There is an opportunity for those in Talent Management to lead in Knowledge Management. Few organizations have strategies for systematically harvesting the wisdom of top individuals and teams, yet this is a vital component of well-crafted knowledge management programs. However, a knowledge management program is only as good as the theories of competent performance on which it is built.
What is knowledge management? Here is the going definition from Wikipedia:
Knowledge management (KM) comprises a range of strategies and practices used in an organization to identify, create, represent, distribute, and enable adoption of insights and experiences. Such insights and experiences comprise knowledge, either embodied in individuals or embedded in organizational processes or practice.
Before knowledge can be shared and adopted, it must first be extracted from those individuals with experience. Knowledge elicitation is a broad term that refers to countless methods used to understand how people think, what they know, and how they perform their work. Over the past 20 years many organizations have adopted information technology as a key method for sharing knowledge. However, fancy IT systems and slick databases are only as good as the information in them. Leaders are mistaken if they think that people just automatically “know” what to capture or self-report in such systems. This is where having a knowledge elicitation strategy and set of methods can help organizations get a return on their IT investment.
What an experienced person knows is often hidden to the rest of us, and sometimes to themselves. There is a well-known model that talks about the development of competent performance. Let’s use driving a car to understand how this model works.
Stage 1: Unconscious-Incompetent, characterized by “I don’t even know what I don’t know about a subject/job X.” The first time I sit behind the wheel of the car I try to put the car in drive. I don’t realize that this is a manual shift vehicle and that I have to use the clutch to shift gears. I have no idea what to do and how to get the car going.
Stage 2: Conscious-Incompetent, characterized by “I have been exposed enough to a subject/job X to know how inept I am and how much more there is to master.” I can shift gears relatively smoothly, but I can’t have people in the car with me while I drive. It is too distracting. Sometimes I forget to use the turn signal and I flip on the headlights instead. Driving in traffic is challenging, and I almost hit another car while trying to merge lanes. I need more practice driving in rush hour.
Stage 3: Conscious-Competent. I have developed some proficiency in subject/job X and I can talk about what I know. I can confidently drive at different speeds while talking to one or two passengers in the car. I am comfortable with how the car handles and I can better judge how fast I need to accelerate in order to pass other cars on the highway.
Stage 4: Unconscious-Competent. I am so good at performing that I may not be able to articulate all that I know, pay attention to, know how to do. Activities have become so second nature that I skip steps or forget what it is like to be new to this subject. I can’t remember the last five minutes of this drive – who I passed, what signs I saw, or what lanes I was in. It was as if the car was on autopilot. Driving just seems second nature to me.
This is a simple model, but it illustrates that as people become experienced, they become less attentive to how they perform and what they know in a given subject/job. Knowledge elicitation methods can help tap into the thinking strategies and patterns of experienced people. This valuable information is the target for knowledge management programs, as it represents information that can help others come up to speed in a particular subject/job faster than in the normal development cycle.