posted 10 Jun 2004 in Volume 7 Issue 9
PKM: The starting blocks for KM
Individuals lie at the core of any organisation or knowledge-management initiative, yet traditionally, most KM programmes focus at the broad, enterprise-wide level, which fails to address personal knowledge needs. Daniel Myint draws on his experiences to discuss the value of personal-knowledge management in the workplace.
Corporations have dedicated serious time and resources to knowledge-management initiatives. Most investments focus on developing systems and best practices to manage knowledge assets that exist in both digital and physical media. The people within an organisation and the information they hold are the source for these knowledge assets. Indeed, a company’s employees hold the true intellectual assets and knowledge capital.
This article will focus on the importance of knowledge management for the individual. Knowledge management should not be a process or an individual exercise but a lifecycle that begins with personal knowledge management (PKM).
There has been little emphasis on maintaining and developing knowledge management at a personal level. Few organisations have taken the time or dedicated the resources to develop PKM initiatives. Although it may be the most effective, long-term option for retaining the best talent within an organisation, many companies have yet to realise this fact. Those that understand its value often find that it is not as straightforward to implement as an enterprise-wide programme where a broader scope can make it easier to identify KM requirements and implement strategies.
Corporations take pride in saying that they are learning organisations, especially as employees and stakeholders like to hear such statements. However, learning goes hand in hand with teaching and little effort is spent on staff development to identify and improve their skillsets. These competencies should fit the overall objectives of the organisation. Procedures should be in place to ensure lessons learnt and experiences are handed down through the organisation. Companies should aim to offer a collaborative society and environment where knowledge sharing is not just promoted but enforced.
An ex-boss once argued that personal knowledge development and training were the responsibility of each employee, not the manager. I still do not entirely agree with this statement. Of course we are responsible for our own knowledge development, but we need the organisation’s support and resources to achieve a goal that is within the framework of the business’s objectives.
Both the firm and its employees may have misgivings about PKM, which can create a Catch-22 situation. Corporations worry that if they invest too heavily in an employee, they will simply walk away with all the knowledge they have gained. Similarly, employees may feel that if their company sends them on training courses there are expectations of a long-term tie-in, increased responsibility or changes in business processes. There needs to be a middle ground to allay these concerns.
Tom Davenport and Larry Prusak describe knowledge management as the process that creates, gathers, distributes and utilises knowledge. Jason Frand and Carol Hixon at the Anderson School at UCLA define PKM as a conceptual framework where individuals organise and integrate information as part of their personal knowledge base.2 MBA programmes around the world implement and teach PKM to their students. During more prosperous economic times, PKM was also a regular feature in an organisation’s career-development programme.
As our careers progress and continuous learning because a necessity rather than an option, we must use PKM techniques to systematically manage and develop the information we have acquired. This can include technical certificates, degrees and knowledge from training seminars, or the provisional and useless information we acquire throughout our lives. Without PKM, much of our acquired knowledge will go unused and expire.
A basic, accessible and fundamental approach to PKM can begin with a framework that includes the following activities:
Identifying objectives – Whether the goal is to change jobs or go back to college, these objectives define the framework’s end result. Without them, the assessment and sourcing of new and existing knowledge cannot be carried out successfully;
Assessing current knowledge bases – This assessment must be carried out on a periodical basis, even if definite objectives have not been identified. It forms part of the continuous-improvement culture that all organisations should adopt to meet future demands and remain competitive. Listing the new knowledge acquired over, for example, a period of a year will give you a good perspective on what and how you have gained from formal education, informal training or hands-on experience. The key here is to note the relevancy of the existing knowledge to your objectives;
Needs assessment – Once your current knowledge base has been defined it will be easier to pinpoint the requirements needed to meet these objectives. If your goal is to do a post-graduate degree, the obvious knowledge base is a degree in a relevant subject. If the goal is to apply for and be offered a new job, then the individual can cross-reference the job description to his or her experiences and credentials. If gaps exist in technical skills or work experience, the candidate can work towards filling them;
Identifying requirements – Identifying the resources needed to acquire new knowledge can involve investing time or money, or trading-in personal and social responsibilities. This exercise is pivotal because decisions made here can affect your daily life;
Identifying knowledge sources – Research will show the possible facilities or sources where knowledge is available, such as a training centre, web-based course, college, summer internship or part-time jobs. This can be a time-consuming activity as it involves dedicating financial resources and time to identifying these sources;
Acquiring knowledge from source – Knowledge is acquired from the source and is reviewed for future needs;
Applying and integrating knowledge – In most cases, new knowledge is acquired through circumstance, that is, when there is an immediate need or opportunity to apply it. On the other hand, knowledge acquired voluntarily requires creativity and motivation if individuals are to apply it correctly and gain hands-on experience from it;
Reviewing and integrating newly developed knowledge – This involves updating revising and upgrading knowledge. New knowledge must be assessed to determine its relevance and impact on the existing knowledge base. We often do not successfully integrate new with existing knowledge and therefore fail to gain maximum value from both. Steps to achieving knowledge synergy through collaborative integration are discussed in more detail later.
At first sight, this framework seems simple and common sense. To a certain extent it is. However, the framework requires commitment on a personal level to clearly define objectives, and dedicate the time and resources needed to fill knowledge gaps. Moreover, executing this framework does not guarantee you will switch careers with ease, but will put you on the right track to systematically developing your skillsets and existing knowledge.
Achieving success when following and implementing a roadmap depends on the attitude and personal culture applied to it. If your personal culture is not open to continuous learning and improvement, kaizen (see box 1), you may want to reassess and readjust your outlook to include such a model. Cultural models exist that formalise PKM strategies. Two of the models I will discuss here involve the spiral diagram in figure 1, which represents an on-going process that is the basis of kaizen and knowledge management. In his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey describes this as the renewal principal and process of learn-commit-do, which embodies continuous improvement.
Covey stresses the need for a personal culture that not only encourages people to continuously learn and apply lessons, but also commits them to the knowledge and objectives set. He also stresses the importance of instilling such an attitude within our own principles to ensure personal success.
The spiral shows the value of ongoing commitment when implementing a roadmap. Rapidly advancing technology and career-development demands mean that it is necessary to continuously apply new knowledge and update skillsets.
In the Knowledge-Creating Company, Ikujio Nonaka and Hirotaka Takeuchi explain that there are two types of knowledge: tacit (subjective) and explicit (objective). Tacit knowledge is the knowledge built on experience and includes insights, intuition and hunches, and is not easily visible or expressed. It is highly personal, and is difficult to formalise and share with others. Explicit knowledge is formal and systematic, and can be easily expressed in words or numbers. It is the knowledge of rationality and is easily communicated and shared in the form of hard data, formulae, codified procedures or universal principles.
These models are based on the knowledge lifecycle. The key message is that KM is not an exercise but an ongoing process evolving with supply and demand. As individuals we must keep this at the core of our personal culture.
PKM also includes the technical aspects of managing our existing knowledge base. Today, we all use computers and other electronic devices to store information. Enterprise-wide KM initiatives include various tools for information and human-resource management. These tools do not, however, exist for the individual.
People do not know and are not taught how to manage their information at a personal level. This is most obvious if you look into anyone’s ‘My documents’ folder on their C: drive. You may find an array of random files and documents that are not classified or categorised. Today, all students learn how to use computers; they are an extension of their work, a tool that they must use forever, whether for learning or working.
E-mail also forms an important part of their lives. Although e-mail is used extensively, few people are taught how to categorise and archive messages systematically as they would with files and documents. Should this become part of the normal curriculum? Are we teaching our children to use computers or manage information?
Integration for synergy
The current trend in information management is to move from disparate silos of independent data banks to a single, central repository where information assets are stored, managed, retrieved and preserved.
This approach forms part of personal knowledge management. Most of the information we possess is unstructured, which means that it is neither categorised nor associated to other knowledge or information assets to create synergy. We all own books, but few people actually keep an index or classification scheme of what we have on our shelves.
One approach is to use visualisation techniques. Visualisation is an ad-hoc term used in the IT sector to define the process of combing disparate existing hardware or networks into a single, cohesive virtual asset. Although personal knowledge is not an IT network, it bears similarities. If you think about your university degree or professional certificates, this is a visualisation of disparate but related semesters, courses, modules and exams. The end result is that you leave with a bachelor’s degree or certificate in your subject area. You can then tie this in with your existing knowledge base to maximise the value of both. Practicing visualisation allows you to link the existing knowledge you are currently expanding, or planning to expand, with new knowledge acquisition.
This allows you to optimise your existing knowledge base by relating your tangible knowledge acquired from formal sources, such as education and/or training, with intangible knowledge from first-hand or third-party experiences, memories or stories. You can then map out the correlation between these knowledge assets to see their relevance and association with one another.
Robert Stokes and Louis Logan, authors of Collaborate to Compete, state that knowledge is the new source of wealth in the knowledge economy.3 In this new economy, rather than maintaining tight control over personal knowledge, individuals must share it though collaboration. Only those organisations that encourage collaboration and nurture a supporting culture will succeed today. Stokes and Logan identify five core traits of collaborative organisations:
Align values and objectives;
Mutual trust and respect;
Knowledge of staff, suppliers and customers;
Decentralised decision making;
Minimal hierarchical structure.
Knowledge sharing impacts each of these traits and should be promoted by the organisation at all points among staff, clients and competitors. This enforces the fact that knowledge capital, the intellectual and creative individual lie at the core of corporate success and need to be harnessed. To do so organisations must collaborate with individuals as well as other organisations. Staff must also collaborate and share their knowledge with other individuals and corporations. This resolves the Catch-22 situation between employees and organisations.
Logan and Stokes explain the collaboration quotient (CQ), which involves three psychological dimensions as the main components to effective collaboration. They are IQ, EQ and MQ.
CQ = IQ X EQ X MQ
IQ measures the cognitive skills associated with activities that include analytical skills, creative and critical thinking, technical and communication skills;
EQ measures the level of emotional intelligence associated with activities, which include intrapersonal awareness, self management and interpersonal relationship competencies with a particular focus on trust building;
MQ measures the level of motivation. This includes self-motivation, personal development and the drive to actively engage others and work with them collaboratively.
The authors recognise that collaboration is a complex activity involving these components, all of which are necessary but alone are insufficient. When acquiring new knowledge and trying to integrate it with your current knowledge base or collaborate with others, it is useful to understand the importance of the IQ, EQ and MQ elements and their contributing factors. This will enable you to plan your approach to achieve higher levels of collaboration and integration. These elements play a deciding role in how each party or individual perceives the concept of collaboration and the way they approach the activity.
This article has raised the following critical points for developing successful PKM:
Select the right knowledge objectives for your roadmap;
Reposition your principals to embody a continuous improvement culture that supports the learn-commit-do concept;
Integrate existing and new knowledge, externally and internally;
Understand the Catch-22 situation: organisations and individuals must trust one another to collaborate on KM. CQ= IQ+EQ+MQ.
As individuals, we are overloaded with information every day that is relevant or irrelevant, desired or unsolicited, structured or unstructured. This information comes
in every conceivable shape and size, from the inter-office memo and chain e-mail to the half-day retreat and client-orientation seminar. By managing this information overload and maintaining a culture of continuous improvement it is easy to think that managing personal knowledge is a monumental task. If you have accumulated a mass of knowledge, it may well be a difficult undertaking. But if you neglect to manage it you will fail to optimise your personal knowledge and will be unable build on it to keep up to date with the latest trends.
“Knowledge is using information strategically to achieve objectives. This knowledge can be both constructive and destructive in nature. What makes a difference is using wisdom to choose the objective.” Louis W. Stokes
Stokes’s words hit a chord with me. Disparate information is not knowledge unless it is integrated and applied to an objective. Therefore we all need wisdom to differentiate and select the right objectives to maximise how we use our knowledge.
Box 1: Kaizen
Kaizen is the Japanese management philosophy emphasising constant quality and process improvement. It stems from the American business concept of continual improvement, and began in Japan in the 1950s when Toyota Motor Company introduced quality checks within
its production lines. Then executive vice president, Taiichi Ohno pioneered the development of this solution, which became to known as the Toyota Production System. Kaizen is based on this system and was made famous by Masaaki Imai, in his book Kaizen: the Key to Japan's Competitive Success.
Davenport, T. & Prusak, L., Working Knowledge: How Organisations Manage What They Know (Harvard Business School Press, 2000)
Covey, S. R., The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change (Sagebrush Education Resources, 2002)
Imai, M., Kaizen: The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success (1986, McGraw Hill Education)
Frand, J. & Hixon, C., ‘Personal Knowledge Management : Who, What, Why, When, Where, How’ (UCLA, 1999)
Nonaka, I. & Takeuchi, H., The Knowledge-Creating Company: How Japanese Companies Create the Dynamics of Innovation (Oxford University Press, 1995)
Stokes, R. K. & Logan, L. W., Collaborate to Compete: Driving Profitability in the Knowledge Economy (John Wiley and Sons, 2003)
Daniel Myint works in records and information management within the finance service of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations at the United Nations. He can be contacted at email@example.com