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Cashing in on employees' knowledge

The secret's out: a lot of large companies are starting to recognise the substantial value of a resource right under their noses: employees' collective knowledge.

So many organisations have caught on to the knowledge-sharing buzz, in fact, that statistics estimate that up to 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies are looking into a knowledge management initiative. As Bruce Cuthbertson's recent article in Knowledge Management magazine notes, companies don't have the time to train every employee as business areas and practices expand, nor can they afford to reinvent processes every time problems recur.

"To respond quickly to shifting markets," Cuthbertson observes, "both individuals and organisations need an easy way to locate in-house experts--people who have built up stores of knowledge in a particular domain--and tap their knowledge."

Some large organisations have designed their own enterprise knowledge sharing solutions, while others have begun to employ solutions built specifically for the purpose. These solutions are designed to make knowledge sharing fast, efficient, and--ultimately--highly profitable for the companies that use them. On the face of it, knowledge management initiatives are win-win propositions.

So why all the employee resistance?

Where knowledge-sharing initiatives are concerned, it seems it's all in the roll-out strategy. Companies bullish about knowledge sharing and its potentials for bolstering innovation, employee development, and revenue growth often charge in with solutions they hope will be "plug and play." Few of these solutions succeed, for a number of reasons. Here are a few of the most common strategies that jeopardise the project:

The "Shooting Blind" Strategy: Frequently knowledge sharing initiatives, while well-intentioned, fail to set specific and measurable goals up front. As a result, ROI can't be demonstrated, and decision makers don't see the value of using the solution.

The "One Size Fits All" Strategy: A common stumbling block in solution implementation is poor audience targeting, which often leads to inefficiency and slow adoption. Successful solutions address a specific set of business problems facing a targeted group of employees.

"The Notify Once and Forget" Strategy: Companies deploying knowledge sharing solution software often make the mistake of informing employees about the available tools once, perhaps through an email or company-wide meeting, and then assuming that their company's knowledge sharing revolution is underway.

Employees are inundated with hundreds of pieces of information each day, each competing for their attention. Failure to follow up, the hallmark of the "Notify Once and Forget" strategy, compromises the success of any initiative. The bottom line is that adoption is likely to be directly proportional to the planning and effort that companies put into encouraging employees to participate.

The "Take This and Like It" Strategy: This happens when a company assumes that employees will simply change their work routines to start using the software. But sharing expertise and knowledge through software designed specifically for that purpose would be a new concept to most, if not all of your employees. If companies neglect to listen to and involve employees in solution roll out and make changes based on their feedback, employees are bound to resist the solution. Knowledge sharing solutions have to be tailored to the employees who use them.

The "Let the Solution Speak for Itself" Strategy: Even if a company has designed and built the perfect knowledge sharing solution, limited adoption may still result from limited evangelism. Companies should appoint employees who can continuously promote the solution internally before it gathers steam and becomes self-sufficient. Periodic notifications, press coverage, and promotions remind employees of the solution and sustain their interest. And with interest comes adoption.

Most companies still take baby steps where knowledge management solutions are concerned, but they're learning fast. Those companies that employ smart solutions that take into account their measurable goals for ROI, company culture, employee feedback, and solution evangelism are going to be way ahead of the pack.

Milkana Stefanova is a Senior Consultant at AskMe Corporation, where she has led a number of AskMe Enterprise implementations for F500 companies.

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