Imagine your organization as a beehive. Worker bees makeup 85% of the population but rely on the leadership of the queen bee. They have complex communication patterns, incredibly similar to knowledge management, which involves ‘dancing.’
Knowledge management is all about the relationships between people inside your hive. Think about it. Each person is connected to everyone else within your unique culture. Their culture is determined by leadership, and they communicate in complex ways. The pattern of your social relationships determines your knowledge management strategy.
Start with the culture of your company and work backward towards the tools and methodologies you need. Eventually, you’ll pick the technology to fit the people and help them facilitate their goals.
87% of workers want their company to be transparent, according to the Slack Future of Work report. Author and salesman Zig Ziglar says, “Research indicates that workers have three prime needs: Interesting work, recognition for doing a good job, and being let in on things that are going on in the company.”
Asses your existing processes and systems
Knowledge sharing is a social activity that takes place within your social system. Look at your unique company culture and the social relationships that exist within your organization. Examine how employees already share knowledge and identify roadblocks. Who possesses the particular expertise in your company? Where is knowledge sharing falling short?
“Business and human endeavors are systems… We tend to focus on snapshots of isolated parts of the system. And wonder why our deepest problems never get solved,” says Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization.
About 74% of companies say they could improve their knowledge management by at least 30%. Pay attention to your informal systems of knowledge, including key influencers within your team. Also, there is usually a lack of incentive to share knowledge, and a failure to connect employees with the wider goals of your company.
After assessing your culture, you will find the tools to fit the people for knowledge capture. For now, find out which systems and technologies they are using already. Do these work well? How could they be improved?
As a result, it may be tempting to invest in a brand new knowledge management solution that you think will solve all your problems. Unfortunately, failure to adopt new technologies is a common roadblock. You have to pick solutions that fit the unique needs of your team. Try to work with what you already have, and plug in the gaps instead of reinventing the wheel.
Define goals, assess risks and obstacles
When know your existing knowledge management shortcomings, ask yourself what you want to achieve with your knowledge management strategy. For example, do you want to promote better knowledge sharing practices, and avoid duplicating efforts within your organization? Knowledge sharing has the potential to improve the productivity of your workplace by 35%.
Knowledge management is deeply connected to employee engagement. Part of your strategy should be engaging employees more fully with organizational goals. “Employee engagement is the art and science of engaging people in authentic and recognized connections to strategy, roles, performance, organization, community, relationship, customers, development, energy, and happiness to leverage, sustain, and transform work into results,” says engagement expert David Zinger. Not too difficult, then!
You might also want to prevent future catastrophes by ensuring that industry best practices, policies, and guidelines, are clearly documented and accessible. In what areas does essential knowledge exist only inside the heads of key employees? What is the best way for it to be captured and shared?
Next, outline the major risks of your new knowledge management strategy. Anticipate strong resistance against efforts to implement something new in your company.
For example, some employees may react fearfully, or complain they don’t have enough time to share knowledge. Due to this, if you have a deeply competitive corporate culture, you may have your work cut out for you in developing the right knowledge sharing environment.
If you have an open and collaborative culture already in place, then employees should be willing to share their knowledge. You just need to give them the tools to do it and create incentives. Show them that knowledge sharing is valued culturally, and reward employees with tangible benefits.
Develop communities of practice and expertise
Knowledge management strategy ultimately comes from the top down, and sharing knowledge is primarily social. Senior leaders should model the behavior you want to see, and they can also participate in knowledge sharing communities. “Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. Also, the ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results,” said industrialist and business magnate Andrew Carnegie.
Communities of practice (Lave and Wenger, 1991) is a learning theory that refers to groups of people who come together for a shared practice. It involves members of all levels of ability who share the goal of improving in a particular practice. For example, this could be engineers who want to build better microprocessors.
In contrast, communities of excellence may make up your resident experts. These consist of people who want to identify shared standards and best practices. Additionally, they demonstrate leadership and membership is exclusive.
You can bring in external practitioners to help you develop your knowledge communities. At the same time, you need to develop a single, centralized location for recording the most mission-critical knowledge that arises from your communities. This brings your knowledge together in one place and is easily searchable.
Knowledge champions can record your knowledge in your chosen system, such as through the use of knowledge base software.
Conduct a knowledge management trial and test, test, test
Don’t rush in headlong to implement your knowledge management strategy. Trial your new plans first so you can work out the bugs.
Reduce the chance of costly mistakes by conducting a small pilot to see if your strategy works in practice. Select a team suited in participating in your new knowledge management program to maximize your chances of success.
This approach also has the advantage of showcasing successes and makes it more likely other employees will follow along. Also, knowledge sharers become the “cool kids”, and people realize they want to be part of the new in-group.
Embrace the complex
“When people are financially invested, they want a return. When people are emotionally invested, they want to contribute,” says organizational consultant Simon Sinek. Make sure your employees are emotionally invested in any strategy you want to implement.
Remember, your organization is like a beehive. Your employees often communicate in complex patterns. Your job is to take the time to decode these patterns and find out how you can improve knowledge sharing within your company culture.
To conclude, any successful knowledge management strategy should be fully customized to fit your own unique needs and processes.
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.