Many people may cringe when they think about HR owning or, even worse, trying to manage the flow of knowledge or information in an organization. You might be saying to yourself that this role should belong to the communications department, the IT department, or (as a last resort) the learning department – but not HR.

What is the value of information?

However, if we look at the core of this idea we need to think about the value of information to your organization. Information really has no value in itself — it is a great deal of bits and parts of data captured in some cohesive fashion. It becomes knowledge when someone assigns value to those facts and figures. What gives information its value? People. People create information, use it, analyze it, and assign value to it; people give the information value.

Where is information located?

Information is often found in technology, but originally the information comes from people. It is the people that decide where to put that information, how to categorize it, and how someone will access it over time. The technology is a conduit – but it can be both a positive and a negative force in facilitating the transfer of knowledge and information.

Who uses information?

People use the information to which they have access to make decisions, inform their actions, provide insight, or drive a goal. Information can be used as a powerful tool, a weapon, or as a fortune telling instrument. If a company’s collective knowledge is ignored or not accessible, both the organization and its people can make poor decisions which can negatively impact business outcomes.

In Frank Leistner’s 2010 book on “Mastering Organizational Knowledge Flow: How to Make Knowledge Sharing Work”, Larry Prusak defined the shift he had observed in the approach of organizations to managing knowledge and information. Here’s a summary of that definition.

The old view of knowledge management in organizations was based on the following assumptions:

  • Knowledge in organizations is most likely to be found in documents [and databases].
  • The key to managing these documents are better systems and taxonomies.
  • All of these management activities can be measured for their effectiveness within the organization and the effectiveness justifies the costs.
  • Knowledge is the result of individual action and thinking.

Prusak felt these ideas were flawed and found that companies were adopting a new set of assumptions about managing knowledge and information:

  • Knowledge can be best understood as a social phenomenon, and efforts to work with it are better structured as a group effort than by individuals.
  • Working with knowledge needs some mixture or combination of human capital, strategy, technology, and social capital approaches.
  • Measuring knowledge and information management is worthless, but measuring the human relationships and business decisions is invaluable.

A truly progressive HR function realizes that its role is focused on managing the people environment – ensuring that the workforce has the tools, information, motivations, and relationships they need to perform at their highest levels. In Brandon Hall Groups recent relationship-centered learning research, over 57% of 600 organizations identified one of their top two businesses priorities as gaining market share or increasing innovation. Our economy is no longer being driven by who has more information – but rather by how organizations make sense of the overwhelming amount of information available to them. That sense of order and value come from insights, social value, and great analytics that can only come from the people of your organization… and, as we all know, people are the main priority for HR.