Knowledge is a Gift, Pass it On

As an internal auditor in a diverse company, knowledge management (KM) is very important.  In my one year experience in the company, I have found out that KM is a big part of our organization’s existence.  We apply knowledge management from the start of our audits which encompasses the review of prior years’ working papers until the time that we archive our audit reports. As the cycle goes on, KM is implemented as we ensure that the bits of knowledge in our reports are properly captured, organized, shared, and used. Sustaining this practice is quite crucial and indeed the #StruggleIsReal.  Before I joined the company, the department as what my boss explained is somewhat experiencing a rebirth.  Almost all the employees were new and came from different backgrounds.  Due to this, there was a serious need to revisit the department’s KM efforts.  If only knowledge can be bottled up…

Despite this tedious task, our department prioritized boosting KM efforts in 2016 and moving forward.  This is due to the following benefits brought by KM which just cannot be discounted.

1. Encourages collaboration among employees

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There is faster decision-making because information is more properly and systematically organized to be readily available for use.  It creates an avenue for easier access to relevant information.  In our practice as auditors, we often stumble upon data that requires further research or information which needed to be reviewed against standards or industry practices.  Having everyone contribute to the KM “potluck” encourages knowledge sharing within the department.  Having known that a certain team has encountered a certain issue before that is relevant to their current audit, the team will feel the need to consult the previous auditors in order to discuss the issue at hand.  Thus, collaboration takes place.  These resources are collections of contributed information from different employees and accumulated on file as years go by.   Scarce resources before now become widely available through the establishment of knowledge portals, “lessons learned” databases, risk universe, database of reports, etc.

2. Helps protect intellectual capital

Ongoing efforts to ensure that knowledge collected from various employees are properly shared and used also help protect information from threats of theft, misuse, and loss. Files such as presentation materials and training manuals gained from company sponsored seminars are used during monthly cascading sessions to the team and are kept in a secured storage.  Access to these scarce and oftentimes, confidential information is very much limited to the contributors and immediate users.  This helps secure information and preserve them to be utilized by future generations.

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3. Improves company culture and performance while reducing costs by incorporating knowledge sharing strategies

KM gives the company a chance to innovate and learn.  Because of increased collaboration among employees, new experiences are shared from which fresh ideas spring.  To encourage the use of KM in our organization and help embed it in our culture, knowledge-sharing efforts are considered in the performance evaluation.  Now, in our monthly departmental meetings ideas are welcomed.  A portion is dedicated for knowledge sharing may it be issues encountered in current audits which are subjected to comments from the VP right away, training cascade, explanation of technical terms, discussion on common helpful Excel shortcuts, and more.  There has been an increase in employee participation after a revised performance review form was released incorporating KM initiatives.  This in turn increased performance of the department due to readily available information.  It helped avoid redundant efforts and chances of making the same mistakes twice.

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4. Aids organizations to focus on more important areas of the organization

A better KM system eliminates the need to tackle large amounts of information on a daily basis.  Because the reports, files, and  other documents are organized for easy retrieval on a continuous basis, organizations can skip this monotonous task and focus more on other more important areas.  Efficiency is therefore improved.

Despite the obvious benefits of knowledge management, certain barriers exist preventing its smooth implementation.  These are the following:

  • Lack of support from management to change company culture

It may be hard to introduce KM since the existing culture of the organization does not support KM practices.  This bars the integration of KM strategies into the company’s goals and strategies.  A link cannot be established, is unclear, or is simply missing.

The main contributing factor to this is the lack of direction and leadership from the management.  There is no initiative to propel clear communication and understanding of KM through the creating a clear picture to be presented to the organization regarding its benefits and values.  Due to this, employees, though may be willing will not have the time or resources for knowledge sharing activities since these are not part of the organization’s budget or priorities.

  • Limited physical resources to carry out knowledge management strategies

There may be constraints in the physical work environment which hinders knowledge sharing practices.  The layout of work areas may restrict KM efforts because of having separate closed offices instead of open work spaces.  This lessens the chances for interaction between knowledge sources and recipients.  Also, the employee size may prove unmanageable and cannot be well supported by the existing physical resources as there may be shortage of formal and informal spaces where employees can reflect to gain new knowledge, store this knowledge, and share it.

Information technology plays a vital role for the successful implementation of KM.  IT-related limitations may also pose as a constraint to KM efforts such as the lack of integration of KM tools and venues with the organization’s IT systems and process, or the lack of technical support and maintenance of integrated IT, if any.  This obstructs communication flows in the process of carrying out KM efforts and impedes the efficient conduct of work routines.

  • Reluctance to share or gain knowledge to and from others
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A lot of “experts” in the company may question, “What’s in it for me?”.  This barrier exists due to the lack of a rewards system to encourage people to share their knowledge and the fear that the credit may be stolen from them.  Knowledge, especially tacit ones is considered as an asset of an employee, a competitive advantage over those who do not possess the rare skills which make one more effective at work.  Below are examples of these skills:

– superb expertise on Excel shortcuts and functions

– technical knowledge over audit procedures

– project management skills including variance analysis

– knowledge on auditing standards, industry practices

– background on the different process involved in various types of business industries

– soft skills such as dealing with difficult auditees, carrying out engagement procedures, cost-saving practices, etc.

 - Dilbert by Scott Adams

Organizations, as part of KM efforts often make a way to discover and extract knowledge of this kind from the employees they hire.  It is often shared through your curriculum vitae and during employment interviews in order to convince employers to hire you — a way to market your self.  Once you get in, you are then required to contribute in a organization’s KM database.  However, there are people who believe that this advantage is lost once they start sharing it.  They began to question their job security because they feel they lost their edge and that they have began feeding competitors with a weapon that can be used against them.  This is quite a selfish view towards knowledge sharing, right?  The internal competitiveness within organizations make it hard for others to share.  Organizations should try to project a “one team” concept instead of feeding the need for power of other people. Having a flat organizational structure may help the organization soften up this aspect.

Often, the reason to hoard knowledge is the belief that people may misuse the knowledge one has imparted.  To combat this, organizations should improve their measures in securing their KM databases and implement strict control of documents and files.

Further, others choose not to rely on the KM database due to the lack of trust on the accuracy and credibility of the knowledge source.  Organizations should implement strict measures in verifying sources and filtering contributions being made to the databases.  A dedicated knowledge management team, led by a Chief Knowledge Officer (CKO) should be established to work on the tasks of screening and authentication of entries to the knowledge pool.  This may be done if the organization is very much passionate towards their KM efforts and the Company’s resources would allow them to do so.

  • Deficiency of skills

Soulless Container Of Knowledge - Dilbert by Scott Adams

There are also employees who are hesitant to share knowledge because they believe that they are not capable because they lack the proper skills.  A number of organizations in the Philippines consist of “old” population who belong in generations that lack the familiarity on IT systems.  They do not have any experience with modern technology thus, they lack the appreciation towards opportunities that they may exploit like IT systems, tools, and processes.  Others also blame their poor verbal  or written communication skills although they are brimming with the right technical skills to share.  They claim to not have the appropriate experience levels for these KM tasks.  Organizations may eliminate these hesitations by offering soft skills training to these employees.  This gives the organization all the more reason to pursue their knowledge management efforts.

As the saying goes, “Knowledge is power but knowledge sharing is empowerment.” Knowledge being hoarded is only selfish potential power.  We gain knowledge through the things other people share to us.  This is empowerment that we receive from others.  Let us not close the loop.  Knowledge is a gift that others have gladly shared to us, let us promote empowerment by choosing to pay it forward.★




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