Friday 19 February 2021

7 routes to knowledge acquisition

Sometimes your organisation needs to acquire new knowledge, new know-how or new capability. Here are 7 ways to approach this.

Knowledge Acquisition is a core component of Knowledge Management. ISO 30401:2018 recognises this, and requires compliant organisations to include Knowledge Acquisition as part of the Knowledge lifecycle (Acquisition, Utilisation, Retention, Archive/removal).

Knowledge acquisition therefore needs to be covered as part of your KM program, at least if you want to reach the ISO quality standard. Here are 7 ways in which an organisation can acquire knowledge. 

1. Build the knowledge yourselves, through trial, error and success

Learning from your own experience is a good way to cement learning, but the critical word in the heading above is "error". If you need to acquire important, difficult or critical knowledge, then just figuring it out for yourselves may involve costly errors before you hit on the formula for success. For brand new knowledge, which does not exist outside the company and where no trainers or consultants are available, this may be the only option for knowledge acquisition, hence the prevalence of R&D departments. Make sure that R&D is integrated into the KM cycle, and that they realise that their primary job is the acquisition or creation of knowledge. 

2. Learn with partners

For really new knowledge, consider setting up a learning network or learning partnership. Use processes such as Deep Dive (aka Business Driven Action Learning) to co-create the new knowledge.  Working as an open innovation partnership is less risky than just trying to create the knowledge yourself, as the different partners will bring different knowledge components  which can be assembled into something new.  Alternatively, if the knowledge is not too complex, hold a peer assist with partner companies to access their knowledge.

3. Hire a consultant

If the knowledge already exists outside your organisation, then consultancy may help. When you hire a consultant, you rent their knowledge. If the piece of work for which you need the knowledge is a one-off exercise, then it makes sense to hire this knowledge on a short term deal. If it is not one-off and you need to internalise the knowledge within the company, ensure the consultant offers training, coaching and knowledge transfer as part of the contract

4. Get training

Where the knowledge is procedural, then training is a great way to acquire it. Training will never transfer all the knowledge - there will always be some gaps - so training is best combined with the next approach.

5. Hire a contractor

A contractor is like a long term consultant, in that you are still hiring the knowledge, but with a contractor, its a longer term hire. The contractor may be working for your company for a year or more, and during that time you have access to their knowledge. However if you need the knowledge after the contractor has left, you need a knowledge transfer program in place, such as shadowing and mentoring.

6. Employ an expert

More permanent than using a contractor or consultant is hiring an expert. Use that expert as an internal coach, mentor, community leader and practice owner, so their expertise can be diffused within the organisation.

7. Acquire another company

This can be a very effective way to internalise a new capability, and acquire new knowledge - buy or merge with another company that already has that capability. Then of course you need to diffuse the knowledge through the new, bigger merged company.

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