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Strategic Planning: What Is Knowledge Capital?

The third phase in the assessment of your company capabilities during strategic planning is reviewing its knowledge capital. The institutional knowledge, or tribal knowledge, is one of those management fads that come and go. But regardless of what may be hip in the business traditions of today, creating and maintaining an efficient knowledge management system to share information companywide is common sense.

Most companies don’t maintain and retain knowledge very well because, by some estimates, up to 70 percent of what employees do is nothing more than reinventing what their organization had discovered previously. And why do you want your people wasting time figuring out what someone else in the company has already discovered? Information is an intangible asset that can be a significant competitive advantage if you can harness it.

At its simplest form, managing your tribal knowledge is figuring out a way to capture everything your organization knows and then creating an easy way for everyone in the company to access and share that knowledge. Here’s an easy process to make improvements in the area of knowledge capital:

  1. Identify what information is actually knowledge.

    Information is a lot of data put into context. Knowledge is information that’s been processed and identified as continually useful to the organization. Knowledge must contribute to your competitive advantage. Identify the key areas of knowledge that make your company run.

    Think about your core processes, customer service, vendor relationships, client relationships, and so on. Think about what would happen if your key employees left. What knowledge do they have that you need to capture?

  2. Capture the knowledge.

    You want to translate the knowledge from your employees to a place where the information can be stored and backed up. You can capture knowledge by conducting exit interviews, standardizing processes, successfully using customer relationship management (CRM) systems with complete customer profiles, job shadowing, and so on. By capturing the knowledge, you’re formally bringing what’s in someone’s head into your business — permanently.

  3. Share your findings.

    Yes, too much information exists in this world already. Everyone is on information overload. But your tribal knowledge is the type of information that should make everyone’s job easier. Do you have Google-like search capability in your business data that returns usable results? Figure out ways to share the knowledge in five-minute debriefings at your staff meetings, on a company blog, or in a training manual for new hires.

  4. Use the knowledge.

    Now that you have leverage, make sure that you use it. Put the knowledge into practice by cross-training current employees, educating new employees if it’s within their functional area, and adding to the knowledge base continually. If you’ve done the other three steps correctly, you should see an improvement in overall productivity.

Identify one or two ways to tackle knowledge management this year. Develop a one-year and a three-year goal for your strategic plan. Knowledge disappearance has been a problem throughout time, and what makes the situation more severe today is that the knowledge that’s being lost is more complex, abstract, and difficult to create than ever before.

More than likely, knowledge management is an area that can use some improvement in your company. You want to protect the information that your company thrives on.

But don’t just listen to me. Listen to Bill Gates, one of the most successful entrepreneurs: “The most meaningful way to differentiate your company from your competition, the best way to put distance between yourself and the crowd, is to do an outstanding job with information. How you gather, manage, and use information determines whether you win or lose.”

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