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"The Other Side" - Effective Knowledge Management Through the Eyes of the Knowledge Recipient

1 June 2011
Hagay Kalev
A close-up of hands framing a field

Here we go

We got a GO from management and set up a central body to manage knowledge in the organization (someone said, information manager?). We chose the most suitable people for the role (subject matter experts? information professionals?), enriched and trained them in professional courses, met with the best consultants and experts in the field, purchased tools and professional guidance, divided areas of responsibility, and... oops, before we felt it, the "knowledge management train" was racing forward at high speed, streaming knowledge from place to place, absorbing information from one place (marketing, sales, finance) processing it in a way that's "slightly" more user-friendly and creating a knowledge item, with added colors, images, icons, and streaming it further to places where it is needed (employees, customer service), on an organizational portal, SharePoint - every organization has its platform. Sound familiar? Let’s continue...

Let's describe a familiar process

The marketing department sends orders/instructions for new operations and programs > The knowledge manager receives the information and "processes" the data > Sends back to marketing comments and questions identified as potentially problematic for the "front line" > After a few days, professional answers and clarifications are received > The knowledge manager performs further "processing" and filtering of the information and uploads all the information to the organizational portal. If so, all is well and good: The information from marketing passes through the knowledge manager and arrives as a "finished product" directly to the representatives who use it smartly and effectively. Everyone is satisfied; the well-oiled "knowledge management machine" works tirelessly like a "Swiss watch," streaming knowledge from place to place, and everyone enjoys it...Really?

Let's stop for a moment and think

Is our work as subject matter experts/content editors/knowledge managers compelling? Is our work done by ensuring that we satisfy everyone and stream knowledge from place to place as quickly as possible? Is exposing professional information, to say it exists, enough?

Let's remember for a moment that in every stream of knowledge flow, there is always the "other side," the one who is supposed to absorb the information, process and internalize it in the clearest, the most unambiguous, and correct way, and rely on it as a tool to assist them in their work while simultaneously serving the organizational interests. A familiar example from our lives is that the customer service representative representing the organization, when meeting the customer, usually relies on the internal knowledge management system to provide quality and professional service. Suppose the information and content in the system are not built in a clear, concise, consistent way and free of irrelevant information. In that case, it will hinder the representative in providing service, as there is no need to elaborate when the meaning is clear.

The purpose of this article is to internalize that we, the authorities in charge of knowledge management in the organization (subject matter experts/content editors/internet managers/knowledge managers), are in our role to "provide service" to our customers, who are on the "other side" of the knowledge stream and need the information we provide like "air to breathe" (no need to exaggerate, but sometimes it is like that). If we stream knowledge recklessly, partially, unclearly, ambiguously, and with poor wording, not only will our level of service be poor, but we will also "shoot ourselves in the foot" by failing to realize the interests of the organization (I believe there is no need to explain why).

So enough with the heartwarming scenarios, let's get to the root of the matter - how can we look at knowledge management through the eyes of the "other side" and make our knowledge products more effective:

  • Acquaintance - Besides the fact that we have already identified our "target audience" on the other side of the knowledge stream, we must deduce how they think, what information is relevant to them, how they operate as a framework, and what the best way to manage knowledge for them so that they can use it wisely. Therefore, familiarity with our target audience (the "other side" of the knowledge stream) is an inevitable action aimed at helping us build customized content and knowledge items tailored to the nature of the target audience—recommended acquaintance methods: focus groups, "round table," face-to-face forums, observations, etc.

  • Reverse Look - After getting to know the target audience (our customers), we can build professional knowledge items by taking a more focused look from the perspective of the knowledge recipient (a reverse look). This will allow us to get out of the "fixation" we find ourselves in when building a knowledge item from our perspective.

  • Pilot Trial / Joint Validation - We created a new knowledge item and, of course, thought about the content from the other side's perspective, but did we manage to hit the mark? A pilot trial or joint validation, where we can present a professional content item to those who will use it and even allow them to review and use it before anyone else and then receive professional feedback and comments, is a qualitative and effective measure of the future success of this item.

  • Additional Set of Eyes - Remember that we often create, process, and stream knowledge in a very individualistic way, which may be correct but not necessarily suitable for someone else. Having an additional set of eyes look at and share our outputs can always reveal things we did not see and serve as a measure of the comprehension of the content, thus allowing us to minimize errors or confusion in conveying knowledge that is unclear to everyone.

In conclusion, much of this article is a recommendation since there is no "right or wrong," and what works for one person may not necessarily work for another. However, I believe that to manage knowledge wisely; we must begin with a focused perspective and "tailor the suit" of knowledge according to the personal measurements of the "other side," whether they are external or internal customers.

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