Knowledge management: the secret sauce of productivity

Why being deliberate with information sharing improves team performance

knowledge management
Image Credit: Josh Holinaty

Looking for a file in your company’s Dropbox or Google Drive often feels like searching for a needle in a haystack.

Although a plethora of informational resources can help a company thrive, none of it matters if it’s not accessible or easy to navigate. That’s why it’s critical for companies to have processes in place to gather, organize, and share information to improve the knowledge base of the entire team.

Welcome to the world of knowledge management, also known as information management.

When the practice of knowledge management emerged in the 1990s, it was primarily focused on the field of information technology. Now, however, innovation and collaboration are its main purposes. Leaders across businesses, not just in IT, are increasingly paying attention to the tools that their teams use.

By practicing effective knowledge management, more than 70% of companies anticipate that they can increase productivity by at least 20%, according to the Technology Services Industry Association. Here’s a window into what an organized knowledge management process looks like and how it can help team members be more productive.

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What is knowledge management?

The purpose of knowledge management is to connect people who have valuable knowledge or information within an organization with the people who seek it.

To accomplish this goal, there are four objectives that a company must achieve:

  • Capture knowledge
  • Improve knowledge access
  • Enhance the knowledge environment
  • Manage knowledge as an asset

In general, there are two categories of knowledge for leaders to think about when determining how to increase the knowledge base of their workforce: explicit knowledge and tacit knowledge.

Explicit knowledge is easy to communicate and understand. It consists of factual material such as data, how-to guides, and memos. Just about anyone can share and receive explicit knowledge, making it relatively simple to create a system around it.

Tacit knowledge, on the other hand, is experiential and intuitive know-how that isn’t easily translated from one person to another. This category includes cultural beliefs, values, and attitudes.

According to organizational learning expert Jerry L. Wellman, tacit knowledge is generally considered more valuable than explicit knowledge because it can lead to breakthroughs in the workplace. That said, it can be harder to organize and share tacit knowledge with others. Here are a few ways it can be dispersed in the workplace:

  • Detailed onboarding documents and 30-day plans
  • Company-wide mentoring program
  • Weekly one-on-ones with team leads
  • Departmental office hours
  • Town hall meetings
  • Software and tools that facilitate meetings and collaboration

Types of knowledge management tools and systems

A knowledge management system is anything you use to store and manage knowledge. This includes files, documents, and even emails or instant messages. Basically, any form of communication that conveys important information about your organization.

A good knowledge management system makes it easy to summarize, store, and retrieve knowledge, as well as encourage learning within the organization. Here are some of the more common systems to consider.

Document manager

Organizing knowledge typically requires the creation of documents, videos, PDFs, or other forms of content. Inexpensive tools like Google Drive and Dropbox are useful for organizing content into folders for anyone in the company to view.

These tools, however, can be limited in their search capability. Consider the size of your company when weighing the pros and cons of various document managers.

Content database

While larger companies may rely on documents for knowledge sharing, it can be more difficult to scale their use as a primary method. With internal wiki software such as Confluence, for instance, the organization can include all forms of content for more efficient storage and access.

Collaborative software

While document managers and content databases can help with large-scale knowledge management, they fall short when it comes to day-to-day information sharing.

Collaborative software and instant messaging platforms make it easy for people to share both explicit and tacit information in real time. This helps not only to improve collaboration but also to disseminate time-sensitive information on a grand scale.

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Productive benefits of effective knowledge management

According to the Slack Future of Work study, 80% of workers want to know more about how decisions are made in their company. Also, 87% of respondents want to see more transparency from their organization in the future. Specifically, knowledge workers want to understand more about the company, their coworkers, and the competition.

A lack of transparency in how knowledge is shared and used to make decisions often leads to gaps in employee knowledge. It also chokes off opportunities for growth and innovation. If everyone is on the same page, they can work together to improve the organization’s explicit and tacit knowledge bases.

Here are some of the key benefits of knowledge management in any organization.

Leads to greater insights

Having the right information, both explicit and tacit, is essential to making good business decisions. But when that information is held by only a few, it limits the insights and opportunities for innovation to what those minds can create.

When leaders expand knowledge sharing to the entire organization, especially one with diversity in experiences and culture, it opens the door to a powerful flow of unique and potentially valuable ideas.

Increases process efficiency

Every business is made up of countless processes that both leaders and their people execute every day. But if you notice that one employee tends to consistently deliver better work or receive higher customer feedback, it may be a good opportunity to have them share techniques and processes with the rest of the team.

In other words, the right knowledge management system ensures that everyone has the information they need to perform their jobs as well as possible.

Cultivates agreement around essential goals

Whether it’s short-term objectives and key results or long-term company-wide goals, it’s hard for employees to be entirely on board if they don’t have the information used to create those goals.

With a great knowledge management system in place, you’ll have an easier time motivating people throughout the organization to agree on key goals. You’ll also be giving them the resources they need to accomplish them.

Promotes collaboration and improves working relationships

Diversity can be a valuable component of a workplace. But that happens only when individuals have a channel to share their diverse experiences, values, and beliefs with others.

Slack’s Future of Work study found that 91% of workers are interested in feeling closer to their colleagues. By gathering, organizing, and sharing tacit knowledge with the right tools at work, you can provide an environment where people can establish more meaningful relationships. The result is increased trust between team members and a more satisfied and productive team overall.

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How to establish a successful knowledge management system

Information management can help improve productivity and collaboration in your organization. But, it’s a good idea to have a strategy to maximize its effectiveness. Here are some ways to do that.

Create a culture of collaboration

A big roadblock to an effective knowledge management system is having a company culture of under-sharing. People are naturally resistant to change, and some may be unwilling to share their tacit knowledge with others.

It’s not enough to implement a knowledge management system and expect things to improve. Leaders need to be more transparent about their decisions and experiences. Additionally, leaders should encourage a culture of collaboration at every level of the organization.

Identify your experts

You may be tempted to assign one person or team as the gatekeeper for your organization’s knowledge management system. But it’s likely that you have experts in every department and on multiple levels.

Take your time to identify subject-matter experts who can offer the best information for the rest of the team. Then establish a process for them to regularly share their knowledge with the rest of the organization.

Focus on the meaningful

Creating a knowledge base for your organization can be overwhelming. Instead of focusing on sharing everything, prioritize types of information that can boost innovation and productivity. Over time, you’ll be able to fill in the gaps.

Be adaptable

Finding the right tools for knowledge management can be difficult, especially because the size and needs of your business can change over time. If you find that the tools you’re using aren’t a great fit, don’t settle.

Try out different tools to determine which ones are the best fit for your current needs and provide you with room to scale.

Knowledge management is shaping the future of work

As the use of knowledge management to drive innovation and collaboration increases, it will become more important for leaders to advocate for transparency across the board. Not just when it comes to company financials and strategies, but also with lessons learned.

For companies looking to stay competitive and keep employees engaged, establishing an effective knowledge management system is an essential ingredient for productivity and success.

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