Most firms employ experts, and let’s be honest, don’t really use them much.
Considering that being smarter, that is fielding better knowledge resources, than one’s competition is a key survival criterion in business.
After all it is putting knowledge to work, or the actual deployment of Intellectual Capital that is typically what makes one firm survive and another die or get eaten.
So it is curious that many firms fail to leverage their expert’s discretionary effort, subject interest, and awareness.
In this blog I will provide a practical technique for using your experts better to increase your holdings of Intellectual Capital and for improving your firm’s awareness of its business environment, and perhaps even taking another step in the direction of becoming a learning organization.
In a recent webinar for the ic knowledge center I presented some ideas on Knowledge Management & IC and you are welcome to download the presentation slides from the ICKC website, or to join the conversation.
Objectives of Knowledge Management
Firstly, let’s just remind ourselves of the two main forks in Knowledge Management objectives
- Operational Excellence
- Niche Mastery
In the first we want to put knowledge to work and by doing so to reduce cost due to wasted effort and duplication, increase output and efficiency by replicating best practices, and by propagating knowledge across the organization.
In the second we want it to be seen that we do this, and make it clear to potential customers, investors, and would-be employees that we are masters of our craft and market niche.
Expertise is the gold, but alone it is insufficient – you can’t just have expertise, you must put it to work in as many ways as possible in order to make it a competitive advantage rather than just an “also-have”.
The Learning Organization
As I have outlined in previous posts, a major cause of corporate mortality is failure to learn – in essence a fatal learning disability.
One of the primary features of such a learning disability is an inward focus and a steady loss of awareness of what is going on outside the firm – such firms stop using external events and information to drive change within their organization.
For a firm to learn I believe there are several components that must be satisfied.
Inter alia, a firm must successfully engage in and master:
- Environmental Awareness
- Processing & Contextualization of external information
- Deriving Synthesis & Meaning from external information
- Adaptive Behavioral Change
A firm needs its experts to be aware of what is going on in the world and specifically in terms of their area of expertise, to have a high index of curiosity, and to do something with what they see.
Specifically, what I have in mind is that they will place a context around things that would otherwise simply pass the rest of us by unnoticed or unmarked, and as a result the firm will adapt to external conditions and innovate.
How an Expert Tags Novelty
What this means in real terms is that I want experts to be aware of things going on in the outside world, for example news items, events, technological changes, and market movements, and then to pull those into the firm, and provide an explanation of what this means, how it is relevant to what the firm does, and finally, to suggest actions that could put this to use for the firm.
In the presentation I give two examples, but your use is likely to be different and should be driven by your experts because they are the only portal through which new ideas can enter your firm without triggering the embedded immune systems that usually crush novelty as a form of error.
Here then are the steps I suggest you use in getting your experts to pull in Intellectual Capital for your firm
- Capture Content from external sources
- Provide a Context from the eyes of an expert
- Explain why this is Significant to the firm
- Add an Evaluation to test message integrity
- Provide a Social Environment for interaction
- Layer with advised Actions
Although hosting the content in a CRM, LMS, or Wiki will help, don’t prioritize IT systems over the people element – most KM practitioners I have polled believe that people-factors account for 80-90% of the success of this kind of thing, and technology only 10-20%. So spend proportionate amounts of time and effort on organizing, motivating, and helping the people and don’t get distracted by the shiny IT toys.
Experts are often underutilized and pigeon-holed into highly specific roles that reduce their effectiveness as agents of organizational learning that can boost operational performance and increase adaptive capacity. By deliberately encouraging your experts to retrieve found articles of information from the outside world and add value to them by explaining context and implication to the firm, and by specifying recommended actions, the expert can extend their value and that of the firm.
Matthew Loxton is a Knowledge Management expert, holds a Master’s degree in Knowledge Management from the University of Canberra, and provides pro-bono consulting in Knowledge Management and IT Governance to various medical institutions. Matthew is a peer reviewer for several Knowledge Management and Information Science Journals.