A learning organization is all about continuously analyzing business processes, recording best practices, and taking the most out of corporate achievements. It is also about accepting failures, fixing mistakes, trying new strategies, and viewing a crisis as a chance to improve business operations and knowledge management.
Ideally, every company should function like an ecosystem where teams and departments stay open to experiments, exchange new ideas, and then apply this gained knowledge in a real business context. To do so, businesses have to adopt knowledge management practices and regulate the core processes such as knowledge accumulation, sharing, and active use.
Streamlining effective knowledge management without relevant digital solutions in the era of distributed remote work is impossible. As a knowledge management integrator, Itransition has put together practical technology-centric recommendations that will help businesses keep all the stages of knowledge management under control and take the maximum benefit out of their corporate wisdom.
Step 1. Knowledge accumulation: separating the wheat from the chaff
Many organizations start their knowledge management practices with adopting a knowledge storage or a wiki where employees can add, keep, and find valuable insights.
The greatest mistake businesses do at this stage is to fill knowledge storages with random unsorted knowledge items (files, presentations, blogs, published opinions, etc.). As a result, the knowledge base turns into a chaotic stock where important items are lost in noise.
Ideally, companies have to pay equal attention to the aggregation of explicit (documented) and tacit (undocumented) knowledge. We will focus on explicit knowledge uniquely s its related workflows are easier to digitize.
All in all, companies have a few ways to minimize the risk of explicit knowledge ‘pollution’:
- Introducing knowledge storing policies. Providing employees with clear guidelines on how to add new knowledge items (including topics, freshness, relevancy, quality criteria, etc.) will help them enrich the wiki with valuable knowledge only.
- Building a metadata-centric system. Every stored knowledge item should be attributed with unique metadata, which is crucial for correct knowledge search. Microsoft SharePoint is the example of such a metadata-centric system, where every knowledge item can have dozens of attributes.
- Automating knowledge refreshment. Some corporate policies can be relevant for years, while scientific research can get outdated quickly. Not to jam-pack a corporate wiki with irrelevant reports, statistics, or research, it’s worth attributing it with ‘an expiry date’. As soon as the date comes, a knowledge owner will receive a notification to review a particular knowledge item and prolong its expiry period, replace it with a new item, or delete it.
- Categorizing knowledge sources. Another way of fighting low-quality knowledge is to introduce a source assessment mechanism. Expertise documented within an internal project can be of the highest value while knowledge from unknown online magazines can be marked as unreliable.
The knowledge management system can also be marked with a color code for different categories of good and bad knowledge sources. Thus, knowledge items from valuable sources can be colored green, while unreliable sources will be marked red. This way, end users will see which knowledge is to be used and which one to be questioned.
Step 2. Knowledge distribution: ensuring the widest reach
To make sure new knowledge is widely spread and actively used, it is a good idea to automate knowledge distribution workflows. Why? Because even if corporate knowledge is being permanently extended and supported carefully by a group of enthusiasts, it doesn’t mean it reaches broader audiences and gets its due attention.
To foster effective knowledge distribution through their knowledge management solutions, organizations can think about implementing the following capabilities:
- Topical subscriptions. Obviously, a production worker is unlikely to be interested in marketing updates. To help every employee, team, and department get the most relevant knowledge, the knowledge management solution should offer a subscription option. Employees will be able to decide which topics they want to get updated on and which to ignore.
- Newsletters. The system can aggregate weekly or monthly knowledge updates and distribute them for all employees to choose the information according to their interest. Optimally, a newsletter should be split into topics or highlight the categories of the delivered updates for employees to quickly find useful insights.
- Case-based expertise sharing. In large companies, teams engaged in different projects might never exchange their expertise with each other even though they might work in the same domain. To facilitate cross-team knowledge dissemination, companies can summarize their expertise into readable success stories and expert recommendations and then spread the word among all employees.
This method is widely used at Itransition. Project teams share their hands-on experience gained in real projects, describe the difficulties they faced, and the solutions they found. A formalized expertise description is then shared via an internal corporate portal for other teams to learn from their colleagues, ask questions, and get recommendations.
Step 3. Knowledge evaluation: determining knowledge quality
Assessing the effectiveness of corporate knowledge is always difficult, but digitizing this process is even more complex. At the same time, companies can try out several practices that will help them understand if their corporate knowledge works or lays idle.
- Rating knowledge items. A knowledge management system can contain rating features for end-users to evaluate the quality of the knowledge items they use. It is important to provide users with the freedom to publish good and bad reviews openly in order to have an unbiased view of the knowledge storage on the whole and initiate timely improvements.
- Collecting usage metrics. It’s also worth equipping a knowledge base with a built-in knowledge use calculator. The simplest version can collect such metrics as views, likes, and shares. More advanced algorithms can also take into consideration users’ characteristics (position, department, years in the company), as well as analyze how users interact with knowledge items and what knowledge they like more by means of such metrics as:
- Reading time
- The number of unique and returning users
- The number of copies (if a user copies a knowledge item in full or in part)
- User preferences (by topics, authors, types of knowledge items)
- Carrying out surveys. Employees should be able to provide feedback on the offered knowledge management solutions and the knowledge they consume from corporate resources. Relevant surveys can be automated within a knowledge management system and initiated regularly depending on the intensity of knowledge-related activities. If this intensity is low, such surveys can be launched twice a year. On the contrary, if an organization sticks to dynamic knowledge workflows, it’s worth collecting feedback quarterly.
Software is just the first step to a successful knowledge management
Diversifying knowledge management practices and applying corporate knowledge in real business scenarios can help learning organizations transform in step with the global trends.
Companies investing more into knowledge management can expect to get multiple advantages, including fewer mistakes, quicker workflows, greater productivity, faster onboarding, and uninterrupted corporate learning. However, in order to get all of these benefits, it’s not enough to implement a knowledge management system. Businesses should pay attention to the quality of the knowledge that employees access and spread, and improve it continuously. They should also introduce optimal channels for distributing and consuming knowledge daily. Finally, companies shouldn’t forget to listen to their staff’s preferences and adapt knowledge management solutions accordingly.
Sandra Goger is a Technology Observer at Itransition, a custom software development company headquartered in Denver, Colorado. Being an expert in team and enterprise collaboration technologies, Sandra guides companies towards effective employee engagement and productivity practices. She has a unique perspective on talent management strategies and offers hands-on tips on improving enterprise-to-employee relationships. Sandra is also keen on data visualization, art, and design.