Every successful company or organization in the world is built upon the same foundation: knowledge.
And this makes sense; after all, if a company isn’t built around knowledge—knowledge of the customer, knowledge of efficient internal and external processes, knowledge of the market in which the company operates, and more—it simply won’t be able to function in the first place.
But this all goes deeper than simply ensuring your organization is comprised of talented and knowledgeable employees.
By today’s standards, it’s much more important that you establish a foundation on which this talent and knowledge is shared throughout the organization.
In other words..
You need to implement knowledge management.
Knowledge Management: What It Is and Why You Need It
“Knowledge management” is the process of physically creating, storing, and maintaining any and all applicable knowledge “owned” by team members within an organization.
“Applicable knowledge” refers to any information an individual or team within your organization can provide that will enable your company to run more efficiently.
The creation and communication of explicit knowledge is pretty straightforward.
When a marketing a team builds a specific sales funnel, they can document various aspects of the process, such as their rationale for using a certain platform, why they developed certain content for a given persona, the compliance documentation they used, etc.
This explicit information allows all other teams involved (e.g., sales, service, and support) to get a better understanding of the customer’s path to purchase.
Documenting and communicating tacit knowledge is a bit more nuanced. Tacit knowledge refers to the skills and knowledge learned by experts over years of practice and experience that simply cannot be taught*—let alone put into words.
(*It is possible to communicate tacit knowledge; we’ll get to that later.)
An example of tacit knowledge within the scenario described above would be the salesman who takes over after a lead has been qualified and quickly “works his magic” to seal the deal in record time.
While the salesman may have gone through the process as if it were second nature to him, it’s nearly impossible to explain exactly what he did to close the sale in such a seemingly effortless way.
There are a ton of benefits to proper knowledge management. As we mentioned above, the more “in the know” your employees are—even in areas that don’t directly affect them—the more streamlined your overall processes can be.
Along with that..
The enhanced communication and collaboration that stems from knowledge management allows for a synergistic effect to take place, in which the sum of all knowledge within an organization together is much more valuable than each piece of knowledge individually.
Also, it’s worth noting that a better understanding of how all facets of an organization fit together allows each of these facets to see the value they bring to the table at various points in time. Since everyone within an organization will be responsible for providing knowledge to the company in some way, it reinforces the fact that everyone’s knowledge and talents are essential to the success of the organization as a whole.
Whether on an individual or company-wide basis, knowledge management is beneficial to everyone involved—as long as you go about it in a strategic and intentional manner.
Knowledge Management: 4 Best Practices
While knowledge management is by no means a simple or short process, we’re going to quickly go over the fundamental best practices of a proper KM initiative—which will allow you to quickly get started in your own efforts in turn. Let’s dive in.
1. Start with a Culture Shift
One of the first issues you’re likely to face when spearheading a new (or improving your current) knowledge-management initiative is that some of your employees may not be so open to the change.
In some cases, you’ll have employees who can’t see why they need to teach other people in the organization how to do their job. In other cases, you’ll have people who don’t understand why they need to learn how to do other people’s jobs. And, of course, you’ll have some employees who fit into both categories.
In these situations, your job is to get these employees to see the big picture.
They need to understand that knowledge management is not about having to do more work or picking up the slack for someone else; rather, knowledge management is about sharing information and “know-how” to enable everyone to better accomplish their duties.
While it may take more work up front, it’s essential that your team members understand that the time and energy they and their teammates invest in knowledge management will ultimately make everyone’s jobs much easier.
2. Identify Knowledge to Focus On
As we mentioned earlier, knowledge management considers two types of knowledge: explicit and tacit.
Of course, every company in the world owns both explicit and tacit knowledge that is unique to that specific organization. Even two similar companies operating within the same industry can have vastly different knowledge sets that ultimately change the way each company does business.
To determine the knowledge your organization should focus on developing, you can use something called a knowledge map.
Creating a knowledge map allows you to visualize the different facets of your organization and break them down into more-specific aspects (and even further, if the case warrants). Within a knowledge map, you can include information like the following:
- What knowledge/information is known
- Who knows or is responsible for knowing a piece of knowledge (as well as who can benefit from knowing it)
- Whether the knowledge is explicit or tacit
In doing this, you’ll have set the stage for the next step of the process.
3. Define How Knowledge is Created, Stored, and Shared
Once you define the above-mentioned information, you can then begin planning how to create and distribute a certain piece of knowledge. Remember, the way you do all this depends on whether we’re talking about explicit or tacit knowledge.
As we mentioned earlier, explicit knowledge is a bit easier to define and communicate. When creating a knowledge base around certain concrete processes, data points, and other information of that kind, you simply need to ensure that the information is presented in a clear, understandable manner—and that the value of the knowledge is equally clear.
Since tacit knowledge is best communicated through demonstration and observation (rather than explanation), you’ll need to determine a logistical approach for demonstrating each piece of tacit knowledge owned by your organization.
In some cases..
This may mean recording a video of your employees “in action” (e.g., demonstrating a certain process or use of a product). In other cases, you might need to catch your employees in the act, so to speak, and call attention to the way they went about a certain process (and discuss and document why their approach was so effective).
Whether you’re creating text-, image-, or video-based content to communicate explicit or tacit knowledge (or both), there are a variety of tools available to help you accomplish your goals.
Knowledge-base software, such as Helpjuice, allows you to store knowledge and content in a centralized database accessible by your team (and, in many cases, your customers).
Wikis can be another helpful solution for storing knowledge that employees or customers can access.
Overall, your goal at this stage is to ensure the knowledge and information your teams contribute to the organization are created and delivered in the most efficient way possible—and in a way that guarantees everyone within the organization can access it any time they need.
4. Continue to Improve Your Knowledge and Knowledge-Management Efforts
The knowledge coursing through your organization today can—and often will—become outdated, and even obsolete, as time goes on. This can happen for a variety of reasons:
- The development and release of a new product
- A shift within your organization’s processes
- A change in overall trends throughout your industry
That being the case, you’ll want to remain absolutely vigilant in terms of keeping your knowledge as robust and up-to-date as possible.
The best course of action is to be intentional and systematic from the get-go. That is, rather than seeing the development, communication, and management of knowledge as “nice-to-haves” within your organization, start building these processes into your organization’s standard routine:
- Include knowledge management in your project descriptions and timelines.
- Set a “shelf life” for your knowledge documents (the maximum amount of time that can pass before revisiting said documents in some way).
- Perform scheduled maintenance to your knowledge documentation on a monthly, quarterly, and yearly basis.
Once your knowledge-management initiatives are up and running, this ongoing maintenance will become your main focus moving forward.
Whether it’s adding to an existing piece of knowledge, adding a brand-new piece of knowledge, or doing away with an outdated piece of knowledge altogether, there will always be something you can do to improve your knowledge-management efforts.
Emil Hajric is the Founder and CEO of Helpjuice – a powerful knowledge management software company. Emil is an organizational learning expert & author of Knowledge Management: A Theoretical and Practical Guide for Knowledge Management in Your Organization