UPfront: How Kiwi companies measure knowledge

Tacit knowledge, sure it’s important. Err… what is it exactly? Roughly speaking, that’s the sort of response Infinity Solutions got when it recently conducted its second annual survey of knowledge management (KM) in New Zealand.

Rose Boyle, who manages the company’s KM division, said that although 94 percent of organisations participating in the survey recognised that tacit knowledge is important, only 25 percent were able to identify what tacit knowledge is critical to their success.

By its nature, tacit knowledge – the kind of information and experience people carry around in their heads – is easy to lose. It walks when people leave the organisation, often isn’t passed on to those who could make good use of it and generally falls through cracks in institutional memory.

Trouble is that while there’s more general recognition of its worth, this is not being translated into deeds, says Boyle.

“Each organisation needs custom-designed solution to the problem of capturing tacit knowledge.”

As part of that process, they need to figure out what bits of tacit KM have passed their use-by date and may be stifling innovation.

Then they need to evolve some means of sharing the useful stuff about. Not as easy as it sounds. Of the three main barriers to knowledge sharing, the topmost is time. Finding spare chunk of time for yakking about what you do and how you do it is difficult for those who are flat out just doing it.

Other barriers are fear of abuse (how will others use this?) and loss of status (if everyone knows this, my own personal value to the company will be eroded).

The good news is that the number of companies taking more note of KM (both tacit and explicit) has increased. Last year, only 35 percent of survey respondents had KM initiatives in place. This year that has risen to 60 percent.

The self-selection nature of the survey probably gives it bit of bias toward KM adoption that may not be reflected in the wider business population, however.

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