Knowledge management challenges in organizations and 5 ways to overcome them

29 Jun 2023 5 min read

Written by

Oana Năslău

, Content Writer Specialist

Nowadays, access to information is not an issue anymore. However, the way this information turns into knowledge and how you and your enterprise can capitalize on it is another discussion. The knowledge economy is driven by data, interactions, and information. As a consequence, a comprehensive knowledge management system is instrumental for connecting your knowledge repository with the right people.

Of course business expansion is good news, but the downside is that it comes with more challenges in terms of knowledge sharing and knowledge management. According to Deloitte, 75% of organizations admit that creating and preserving knowledge across evolving workforces is important or very important for their success over the next 12–18 months. However, only 9% are ready to address this trend.

In this article, we will first address the challenges that often arise when dealing with knowledge management in organizations. Then, we will look at possible solutions that could help you and your team to overcome these challenges and drive results.

What is knowledge management?

Probably the best and most succinct definition of knowledge management was provided in 1994 by Thomas H. Davenport:

"Knowledge management is the process of capturing, distributing, and effectively using knowledge."

Over the years, as organizations have evolved, a new definition started to gain traction. It belongs to the Gartner Group and it conveys a more nuanced view of knowledge management, which according to it is seen as a discipline:

"A discipline that promotes an integrated approach to identifying, managing and sharing all of an enterprise’s information assets. Knowledge work management focuses on extending knowledge management to business processes (i.e., policies and procedures as well as unwritten rules)."

What are the challenges of knowledge management in organizations?

1. Corporate amnesia

Corporate amnesia is both a challenge of knowledge management as well as a consequence of not having implemented an efficient knowledge management strategy in the first place. You've probably noticed that knowledge gaps that remain after a tenured employee has left the company are very difficult to fill in. When people change employers, they take with them valuable knowledge and insights gained through their experience. Inadequate knowledge transfer and failure to document processes only make matters worse.

If you have already experienced corporate amnesia, you are probably aware of the costs it involves due to the impact it has on decision-making and productivity. These are struggles that will definitely make you want to avoid this sort of institutional forgetting at all costs.

2. Technology fatigue

Although digital transformation initiatives have been a priority on corporate agendas during the last decade, most of them have a tendency to fail. Harvard Business Review reports that 70-95% of digital transformations fail to achieve their original objectives, with an average of 87.5%.

One of the possible reasons why digital transformation fails is related to technology fatigue. This is a common challenge encountered especially in a post-pandemic context. Oftentimes, technology deployment is prioritized over user adoption and this is a mistake. To your employees, a new knowledge management process may be seen as yet another platform they need to learn and this can make them resistant to change.

3. The use of tacit knowledge

Simply put, tacit or implicit knowledge is knowledge stored in your employees' heads. As opposed to explicit knowledge, tacit information is internalized and it is not captured in any way or at least not formally. The challenge here would be to decide which part of the tacit knowledge you would want to convert into explicit knowledge and what instruments are the most effective for this process. If your employees are using tacit knowledge over information readily available, you will need a root cause analysis to find why and to improve knowledge sharing.

4. Lack of measurement

Creating a knowledge management system in your organization should not stop at the deployment stage. If your roadmap doesn't include an assessment to measure the success of your management system, there's a chance your implementation will result in low adoption rates.

Besides, you should never assume your knowledge management system will remain static once it is deployed. It will always require updating and improvement of both content and technology. Think of your organization as a garden. Information can pile up quickly so you need to stay proactive and plan for gardening.

Lack of measurement may also imply that an evaluation mechanism is already in place, but it is incomplete or it was added too late, towards the final stages of the process. Don't let bad timing and a superficial evaluation mechanism stay in the way of your progress.

How to overcome the challenges of knowledge management in organizations

1. Train your team in using knowledge management platforms

No digital tool, no matter how powerful, can replace the need for human guidance and training. If you want to increase user adoption and boost the confidence of your team in using a new knowledge management system, you need to make sure all the people involved have access to basic training. Training and mentoring your team in using knowledge management platforms creates a culture of knowledge sharing and encourages collaboration and open communication.

Knowledge management platforms often include in their packages training services either by means of demos meant to explain how to use the product or with the help of consultants and client support. Be sure to allow your team to add chunks of time to their calendars dedicated to learning and practicing the use of the new knowledge management platform. Additionally, you should encourage them to ask questions and even anticipate theirs by creating an FAQ repository. If possible, make sure they have access to a point of contact who is already knowledgeable in using the new tool. Finally, stay flexible and allow them a ramp-up period for learning how to make the best of the knowledge management platform.

Tip: After your new-software training is ready, you can create a procedure and guidelines for starting with it. Information is best explained fresh. After a year you might even forget how it was explained to you.

2. Encourage collaboration and a culture of knowledge sharing

Capturing knowledge is the most complex part of any knowledge base. It starts with the challenging task of transforming tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge. But this is something you should consider adding to your strategy in the long run. You will need to constantly encourage employees across departments to document their work processes, best practices, and lessons learned in order to preserve vital knowledge. We can think of this strategy as a process of building a legacy. If people in your teams are aware of the importance of creating and maintaining knowledge management platforms, critical information will be readily available for both current and future employees. That's how you avoid corporate amnesia.

3. Use the right technology

We know that capturing knowledge and building a culture of knowledge-sharing requires the appropriate digital solution. Knowledge is dynamic, and so should your knowledge base. But no matter what, remember to prioritize user experience.

For us, the fact that knowledge is dynamic and that priority should be given to the user experience translates into a multitude of features integrated by default into our XWiki product:

  • An intuitive navigation that includes a search functionality powered by our Solr search application. This allows users to quickly search inside their wiki for pages and different file formats, be it documents or images, using keywords and refining their searches based on different criteria.
  • A "Like" feature for each page that gives users the option to follow specific wiki pages and receive notifications for them instead of being overwhelmed by random notifications from all the pages.
  • An annotations application that encourages users to collaborate, provide feedback, exchange ideas, and, generally speaking, share knowledge by annotating the content of an XWiki document.
  • A collection of templates that help you tailor the content to your needs. If you want, you can also start from an already predefined template integrated by default in the product, such as the template for meeting reports or even the one for an encyclopedia. 


4. Explain the benefits of using a knowledge management system to your team

To have people in your team on board with a decision to build a knowledge base that they will rely on, you should prepare them in advance. Explain what are the benefits for them and the company. But more importantly, you should involve people in the decision-making process. A change is still a change no matter how meaningful it is, so their first instinct is to oppose it. However, users are inclined to embrace change if they are an active part of the process. If you involve your employees in designing and testing a knowledge solution, they will relate to the entire process, adopt it and support it. 

If implemented correctly, a knowledge base has the potential to leverage the growth of your enterprise, but also of every individual inside it for several reasons:

  • ✅ Less time and effort spent looking for information and therefore more time to work on tasks that matter the most;
  • ✅ Exposure to a diversity of learning styles: text, audio, video, or image formats, to make information easily digestible depending on your employees' learning styles but also depending on business needs;
  • ✅ Smoother onboarding because everyone who joins your team or switches projects has access to the same amount of centralized information, so speed and efficiency are guaranteed;
  • ✅ Collaboration is encouraged, valued, and rewarded: this increases transparency, efficiency, and employee satisfaction.

If you're looking to draw inspiration on how to implement knowledge bases and wikis, we are happy to share that with you. Here are two examples of business cases you can download to see what we managed to do with our knowledge solution for our customers:

5. Collect feedback

For big changes to occur, first there has to be a need for systematic improvement. But the opposite is also right: big changes leave a lot of room for improvement until they are fully accomplished. So making your employees feel included in the decision-making process also means that you will ask for their feedback. This will allow you to measure the success of your knowledge management system. You will need their input before, during, and especially after putting in place your knowledge management solution. You can consider adding a feedback mechanism to assess the adoption and performance of the knowledge management platform. 

Key metrics for knowledge management will also offer you a powerful overview when you want to analyze how many of the efficiency, productivity, qualitative, and quantitative objectives you have met or exceeded, or what areas require improvement. Just think of the insights you will gain when you compare the amount of time saved by organizing your knowledge versus the time you and your team were spending to access information pilled up and scattered across the organization.

Think also about motivating your team to keep the collaboration and adoption of knowledge management alive. You can do that by sharing metrics insights with them with an emphasis on the achievements. This will reinforce trust and persuade them that their contribution matters. For instance, you could share with them the number of improvement ideas generated through their feedback versus the number of ideas implemented.

Closing thoughts

For the implementation of your knowledge management strategy to be successful, you will need a balanced approach that combines customization with a holistic perspective. Consider working backward, so you can prioritize the end user's requirements and tailor your knowledge management solution accordingly. This proactive approach will enable you to gain a deeper understanding of potential challenges and even help you anticipate obstacles along the way.

For more resources on information management for your organization, you can consult our Best practices blog section.

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Best practices

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