In the last installment, we looked at knowledge management, its constituent components, and the tasks it sets out to accomplish. In this article, I would like to tell you about the processes and techniques associated with knowledge management. In addition, we will take a look at tools that are commonly used in organizations where knowledge management is practiced and valued.
To ensure that knowledge in your company is properly created, stored, and used, it is paramount to implement the internal processes the right way. Company policy and procedures govern the way employees interact with each other and the organization itself, so if you are looking to adopt knowledge management both effectively and efficiently, here are some things you should know:
General company policy towards knowledge management. Communicate the importance of knowledge management and knowledge sharing to your employees. Adopt knowledge management practices and make them mandatory in the day-to-day operations of your company. For example, giving employees some time off work every week so that they may think of what they had learned recently and commit it to writing is a good policy you may wish to implement.
Knowledge creation guidelines. Make sure that any material that enters your knowledge base does so in an organized fashion. Create guidelines for knowledge creation, communicate them to your employees and make sure that they are followed. Ideally, every employee should have access to the knowledge management tools and be encouraged to contribute. However, keep in mind that the guidelines must help employees create and store knowledge, not stifle their enthusiasm.
You will do well to create a template for adding new material to the knowledge base. The template should make it easy to understand what information should be displayed on every page, how the material should be structured, what fonts are to be used, how the text should be formatted, and so on. This will make life much easier for those who are willing to put in the time to make knowledge management a success in your organization while at the same time ensuring that the information in your knowledge base is well-structured and consistent. In these parts, we call this a “win-win”.
Contacting the subject matter expert. In the previous article, we established that it is necessary to give your employees access to the foremost experts within your company. Establishing rules that tell how and when the experts may be consulted will, on the one hand, give your employees access to superior expertise, and on the other, make sure that the experts can perform their main duties without constant interruption. Best practice in this regard is to have every expert pick a day of the week and set some time aside for consulting at that day at a specific time (make sure to communicate this information to your employees). Also, it is recommended for those seeking advice to clearly formulate their questions beforehand to save time.
Preserving expertise related to solved issues. Companies, like people, must learn from their errors and avoid pitfalls they’ve encountered before. To that end, it is vital to preserve the information about the incident, as well as the steps taken to rectify it. You will be wise to make it a rule in your organization that as soon as an issue has been dealt with, the following data must be entered into your knowledge base:
- What was the issue.
- What caused the issue.
- How the issue was solved (if it was solved).
- The contact information of the employee(s) who dealt with the issue so that them may be reached at short notice should the issue arise again.
- Preserving the expertise of employees leaving the company. Employee turnover is a fact of life, and even key personnel may leave for greener pastures. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t try and minimize the damage this will cause. Expertise is valuable, and you should strive to preserve every ounce of it once somebody gives you their notice. While frontal learning will come in handy, you should try and have the leaving person’s knowledge committed to writing as well as communicated orally. If you are parting ways on good terms, the soon to be ex-employee will probably not refuse to create a document detailing the processes they were responsible for. In addition, ask them to highlight the potential pitfalls that may cause issues unless handled with care. Preserving the expertise of departing employees is crucial for any organization, so take it seriously, or risk taking a big loss.
Knowledge management tools and techniques
In knowledge management, technology plays second fiddle to people and the interactions between them. However, tools and techniques also have their place. The platform for implementing knowledge management that you choose must feature fundamental knowledge management tools and be user friendly and easy to operate. This is important - if you make participating in knowledge management a chore, don’t be surprised when your employees are less than enthused by the prospect. To understand what features an ideal knowledge management platform must possess, let us take a look at the tools commonly used for that purpose in companies around the world.
The “old reliable” option, knowledge management adoption in a company often starts with creating a knowledge base (to be fair, it often doesn’t progress any further than that). It usually takes the form of an intranet portal or a wiki-based mini-site containing answers to the most frequently asked questions in the organization, descriptions of technical procedures, detailed use cases and post-mortems of issues encountered in the past. A knowledge base can contain text, multimedia materials, video tutorials, links to relevant third party resources, and more.
Ideally, the knowledge base should be maintained and updated regularly. At a minimum, you should have a few employees tasked with compiling new expertise within the company and entering it in the knowledge base in an agreed upon format. Preferably, every employee should have the ability to edit the knowledge base and add new material to it.
From the technology standpoint, there are a number of possible options for building a knowledge base, including in-house solutions, wiki software, and LMS/LCMS (stands for Learning Management System and Learning Content Management System, respectively), with the latter being the preferable option. Unlike websites and wikis, LMS/LCMS feature the functionality necessary for knowledge management, from uploading material and training courses to collecting usage statistics, right out of the box.
Communities of Practice
These are professional communities where members are united by a common sphere of activity, a shared project, or a common goal. If you can make it so that your employees start talking shop with each other, sharing tips and experience, congratulate yourself on getting over a major knowledge management hurdle, as creating and fostering such communities is one of the major knowledge management goals. You can use different technical means, such as forums or groups belonging to the organization’s internal social network, to help your employees share their expertise, and it would be a big plus if the chosen solution features the ability to rate or upvote particularly useful topics or insightful contributions.
A self-regulating community is a treasure trove of useful ideas and innovative solutions. The ability to have a quick informal chat with a colleague raises the employees’ confidence and makes them more efficient workers. In most cases, leaving a post on a forum or shooting a private message on a social network is quicker and more convenient than conversing via email.
A knowledge map makes it easy for your employees to connect to an expert in a specific area of knowledge. It stands to reason that before you can ask for advice, you must first find someone who can give a competent answer, and this is where a knowledge map comes in handy. It lists the experts within the organization, shows their respective areas of expertise, and provides the means of contacting them.
Bank of Ideas
Bank of ideas collects and stores the ideas and best practices generated in your organization. Companies known for their groundbreaking innovation don’t simply get their brilliant ideas out of thin air - they actively solicit ideas from their employees and managers, and they listen. However, not every idea can be immediately considered for implementation, so in the meantime you need to store them somewhere. You also need to record who came up with what, so that when the company decides to act upon a particular suggestion, its author can be consulted and rewarded. As always, having the ability to rate other people’s ideas and comment upon them is a huge plus.
No outside consultant, however many years they may have spent in the industry, knows your company as intimately as the employees who’ve spent years working in it. Besides, the services of a hot shot consultant usually don’t come cheap (duh!). Give your employees a voice, make it clear that it will be heard, and who knows - your company may just become the next Apple or Google.