Knowledge management: Fuel for the social enterprise

Posted by Steve Lancaster on November 16, 2018.

In the social enterprise, your workers are also your customers. Just as you tailor offerings and manage your interactions in the external world to attract and serve customers, the way you manage knowledge is an opportunity to build that same rapport with your workforce. By making it easier to capture, access, use, and share knowledge throughout the organization, you make room for people and performance to thrive.

Being a social enterprise means more than taking a stand on societal issues; it also refers to the relationships and reputation you have with your workers, customers, and communities. Both relationships and reputation can be strengthened by actively listening to stakeholders, being transparent with information, operating collaboratively rather than in silos, and building trust and credibility by the actions you take and their consistency.1

Knowledge management can be a key that unlocks all of these qualities in an organization while making it possible for people to do more, more effectively, and with less effort.

Lots of knowledge, not a lot of management
Consider the status quo for many companies: They “know” a lot, with more and more data and information acquired by the minute, but to what end? Implicit knowledge—policies, procedures, operational know-how, business intelligence, and the like—sits in multiple siloed systems that aren’t integrated. On top of that, tacit knowledge—unique to the individual—sits in people’s heads and on their hard drives. Knowledge sharing is often random, and information retrieval cumbersome. (Various studies reveal that knowledge workers spend an inordinate amount of time—about a full workday a week—just searching for information.2) Duplication of effort and reinventing the wheel is common, as people don’t know what others are currently working on or have done in the past.

A workforce in transition
On top of these challenges, the changing composition of the workforce is also a factor. High volumes of Baby Boomers are retiring and taking institutional knowledge with them. Gig labor comes in, works on a project, and leaves, so if the organization doesn’t capture that knowledge, it walks out the door as well. We also have bots doing work that humans used to, seeing and collecting and creating data, so if there isn’t a human monitoring that effort and making connections to leverage the data for other purposes, that opportunity too is being lost.

A new set of expectations
Another layer to the puzzle is the changing expectations people have for their work. Individuals increasingly want more from work than the traditional career ladder. They value and actively seek out a variety of experiences doing and learning different things and the opportunity to build a network across and outside the organization.

All of these challenges—the proliferation of tacit and implicit knowledge, the segregation and inaccessibility of information, the changes in the workforce and rising power and influence of individuals—are making knowledge management an organizational imperative.

Putting knowledge to work
Knowledge management aims to give workers of all types—full time and contingent—access to the same tools and experiences that have become commonplace in our personal lives.

  • Intelligent searches for information via an easy-to-use and intuitive search engine that knows who you are and what you need, and is able to both pull information when you request it and push it to you in the flow of your work.
  • Social media-like collaboration that lets you easily connect to people to share information across organizational boundaries, interact with subject matters experts, and learn from one another.
  • A wiki knowledge base where information is easy to find, consume, and constantly update and add to.
  • Natural language support via agents and chatbots that can not only respond to verbal queries but also do things like listen to customer service agents’ conversations with customers and find and present relevant information in the flow of their call.
  • Multimedia channels that provide topical, point-of-need show- and-tell on demand.

Investing in and cultivating this ease of accessing, sharing, and using knowledge is both a characteristic of the social enterprise and fuel that keeps it going.

It’s always been true that knowledge is power, and for organizations, knowledge management can be a powerful differentiator and competitive advantage. Making it a priority to capture what your organization knows, put it to work, and keep expanding it just makes sense for business and the workforce behind it.

Steve LancasterSteve Lancaster, is a managing director in the Human Capital practice of Deloitte Consulting LLP and is Deloitte’s US Knowledge Management service leader

1 Dimple Agarwal, Josh Bersin, Gaurav Lahiri, Jeff Schwartz, Erica Volini, “Introduction: The rise of the social enterprise” 2018 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends.
2 “Various Survey Statistics: Workers Spend Too Much Time Searching for Information,” Cottrill Research, November 8, 2013.

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