Ten steps toward effective knowledge audits

Ten steps toward effective knowledge audits

Tong, Thomas

Knowledge audits can be exceptional tools to support a powerful KM solution. But if done wrong, they can negatively impact your business. To steer you in the right direction, consider the following steps used by Thomas Tong in his daily work.

1. Be smart about how you introduce the knowledge audit. Ill fact, don’t even call it a “knowledge audit.” If you do, people think they’ll be audited for what they know or don’t know. And that’s threatening. The word “audit” also has negative connotations. So call it a knowledge “assessment,” “review” or “inventory analysis.”

2. Ee clear about the purpose. Create a list of what you need to know to be successful in your industry and ask yourself how you must use this knowledge to realize your business strategy. What you’re assessing is the knowledge needed, who needs it and how it’s used to advance the strategy. For example, if you have a growth strategy, you need to know where knowledge is that can best be leveraged or built on. It’s important to establish the purpose early on.

3. Stay focused. You certainly need to respond to client/stakeholder needs, but if the scope dramatically changes, it’s better to do two assessments than a single highly complex one. For example, I started a knowledge assessment for a business unit and after the value of the assessment was realized, the COO wanted to expand the scope. I convinced him to do the first assessment in its original scope and use it as a learning opportunity. Oiice the assessment methodology was strengthened, we could then expand the assessment.

4. Determine your approach andjyet alignment before you start. Some knowledge assessments are general and holistic, focusing on themes; others are more specific, broken down into parts: people, processes, content and technology.

5. There’s no set formula. Some KM experts don’t like surrounding the assessment around technological issues. KM is not technology but you must meet people where they are. If they’re focused on technology, then assess how it enables both tacit and explicit KM. Then you can expand their knowledge and your assessment.

6. Determine the proper scope. To develop an organization-wide KM program, do a broad-sweeping assessment. Then, based on the findings, select the company’s most critical parts. To groom a grassroots effort, focus the assessment of select parts of the organization that already have a natural energy and desire for KM. The average assessment usually takes about six weeks and no longer than three months.

7. Approach is critical. To leverage your intangible assets, knowledge assessments can focus on:

* what you have, which reflects past knowledge. I call this approach “inventory-based” since you’re looking at your stockpiles.

* what you use, which reflects daily or “activity-based” knowledge. It concentrates on the organization’s critical routines.

* what you need, which reflects what you’ll need down the road or “results-based knowledge.”

8. Make sure the assessment design and the culture are consistent. Designing a knowledge assessment against the organization’s culture is a common error that greatly weakens the acceptance of the results. If you have an aggressive and results-oriented culture, you’ll want to design your assessment in a results-based approach. If you have a nonsharing culture, avoid assessing tacit-based knowledge. You may consider a “stepped” approach (auditing stuff that is less sensitive). Then as the organization begins to understand the essence of KM, move to a more in-depth assessment.

9. Pick the right partners. If you intend to access tacit knowledge, partner with HR. If you’re assessing processes, you’ll want to closely align with the process owner, which is usually a business unit.

10. For knowledge to be valuable, it must be usable by those responsible to produce results. But “usable” isn’t always clear. When auditing the knowledge, use the “cookbook test.” Cookbooks walk you through an entire process – your knowledge should be assessed in the same way. If you had a critical process with unclear steps and the intended result not understood, you’ll face disaster.

Be clear about what results you need from your assessment before you start. But don’t put in too much effort so it complicates the activity. The assessment is simply a guidance tool to design a powerful KM solution.

By Thomas Tong, Knowledge Transformation Partners

Thomas Tong is a managing partner with the consulting firm KTP specializing in KM, learning, business transformation and solution delivery. He has worked extensively with public and private sectors, and through KM initiatives, has generated over $900 million for his clients.

Contact

Thomas long

Knowledge Transformation Partners

E-mail: tong@ktpus.com

Copyright Melcrum Publishing Jul/Aug 2005

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