Strengthen your corporate knowledge muscle

By Duke Rohe
Performance Improvement Specialist
M.D. Anderson Cancer Center

Every organization has a form of knowledge management. Some are very effective, many are not. The organization that is adept in its creation and use of knowledge has a clear advantage over those that aren’t.

The following are questions geared to identify knowledge management gaps that may need attention. Each should be considered an opportunity loss if not responded to affirmatively:

  • Strategic questions

    1. Are the "rudder"-type knowledge elements known?

    These are critical, make-or-break-you elements that distinguish your organization from the competition. For example, rudders might be your strategy for minimizing wait times in the clinics or the methodology for orientating new employees.

      • Are they shared and understood by those inside who need them?

    2. Does knowledge have an inherent value?

      • Test: Do you feel a dollar loss if lack of knowledge, or inefficient sharing, occurs?

    3. How would you rate the organizational trust factor concerning knowledge sharing?

      • Are there penalties when repeated knowledge withholding occurs?
      • Is there power in knowledge withheld, or power in knowledge developed and shared?

    4. How does your firm capitalize on its intellectual capital?

    Intellectual capital is the "Coca-Cola formula" that differentiates you from your competitors.

      • Is it protected from outside competitors?

    5. How long does it take your organization to learn a new thing?

    (Learning cycle equals the cycle time to detect a need for change plus the cycle time to correct for the need.)

  • Leadership questions

    1. Is there a process owner of corporate knowledge management?

    Some firms designate owners of certain knowledge areas and give them time to go out and find, sort, and feed back new information into the system. The knowledge owner’s responsibility is to grow and groom the organization’s knowledge for relevance and easy access.

    [For a profile of knowledge ownership in action at the Stillwater (MN) Medical Group, see QI/TQM, November 1998, p. 148.]

    2. Are there corporate standards on how knowledge is to be researched, cleaned (kept current), disseminated, and monitored as to its usefulness?

    3. Is knowledge sharing and development an expectation from all leadership?

    4. Do you have any irreplaceable people who haven’t mapped out their knowledge yet?

    5. Is there an ongoing message from leadership on the importance of knowledge sharing?

    Very few organizations treat their knowledge as a dynamic resource. They’re still caught in the old model of treating knowledge as what’s stored in resource libraries and staff manuals.

    6. Are there personalities that get in the way of open, constructive, clear communication, and knowledge sharing?

  • Structural questions

    1. How fast does one coming on board get up to speed on how the organization works?

    2. Is there a template design or process to compress a newcomer’s learning curve?

    3. How easy is it to access and refresh critical knowledge: Both adding to and drawing from it?

    4. How effective is your "push" knowledge: Everyone who needs it receives it, and only those who need it receive it.

    5. How well do you minimize internal spamming (in all forms)?

    6. Is one-way communication distributed by appropriate modes (usually not in meetings)?

    7. How effective is your "pull" knowledge?

      • Is it easy to access?
      • Do staff know new knowledge is available?

    8. Are there clear pathways for the line staff and management to update/change/affect current knowledge?

    9. Is there an internal mapping of who knows what, who’s good at what, and who’s doing what?

    10. Can changes of new knowledge be mapped to all areas affected?

    11. Are "visual control" principles applied to the workplace?

      • Are instructions built-in to the point of action?
      • Are standards/cautions evident?

    [For further information, call Duke Rohe, (713) 745-4433, or e-mail,]