Managing Knowledge In The Organization To Improve And Sustain Quality

Managing Knowledge In The Organization To Improve And Sustain Quality
Once a gigantic ship carrying loads of merchandise broke down. The ship’s engineers worked day and night to fix the problem. But all their efforts went in vain. The Captain decided to call in an expert. He found an expert in a near-by town and requested him to diagnose and fix the break-down. The expert, an old man
in his sixties arrived at the ship. He spent a few minutes to inspect the engine. Then he brought out a hammer from his tool box and tapped on the engine a couple of times. Believe it or not, the ship started working. The Captain and his team were super excited and they thanked the expert profusely. The expert went back home and sent an invoice to the captain towards his professional fees. The invoice amount was $ 10000. The captain was taken aback seeing the whopping bill amount. He wondered how this old man can charge him $ 10000 for just tapping on the engine a couple of times. He wrote to the expert and asked him for a detailed break-up of charges in the invoice. The old man replied to the Captain: 
- Tapping on the Engine- $ 5 
- Knowing where to tap - $ 9995

The captain was speechless after seeing the note from the expert.
Well, what does this story tell us about? Actually, this story illustrates the power of Knowledge. 
Why is Knowledge so important to an organization? Well, knowledge is the sine qua non for an Organization’s existence. And it is also critical for an organization’s progress and growth. We have seen enough examples of how knowledge is imperative for an organization’s existence and evolution. Organizations that learn faster than competition, stay ahead of competition. The famous Leadership Guru, former CEO of General Electric says: “An Organization's ability to learn and translate that learning into action rapidly,is the ultimate competitive advantage.”
In recent times, we have seen two examples. Nokia, the largest manufacturers of mobile phone fell by the way side when they stopped reinventing.  When their rivals went all out in bringing funky smart phones, Nokia continued to stick to the basic models. They failed to leverage the new knowledge emerging in this space. Another example is that of Kodak Ltd. The one time numerouno camera manufacturing company refused to embrace the digital technology. While they stuck to conventional cameras, their competitors surged ahead with digital cameras releasing one version after the other. Within no time, the one-time giant in the Imaging technology was struggling for survival.

From the two aforesaid examples, it is clear that organizations must acquire new knowledge all the time. They must keep learning all the time. Leave along organizations, even we as professionals need to keep learning all the time. Some of the knowledge we use today at work or business was never taught to us in the universities where we studied. A lot of knowledge we are going to use a decade from now doesn't exist today. The pace at which current knowledge is getting obsolete and new knowledge is being created is mind-boggling. Organizations and individuals that learn faster than this rate of change are going to survive in the 21st century. I am reminded of a famous quote by O’Leary. According to him: “Knowledge Management refers to the practices and strategies that a company uses in an attempt to create distribute and enable adoption of strategic insights and specific experiences.”

What KM Practices we can learn from US Army
There is a great KM Practice that we can learn from the USA Army. In the USA Army, whenever a project comes to an end, the project team members come together as a group, sit down and do a very structured review of their project. Their review is always focused around the following 4 questions:-
1. What did we set out to do?
What were the project objectives? What were its desired outcomes?

2. What actually happened?
What were the actual outcomes? What results were secured? Did the actual outcomes exceed the desired outcomes or fall short?

3. Why was there a difference?
What went well or what didn’t go well? What caused the difference or gap? Were these factors intrinsic or extrinsic to the organization? Were these special causes or normal causes? 
4. What do we do next time?
What are we going to do differently? What actions are we going to repeat? What actions are we going to stop doing?  
 Teams capture the key learnings from each project through such structured discussions. These learnings are highly valuable to the organization. These discussions ensure that successive project teams learn from the best practices of previous teams. They do not repeat the same mistakes their previous teams made in the past. Teams do not have to reinvent the wheel. 
For Business leaders and KM practitioners, I would like to add one more question to this set of four questions used by the US Army:-
5. Where else in the organization can we use these learning?
Transference of learning and best practices from one project team to another within the same division or business group is not enough. What is of paramount importance is an organization’s ability to take the learning from one division or business group to another. For organizations that cannot do it well, the cost of lost opportunity will be huge.

In spite of the emergence of the best-in-class tools, solutions, KM is still not in the charter of most Business Leaders today. While many leaders acknowledge the importance of KM to their organization, they often do not understand the strategic importance of KM. So what should KM or L&D practitioners do differently to be able to influence business leaders? Well, in my view KM practitioners should stop using ‘KM’ in their conversations with Business Leaders. They should use words like ‘innovation’, ‘growth’, ‘increased revenues’, ‘profitability’ etc.  Leaders understand this language very well. The reality is KM is the driver of business performance, innovation and customer loyalty. So our focus should be on driving business value rather than driving the KM solution. 
I remember the famous quote by the Leif Edvinsson , the Swedish Management Guru:

“Of central importance is the changing nature of competitive advantage - not based on market position, size and power as in times past, but on the incorporation of knowledge into all of an organization's activities.”

By- Surya Prakash Mohapatra

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