One of the many nightmares that keeps management up at night is the thought that, since so much knowledge lives only in peoples’ heads, there’s a very real danger of it just walking out the door. But simply documenting it is not enough. Knowledge can be quite complex and changes with the circumstances in which it is needed. And when it is documented, can the right people find it and put it to use? There is a clear requirement for any ongoing concern of sufficient size to manage their knowledge. The efficient handling of information and resources will ensure that your organization does not have to pay over and over to relearn the same lessons and that the answers you generate today are available in the future as well as across the organization, whether that’s just down the hall or in another hemisphere.
We all know WHAT knowledge management means, but how do we implement that in our organization? That’s a tricky question and highly dependent upon your context. The following describes how to understand knowledge management and how you may outline a plan for the best way to implement it in your organization.
1. Knowledge and Content Are Not the Same Things
Knowledge is what someone needs to know in order to properly execute a task. Content is how that knowledge is documented. Knowledge is incorporeal. Even when it is documented, it still exists outside of that content. This means that a single, immutable piece of content will rarely suffice as a representative of that knowledge since interpretations of that topic will change over time. Thinking of knowledge and content as two different entities will keep you flexible in your understanding and implementation of knowledge management.
2. Define Useful Knowledge
When you conflate knowledge with content, you will be tempted to start this management process with the content that you have. This is a mistake. You’re not trying to serve the best content you have to the people in your organization, you’re trying to help them do their jobs. But it’s also tempting to go too far in the other direction and try to document EVERYTHING people need to know. Given that we rarely have infinite time and resources for this exercise, it’s best to focus on the most useful knowledge. The output of this initial effort is a prioritized list of topics.
That list is a living document because what your people need to know in order to do their jobs changes over time. It changes when the focus of your business changes. It changes for individuals, yes, when they change roles, but also as they gain experience. This becomes a useful feedback loop because they can communicate back a better understanding of what they need to know. So, you will need a process to keep your prioritized list of topics up to date.
3. Gather Useful Content
With that prioritized list of the knowledge people need, you can survey what you currently have. Once you’ve completed this task, for each topic ask:
- How much good content do you have? If there’s not enough, do you generate new content yourself, commission a 3rd party to create it, or point to an external source? It is possible to have too much, in which case you may want to emphasize a representative sample in order to give folks a quick way to understand what’s expected for this task.
- Is it in a useful format? The more diverse your organization is in terms of abilities, infrastructure, and available tools, the more diverse your representation of that knowledge needs to be. Consider text, images, video, audio, and other formats such as sets of raw data. Also, you may need to translate the content into other languages or reword it to account for different cultures.
You now have a base of documented knowledge. It is time to serve it up to those who need it.
4. Curation Is Key
Having really good content that effectively describes what people need to know to do their jobs is not enough. What if they don’t know it exists? What if they do know, but cannot find it? What if they do find it only to learn they cannot access it? And then, after clearing all of those hurdles, what if they find the content less than useful? Ugh.
One or more people need to be assigned explicit responsibility for curating your documented knowledge. They will create an information architecture that ensures the organization and labeling of the content leads people to the exact content that they need. They will ensure that the content is kept up to date so that it remains useful. They will communicate to your organization what is available in order to enhance awareness.
5. Monitor Knowledge Consumption
Once you have in place the content that describes the knowledge your people need, observe how it’s being used. This includes collecting analytics on searches, user paths, and views/downloads. But this also includes data not normally collected by formal analytics frameworks, such as how often people ask others about how to do something or even the quality of the work being performed. Analysis of all of this information could lead to a range of conclusions:
- No one is consuming the content because they already know how to do the task and are performing well. Awesome! But you still need this content for the new hires.
- No one is consuming the content because they are asking others how to do the task. Can’t draw any conclusions about the content, but you do need to consider a communication strategy to let everyone know about the documented knowledge.
- They are consuming the content, but they are still asking questions and/or performing poorly. The content you have just isn’t cutting it. Maybe you need new content or reformat what you have. Don’t forget about training. That is a form of documented knowledge.
The knowledge management process is NEVER done. Priorities change, new knowledge is needed, new formats become available, or any number of other reasons may dictate that you add to, modify, or even remove some of your content.
The Way Forward
It is far too easy to fall into the trap of “This is how we’ve always done it, so…” Just as your business strategy evolves and your staff grows and evolves, your knowledge management effort should change to keep up. Here at Ten Mile Square, we have helped clients through the process of identifying the needed knowledge, gathering it so that it can be served to the appropriate personnel, and monitoring its usage so that it may evolve as the company changes. Contact Us for a free consultation.