Start capitalising on staff know-how

In a business world where information and knowledge are now widely accepted as the primary source of competitive advantage,...

In a business world where information and knowledge are now widely accepted as the primary source of competitive advantage, organisations are having to face up to the reality that their true competitive advantage lies in their staff, not in their fixed assets, writes Ross Bentley.

"It is not surprising then that talent management, which is really about retaining organisational know-how, has become one of the top strategic priorities for organisations," says Christina Evans, an associate at research organisation the Roffey Park Institute.

Evans recently led a research team at Roffey Park Institute which found that developing and retaining know-how requires a collaborative approach between line managers and individuals as well as specialist teams such as IT, human resources and corporate communications. "Without this approach, organisations do not have a sustainable knowledge management approach," she says.

The research has focused on identifying the different procedures organisations are adopting for developing and retaining their know- how, as well as the respective roles and responsibilities of managers, individuals and other specialist teams.

"One of the challenges for organisations is that a combination of new organisational forms and employment models based around flexible working practices is shortening the timescales that they have to capitalise on their employees' know-how," says Evans. "Thus strategies designed to encourage more flexibility within the workplace need to take into account the implications for developing and retaining organisational knowledge."

Evans says the research by Roffey Park has identified learning and development as being an important component of organisations' knowledge management approach. However, some organisations are adopting a different perspective on learning.

Instead of always relying on formal learning, they are encouraging more informal and collaborative- based learning. For example, working and learning in "communities of practice", either face-to-face, via computer network or a combination of the two.

"In addition to building know-how, learning in informal learning communities has the advantage that it helps build social capital," says Evans.

"In large, geographically dispersed organisations, this can help people feel more connected. But social capital is also important for individual career management - the contacts that individuals have in their social networks provide a vital source of career opportunities and support."

In a knowledge business it is important to make the link between career development and knowledge management. This is an important factor in addressing the "what's in it for me?" factor of knowledge management.

Evans says managers are being challenged by the new ways of working and learning demanded by the knowledge-based economy. She says they must experiment with new working methods and team structures, encourage and support informal learning, locate the knowledge experts and act as knowledge connectors and facilitators, rather than seeing themselves as knowledge experts.

Individuals too need to take responsibility for managing their own know-how. Evans says, "This requires regular sharing of insights and reflections with others, letting others know what they are interested in or interested in knowing more about, suspending judgment on other people's ideas until tried and tested, as well as developing their own knowledge-building capabilities."

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