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Managing External Knowledge Flows: Navigating the Inside-Out Paradigm

1 August 2011
Michal Tzadka
A person standing next to a head with a light bulb

In the past, knowledge management was about managing knowledge within the organization "bottom-up" and vice versa. Today, with the development of web 2.0 tools and the significant exposure to communication, if we map the processes of knowledge flow in the organization, we will find processes within the organization and processes of knowledge flow from the organization outward and inward ("in-out").

The outward and inward flow of knowledge may touch various interfaces: partners, employees, suppliers, customers, potential employees, and more.

The organization may claim that it has enough internal processes in which the flow of knowledge is not managed, and it gives up on managing external knowledge, or the knowledge manager is busy enough and does not have the resources for it... It should be noted that every organization can prioritize its work according to its needs. Still, as part of mapping knowledge and its flow, it is essential to address the knowledge flowing into and out of the organization, and not just within it, to see the overall picture and make an informed decision about the knowledge being managed.

Let's take an example of an "inside-out" and vice versa knowledge management process. Imagine the following scenario: Background: The organization - an organization with customer service. An article about the organization is published on a well-known news website. The article is not flattering to the organization's conduct, and several comments were posted that do not improve the picture. Furthermore, the customer service representatives sampled in the article provided incorrect answers. Some of the employees in the organization who were asked about the article in their free time did not know what it was about, and some "stuttered" the organization's name...

How could mapping a process within the framework of an "inside-out" knowledge activity have prevented or mitigated the damage caused to the organization's reputation and the feelings of its employees?

Mapping and managing the knowledge flow process for this scenario:

  1. The organization knows that an article is expected to be published (any self-respecting media outlet informs the organization in advance about an article concerning it and requests a response).

  2. The person in charge of communication/public relations in the organization passes the article's content and the organization's official response to the knowledge manager in the organization.

  3. The knowledge manager in the organization is responsible for ensuring:

    1. Updating employees about the expected article and the organization's response.

    2. Providing clear instructions to employees on how to respond to customers following the organization's official response.

    3. Reading the comments—reading comments on any published article can teach about the customers' moods and whether further action is needed and convey this knowledge to the relevant decision-makers.

    4. Checking the information sources used led to providing incorrect answers and correcting them if necessary. If wrong answers were given –

      1. Updating employees about the incorrect information that was provided, along with the updated information.

      2. Drawing lessons on the flow of knowledge within the organization: why incorrect information was given and how to prevent similar cases in the future.

There is no doubt that mapping and managing a knowledge process in advance for cases like these (which are common) could have prevented and mitigated the damage. Damage to the organization's reputation and the satisfaction of its customers and employees could cost the organization more than the costs it saved by not mapping and managing an initial knowledge process.

We must understand that we are indeed in a small global village and that the walls between the organization and its surroundings are not as high as we were accustomed to in the past. The game's rules and knowledge management are changing along with them.

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