The world is rethinking where and how people work—and how technology can best support that work. This transformation affects both what knowledge management is capable of and what organizations need from a good KM program. Recognizing that things are changing quickly, APQC launched new KM Trends research to get a pulse-check on the discipline.
Two questions we asked were about the biggest opportunities KM should capitalize on and the biggest threats it currently faces. Here are the top opportunities and threats, according to the 350+ KMers who responded.
- KM is essential as organizations embrace more remote and hybrid work.
Many organizations—especially smaller ones—used to rely on strong in-office culture to get knowledge where it needed to go. People hollered questions and updates over the cubicle walls, and everyone knew the “go to person” to get them up to speed. In the transition to working from home—and the normalization of hybrid schedules—people are looking for ways to connect and share when not in the same place. Communities and networks, expertise locators, and content management provide desperately needed structure for information exchange and relationship building in the digital workplace.
- More leaders are recognizing and treating knowledge as a strategic asset.
Sometimes, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. Social distancing, head-spinning change, and employee turnover have created enough knowledge gaps and bottlenecks to convince executives that knowledge is something they need to protect and propagate. At the same time, leaders increasingly see speed of innovation and problem resolution as competitive differentiators, and both rely on effective knowledge flow. As a parallel trend, many KM programs are transitioning from tactical, back-office functions to internal consultants that help different business groups diagnose and address knowledge-related problems. All this bodes well for KM’s future and allows it to shift more fluidly in response to evolving business needs.
- Employees are frustrated with chaotic, disorganized information repositories.
The content management side of KM has become urgent. Enterprise information is growing exponentially, and many IT departments are layering on new cloud-based apps without retiring older repositories. Employees have too many places to look and too much stuff to sort through. There is a groundswell push for better content management, including minimizing ROT (redundant, outdated, and trivial material), curating high-value resources, and building in smart search algorithms to sort through rubbish. KM programs that help solve these problems are highly valued since nearly everyone feels the pain of fruitless searches and information overload.
- Employees are overworked and don’t think they have time for KM
Time has always been a top barrier to knowledge sharing, and after 18 months of pandemic ups and downs, people are overwhelmed and burnt out. On top of that, worker shortages in many industries mean that teams are understaffed and people are covering multiple roles. It may be hard to solicit time for new initiatives or convince employees to endure short-term efficiency losses, even if they see the potential benefits down the road. Experts are in particularly short supply, which can put knowledge transfer efforts in a precarious position, despite the risks of imminent knowledge loss when those experts retire or leave the organization.
- Leaders are focused on (what they see as) more urgent problems or opportunities
While many organizations have doubled down on KM investments since 2020, others have cut back in the face of falling revenues, broken supply chains, and other burning platforms. This is particularly true where KM teams were slow to reassess organizational knowledge needs and adjust their approach in response. KM programs that pivoted to support virtual collaboration and digital knowledge flow have fared better than those that stubbornly stuck to their pre-pandemic priorities. This is an important reminder that KM exists to support the business, and its goals must mirror the business, especially in moments of crisis.
- Organizational culture does not incentivize knowledge sharing and reuse
Workplace trends create an impetus for better KM, but organizational culture and incentives rarely keep pace with business needs. If teams continue to be measured in comparison to one another, for example, or managers judge employees based only on the hours they bill to projects, then KM will face an uphill battle. This threat is best tackled from the top. If leaders recognize the need to manage knowledge as a strategic asset and improve its flow, they should put their money where their mouth is. This includes revising performance measures, coaching middle managers, and identifying and addressing cultural barriers that depress KM participation. KM teams can provide recommendations and tactical support, but broad cultural change requires executive reach.
What Does It All Mean?
Interestingly, most of the opportunities that KM experts and practitioners highlight are tied to the current moment. Remote working, burgeoning digital repositories, rapid change, and the need to reskill and upskill employees all position KM to thrive and add value. By contrast, the threats to KM are the same timeless classics we’ve always heard: overly busy employees, skeptical leaders, and misaligned incentives.
My recommendation is for KM leaders to focus on the time-sensitive opportunities. Make sure your program is poised to support current business needs and capitalize on shifting leadership attitudes. Pitch KM as a solution to the problems the organization faces and a way to get ahead of the competition. Come with specifics about how KM can make employees more productive and happy while helping the organization innovate, solve problems, and be more agile.
At the same time, keep chipping away at those classic barriers to knowledge sharing. Challenges like awareness, time, and culture can seem existential, but the solutions are usually structural. If leaders recognize the value of KM, they can adjust the incentives and convince employees to make participation part of the way they work.
Learn more about the current state of KM in APQC's Knowledge Management Trends Survey Report. For more information on assessing KM opportunities and threats, see Recalibrate Your KM Program with SWOT.