• August 10, 2000

Ensuring Knowledge Flow

As companies continue to build knowledge management into their business processes and operations, a new report has uncovered a stumbling block: once created, knowledge stays where it is.

"strategies for the New Economy: From Rhetoric to Reality" was prepared by the executive search firm Korn/Ferry International and the University of Southern California's Center for Effective Organizations at the Marshall School of Business. Researchers surveyed 4,500 scientists, engineers and managers at 10 technology-intensive companies from among the aerospace, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, energy, software and transportation industries.

According to Windle B. Priem, Korn/Ferry president and CEO, the many forms knowledge takes can pose problems for companies trying to leverage data for competitive clout. "Trying to fit the many different types of knowledge into a single system for sharing information can lead to frustration and wasted effort," he says. To overcome this hurdle, the report advocates that company strategies address knowledge management (KM) issues--something that 65 percent of respondents said is absent in their organizations.

--Jason Mihos

Buried Best Practices

An overwhelming majority of respondents said they believed that knowledge does not penetrate all areas of their business. Only 28 percent said that knowledge is redeployed throughout their organization, and a scant 12 percent reported that they have access to best-practices data collected by other departments. "If knowledge is to be leveraged," the report argues, "there is a compelling and urgent need to build communities of knowledge whose members are able to work effectively together and learn from each other, despite being dispersed."

What's the Use?
If learning opportunities are necessary for fostering KM, the initiatives in place at the companies surveyed appear to be missing the mark. From the standpoint of skills and knowledge development, attending formal learning courses ranked as "somewhat useful" among respondents. Joining in conferences and learning networks outside the company, as well as structured on-the-job training and participation in internal seminars, conferences and learning networks, ranked even lower. Respondents identified visits with customers, suppliers and partners as the most useful business development activity of the six listed.

Communicating the Knowledge Agenda
The report maintains that without concrete KM-oriented goals, knowledge workers can feel cut off not just from vital line-of-business information but also from the corporate mission and strategy. Although 63 percent of respondents said they are adequately informed by company communications regarding their own business unit, including its goals and performance, only 46 percent reported having similar information for the entire company. Moreover, respondents indicated that both sets of data lack the obvious usefulness of information about customers and competitors. A mere 19 percent of surveyed workers said they had good information about their customers, while only 11 percent reported having access to data on competitors.

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