ABCs of KMEducating knowledge managers

Using competencies to bridge theory and practice [EKM series]

Editor’s note: This is a continuing serialisation of edited portions of Andre Saito’s PhD here on RealKM.

The knowledge economy and society pose new challenges to organizations, managers and workers, and the KM field has attracted contributions from many disciplines that seek to address those challenges. KM is a promising source of instruction for managers who want to get prepared for the mounting changes, but as a young discipline, it suffers from considerable diversity, ill-defined boundaries, and still lacks an accepted body of knowledge.

The competence movement

Interest in the concept of competence has grown in parallel with the advancement of the knowledge economy.

In management, for instance, organizations seeking to improve employees’ effectiveness have adopted a competency-based human resources management. Competency models — sets of particular skills and attributes associated with top performers in given functions — are used to select job candidates, to identify training needs and develop personnel, and to evaluate employees’ performance and decide on pay and promotion.

In public policy, governmental agencies are seeking to improve vocational education and training by using competencies to:

  • focus on key issues in particular occupations, professions and careers
  • facilitate the recognition of skills acquired away from formal education, eg through experiential learning in the workplace
  • support accreditation through the development of qualification standards based on occupational or sectoral competence profiles
  • broaden and enhance educational objectives, providing an alternative to the traditional use of subject matter to organise content
  • provide a guide for lifelong learning and survey the educational achievements of a given population

Competencies may either indicate the ability or capacity to do something, or an expectation regarding performance or proficiency. Approaches focusing on education and development tend to stress the former aspect, while those focusing on assessment and qualification tend to stress the later, concentrating on the observation of actual performance that demonstrate the command of those resources. While the emphasis in one or the other aspect may fit particular needs, it is the link between them that makes the concept of competency really valuable.

Competency applied to KM

The concept of competence can be used to help clarify the boundaries and contents of the KM field and bridge research and practice through education. In this model, a knowledge manager is understood in the very generic sense of a manager who is able to deal with the challenges of the knowledge economy and society. Such a manager would typically perform in knowledge-intensive organizations, knowledge-intensive environments, and/or in the management of knowledge workers.

By exploring the breadth and depth of the KM field, seeking its boundaries and surveying its major contents, two complementary approaches to the concept of competence as applied to KM have been developed. One views competency as individual qualities that indicate capacity for proficient action, and the other describes it as socially defined standards indicating expected performance.

Next edition: the Knowledge Economy revolution

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Andre Saito

Dr Andre Saito is president of the Sociedade Brasileira de Gestão em Conhecimento (Brazilian Society for Knowledge Management) as well as a researcher at the Wenovate Open Innovation Center.

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