How a knowledge map can help to identify knowledge gaps and needs, against all odds

How a knowledge map can help to identify knowledge gaps and needs, against all odds

Without understanding their knowledge needs, organizations can hardly decide on relevant KM activities to strengthen the necessary knowledge domains and advance in their business. Knowledge mapping can be an optimal way to address the challenge.

Knowledge is undoubtedly the trickiest organizational asset: possessing it alone is never enough for organizations to use it in a proper and advantageous way. That’s why, when put into the knowledge management context, organizations often look like antique shops: there are zillions of articles, but it’s absolutely unclear which ones are the most valuable – maybe, a golden statue that shines brightly or a rusty chandelier?

In this context, companies do possess a certain knowledge wealth but, unfortunately, can hardly understand what knowledge they really have and what knowledge they need in order to foster business development. What’s even worse, organizations may overlook critical knowledge gaps, which makes them an arm’s length close to disappointing and recurrent business mistakes. In this respect, the only way for organizations to understand clearly the value of each knowledge item is to go for knowledge mapping.

5 steps to a better understanding of knowledge needs

Knowledge mapping is a knowledge management technique that helps organizations to inventory their explicit and tacit knowledge residing within different departments, business units or the entire organization. As a part of a knowledge management solution, a knowledge map shows companies what knowledge they have, where it is located, who owns it, then allows to understand if the available knowledge is sufficient to cover business needs.

The knowledge mapping process can be divided into 5 logical steps:

Step 1. Outline a general approach to knowledge mapping. This includes:

  • Defining a knowledge map type (for example, strategic, functional, process-based, etc.).
  • Choosing the map’s scope (for example, departmental, cross-departmental, organization-wide map).
  • Identifying key elements of the map, such as knowledge items, knowledge assets, knowledge domains, knowledge owners.
  • Creating relevant questionnaires that will help knowledge managers to inventory knowledge of each particular employee and assess its depth.
  • Bringing questionnaires to a knowledge management system (for example, companies can leverage SharePoint’s capabilities to create surveys of various complexity).

Step 2. Carry out knowledge overview, assessment and structuring through questionnaires and face-to-face meetings.

Step 3. Evaluate available knowledge and benchmark it with both the minimum required and desirable knowledge levels.

Step 4. Reveal knowledge needs and prioritize them to define those that affect business processes and hinder organizational development.

Step 5. Define relevant knowledge management activities to meet critical knowledge needs and patch severe knowledge gaps.

Although these 5 steps seem to be easy, in reality each of them requires important efforts of knowledge managers and employees in general. As a part of our knowledge management consulting practice, we’ve analyzed efforts required to create a comprehensive knowledge map and revealed that the initial organization-wide knowledge mapping is one of the most time-consuming and complicated KM tasks.

However, not only time can be a stumbling block on the knowledge mapping way. Stakeholders’ collaboration can also get burdensome, and here is why.

Why employees block knowledge mapping?

Knowledge mapping means that human-to-human interaction is inevitable. This naturally leads to possible pitfalls since employees may resist it.

  • Line managers resist knowledge mapping as they claim they understand knowledge needs in their departments better than knowledge managers. This can be a result of managers’ protective behavior and their wish to prevent other employees from interfering into the departmental life.
  • Key knowledge owners confront knowledge mapping as they are busy with daily routine and have no time for KM-related interviews and continuous collaboration.
  • Employees can get hostile to knowledge mapping because they aren’t ready to face knowledge gaps and admit them. Accepting a knowledge gap can be difficult from the psychological point of view, as it reveals employees’ imperfections and forces them to take additional self-learning or training activities.
  • Top managers can be skeptical to knowledge mapping as the process itself requires substantial efforts. To add more, it brings no benefits to organizations if nobody takes further improvement steps.

Fortunately, knowledge managers can change such an unfavourable organizational climate if they act according to one of the following scenarios.

2 scenarios to overcome human resistance and map knowledge

To break the resistance, knowledge managers can apply two feasible approaches to bring knowledge mapping into an organization. The main difference between these approaches is how quickly organizations accomplish knowledge mapping and how fast they get decent outcomes.

Scenario 1. Slow and organic knowledge mapping. While opting for this scenario, knowledge managers should look for devoted and engaged employees who are ready to participate in knowledge mapping willingly. This scenario will definitely be slow, and the first positive results won’t come quickly. However, fulfilled by voluntary enthusiasts, knowledge mapping can bring much better outcomes than if enforced. Engaged ‘mappers’ will also spread their positive experience among other employees and will incite them to participate in the mapping process.

Scenario 2. Quick and forced knowledge mapping. Unlike the first option, this scenario requires accomplishing knowledge mapping without waiting for employees’ consent. This is a suitable model if a company starts a new important business program (for example, enters a new market, launches a new product category or implements a new development strategy). In this case, knowledge needs should be defined without any delays, so that managers could understand clearly if the planned initiatives are reasonable and can be successful. The mapping scope also decreases in this case, which is great to get top management’s support and create a KM success story that will be reproduced while enterprise-wide mapping.

Knowledge needs unveiled… what’s next?

Regardless of what model organizations choose, knowledge mapping will lead them directly towards their knowledge needs. This has a great strategic value for any company that considers further business-oriented KM activities. Clearly understanding their knowledge strengths and weaknesses, it is much easier for companies to define what KM steps to take and when, as well as to align the defined KM course with the general business development plan to make knowledge work to the enterprise’s advantage.

By Sandra Lupanava

Sandra Lupanava is SharePoint Evangelist at ScienceSoft, a software development and consulting company headquartered in McKinney, Texas. With her 5+ years in marketing, Sandra voices SharePoint’s strengths to contribute to the platform’s positive image as well as raise user adoption and loyalty. Today Sandra advocates harnessing SharePoint’s non-trivial capabilities to create business-centric, industry-specific innovation and knowledge management solutions.

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