to chance, when in today's work environment the chances are more likely than not that critical knowledge will go uncaptured and undocumented."

In other words, it is imperative that you collect and manage the work processes of your employees, so there is no ambiguity, no confusion. Handled this way, knowledge management becomes second nature, and part of the everyday process of a company's operations.

By being an agent of both knowledge management and change management, a company can transform something potentially chaotic into something predictable. Call it a move toward corporate sanity.