Expertise cycle – an advanced method for sharing expertise

DOIhttps://doi.org/10.1108/14691930210448332
Pages430-446
Publication Date01 Dec 2002
AuthorKatja Karhu
subjectMatterAccounting & finance,HR & organizational behaviour,Information & knowledge management
JIC
3,4
430
Journal of Intellectual Capital,
Vol. 3 No. 4, 2002, pp. 430-446.
#MCB UP Limited, 1469-1930
DOI 10.1108/14691930210448332
Expertise cycle ± an advanced
method for sharing expertise
Katja Karhu
ABB Corporate Research Ltd, Baden-DaÈ ttwil, Switzerland
Keywords Knowledge management, Experts, Tacit knowledge
Abstract Sharing expertise is a growing field of interest because of the increased amount of
available information, turnover of experts and globalization of companies. Sharing expertise is a
difficult task; therefore, experts often lack motivation, skills and time to document their expertise.
The developed expertise cycle is a framework where knowledge stewards build personal trusted
relationships with experts. Knowledge stewards interview the experts, construct the knowledge
and document it, making it available for knowledge seekers. The expertise cycle is tested in two
cases where the expertise is distributed to different individuals and business units. In both cases
the usage of the expertise cycle was expanded. As a conclusion, the usage of the expertise cycle and
described best practices are recommended. Instead of providing more information we should
concentrate on providing better quality of information ± and the expertise cycle is a valuable
method to achieve this goal.
Introduction
And overcome with shyness this was all that he could say:
``I'llput it in a letter'' and then blushed and ran away.
He sat down in the grass to think of all he had to tell
How he had met Hemulen, found a beautiful shell,
Above all of his loneliness, particularly at night
But though he tried so hard it seemed impossible to write.
Now please, dear reader, comfort them and lend a helping hand,
Help Toffle write to Miffle so that she will understand (Jansson, 1998).
As described above by Jansson, our personal observations and emotions are
difficult to describe, and even more difficult to write on a piece of paper.
Companies, as well as individuals, are challenged today to find solutions for
describing their tacit knowledge, which is based on their employees' personal
observations and emotions. The goal is not only to write down the knowledge,
but also to compress the distributed expertise and to make it accessible for
other employees and managers. This is required more and more due to
changes in the competitive environment, e.g. the turnover of employees and
globalization of companies with knowledge distributed into several countries.
Enhanced methods are needed to enable knowledge retention and transfer of
recent, relevant and reliable information supporting better business
decisions.
This article develops an expertise cycle framework of sharing expertise,
based on knowledge management and organizational learning literature. Two
cases demonstrate its suitability. The expertise cycle approaches overcoming
the challenge by using other people, knowledge stewards, to acquire, construct
and transfer the expertise and knowledge of the experts. The article also
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Expertise cycle
431
explains the difficulties that are likely to arise, and how the knowledge
stewards work in practice to resolve the challenges.
In the first case, experts have difficulties expressing themselves in writing
and combining the knowledge of several individuals into a common
knowledge, due to lack of skills, time and motivation. High turnover forces the
company to solve the situation by employing technical writers who interview
the experts and document their knowledge. In the second case, the aim is to
enhance better decision making in strategic issues by researchers who collect,
analyze, and compress distributed information.
The research method in the first case was constructive; the author was
participating in transferring the knowledge being a knowledge steward herself,
further developing the technical writing practice and facilitating the
community of practice. In the second case, the research method was
descriptive: the author was following the success and daily work of knowledge
stewards, observing the practices and difficulties while developing advanced
tools for acquiring information and sharing the results of their knowledge
creation.
Hence, the goal of this article is to find better methods to transfer expertise
when it is distributed to several individuals and locations. In addition, the
suitability of the methods is to be evaluated with practical case examples.
Expertise and the role of knowledge stewards
Background
As proposed by Drucker (1988), the amount of experts has continuously been
increasing, which leads to changes in a company's culture and information
sharing practices. Since motivating and sharing information, instead of the
traditional managing methods, lead the experts, companies are seeking for
enhanced methods to share expertise and other information.
Globalization of companies has increased the amount of scattered and
distributed information. Information resides in different locations of a
company, distributed to different individuals and transferred in pieces that are
often incoherent and in confrontation with some other pieces. Development of
information and communication technologies has led us to a situation where
there is too much information available. Examples are not hard to find: our e-
mails and new Web pages appearing each day. Essential information is
drowning into unessential, equivalent information is repeated and the
information is renewing its form but not always the content. Technology and
science as well as the markets are providing more and more inventions and
innovations. Since the markets and technologies change fast, information
becomes obsolete fast.
As a conclusion, global companies who face the challenges of global markets
and fast changing technology have typically too much information, which
might be overlapping, obsolete, unreliable and incoherent. These issues, along
the increased turnover of the experts, are the reasons for the growing
importance of sharing the expertise and compressed knowledge in an

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