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How do you initiate Knowledge Management in an organization? Where do you start?

1 July 2013
Dr. Moria Levy

Knowledge Management is a new field, established around 1995. Therefore, it is not that common in organizations at all. Nevertheless, since knowledge is increasingly becoming a critical factor assisting organization to succeed, many wish to join and begin managing their organization's existing knowledge. The challenge is not a simple one as the amount of organizational knowledge is infinite and the way to control and treat it all is unclear.

Some premises before I begin:

  • A journey: Knowledge Management is like a long (perhaps infinite) journey comprised of sections. A certain subject is promoted; we assist in reaching another destination and improving the level of organizational/business objectives related to it.

  • A means to an end: Knowledge Management is a means to an end. Therefore, some knowledge should be managed; other knowledge should not be managed. It is recommended to invest in places in which there is a justification in terms of cost/benefit (the cost of Knowledge Management is less than the potential derived from its sharing and management).

  • Prioritization: knowledge cannot be managed all at once. It should be prioritized, with several central criteria affect this decision, including: the level of the related knowledge; the potential benefit from managing the knowledge (as compared to the current situation); the cost of managing the knowledge; adapting the treatment as an initial activity; the chances the subject succeeds (i.e. the chance that a suitable solution will indeed be attained); the market level of the subject: how much, if the knowledge will be successfully managed regarding the aforementioned subject, will this affect the expansion of this process to a Knowledge Management process on an organizational level.

  • Aspects: In every Knowledge Management solution should be invested in five complementary aspects: the organizational-cultural aspect; the managerial aspect; the procedural aspect (work processes); the computerized aspect; and the content aspect.

  • Variety: the world of Knowledge Management deals with various types of solutions that emphasize different means of Knowledge Retention, Knowledge Sharing, knowledge Accessibility and/or Knowledge Development. Other examples of solutions from this vast variety include: learning lessons (mainly knowledge development); professional knowledge websites (mainly knowledge sharing); retiring experts' knowledge retention (mainly knowledge retention); knowledge-bases at call centers (mainly knowledge accessibility) and the list goes on and on and the world of solutions is wide and varying. When we start managing knowledge, we can and should examine our needs and choose suitable solutions-not the other way around.

How do we start?

There are several approaches to initiating activity. Each approach has its advantages:

  1. Top Down initiation: developing a strategy, mapping all organizational needs and establishing a technological infrastructure. Establishing designated solutions only in later stages.

R Main advantages: organized; methodological; easily understood.

Q Main disadvantages: long waiting time till product is visible; occasionally, organizations despair and give up; it is also less focused than a specific field of content; therefore it is less connected to concrete business objectives.

  1. Bottom-Up initiation:

This method involves an initial focus of the activity on two focused subjects in which it is known that a business/organizational problem exists. Establishing inclusive infrastructural solutions and building a strategy only in later stages.

R Main advantages: cheap; relatively quick production; assists proving the necessity of Knowledge Management in the organization (and as a result, cooperation).

QMain disadvantages: Sometimes, initial solutions will be based on less-than-optimal technologic; sometimes inclusive thinking is flawed due to a focused perception rather than examining the entire organizational situation.

Of course, the two can be combined in different ways as suitable to the organization's nature:

In small organizations, mapping needs and developing strategy can be performed without delaying the whole move; in other organizations, the mapping or partial can be performed on a representing group and/or develop strategy first. In some organizations the technological infrastructure already exists which grants them a better starting point, which affects the decision.

It is also possible to start with several Bottom-Up pilots regardless of the size of the organization and after getting the gist of it trying the Top-Down approach.

In any case, regardless of the chosen approach, make sure that:

A member of organizational management is leading the subject. Without such a sponsor, the organization will find actualizing a central important move as Knowledge management in the long run in an orderly manner. An appointed knowledge Manager (part or full time)- a person whose job it is to promote Knowledge management in the organization in practice, whose measured by this.


If you think your organization’s success depends on its knowledge; if the examples above sound too familiar to you, do not hesitate: BEGIN managing knowledge. Jumping into the water isn't easy; the road is a long one, perhaps even a winding one. Yet one who does not start the journey will never complete it. In the words of Peter Drucker (1999): "Organizations' most valuable asset in the 21st Century will be knowledge workers". Go for it !

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