5 Tips for Collecting and Coordinating Organizational Knowledge
December 8, 2022
Organizational knowledge is priceless.
In an attempt to put a number on it, Panopto’s Workplace Knowledge and Productivity Report found that lost or hidden knowledge can cost even mid-sized organizations millions of dollars.
One of the core traits of humanity is the drive to pass knowledge down across generations. Through books, storytelling, and art, cultures have always ensured that knowledge stands the test of time. Organizations also have knowledge to pass on. They have their own stories, regulations, ways of doing things, and even cultures to preserve. In fact, many organizations consider knowledge to be as important an asset as money, land, and labor.
Two of the main types of knowledge that organizations need to pay attention to are tacit knowledge — such as the traditions of the company — and explicit knowledge, such as the information in databases and documents. But it's easy to lose track of this knowledge, especially when employees retire or leave the organization.
By implementing a system for collecting and coordinating organizational knowledge, companies can help current and future employees thrive in their work environment while properly representing everything their brand stands for.
5 tips for collecting and coordinating organizational knowledge
It’s one thing to understand why companies should focus on organizational knowledge and another thing to know how to put that goal into action. That’s why we’ve come up with this list of five ways companies can improve knowledge management and avoid losing mission-critical information.
1. Establish a central and reliable source of truth for the company
The first step to getting a handle on organizational knowledge is to select one central space where the company will store all relevant information, no matter where they’re working from.
When different teams have different places to locate information, it’s confusing to employees who might need to access different pieces of information for different projects. It’s also nearly impossible to manage numerous information databases or track down training binders across the company.
A central knowledge management system ensures that employees know where to find the most up-to-date documentation and where to post new documents when they have knowledge to share.
2. Have a system for organizing knowledge and communicating that knowledge clearly
Once an organization has a central location where people can store knowledge, the next task is to make it easy for everyone to update that knowledge bank and access information when they need it.
One way to do this is by using tags in the knowledge management system. Tags can help team members find the documents they need by typing a few keywords into a search bar. Information can be further organized by separating it into categories based on when employees might need the information. For example, an organization might have a category for “training new employees” and a separate category for “answering customer FAQs.”
Another option is to research systems for organizing business data. Depending on the knowledge management system they use, companies may even be able to integrate their most important organizational knowledge directly into their teams’ dashboards, so employees don’t have to switch tabs to find the information they’re most likely to need during the course of a workday.
3. Identify knowledge gaps and fill them in as needed
Inevitably, there will be times when team members can’t find the information they need to do a specific task or answer a specific question. While seeking the answer they need from managers or team leaders can help in the short term, it does not empower them — or other team members — to handle that problem in the future if the same situation arises again.
That’s why it’s important to have a system in place for identifying knowledge gaps. The Challenger 2019 Hiring Survey found that at least 70% of employees say they lack necessary skills to do their jobs. Determining where these knowledge gaps are can help leaders prioritize knowledge management.
Depending on the knowledge management software, the organization may be able to automate this process. Some knowledge management software can locate unanswered questions and put those queries in a queue for leaders to investigate later.
Addressing knowledge gaps
Once organizations understand where knowledge gaps lie, they can plan to address them and improve their knowledge management.
Sometimes, the knowledge a team lacks might be available but poorly tagged and hard to locate. In these instances, managers can update their database to improve its searchability. They might add additional tags, change the titles, or update the documents to be easier to read.
Other times, knowledge gaps might require new documentation. Team leaders can handle these situations by assigning someone on the team to write up a tutorial or create a flowchart and add it to the knowledge base.
Finally, some knowledge gaps can be addressed only through additional training. Managers can improve the skills of their team and simultaneously encourage knowledge-sharing by assigning different members of the team the job of training everyone else on specialized skills. By rotating these presentations, the organization demonstrates the importance of skill-sharing and gets the entire team into the habit of sharing its skills. And studies show that people learn more from interactive lessons in which they participate than from traditional lectures.
4. Regularly review the knowledge base for accuracy
Information changes all the time. Whether it’s a pricing update on a product, a date change on an event, or a new workflow based on updated technology, there will be times when the information in an organization's knowledge base goes out of date.
A knowledge base is useful only as long as it’s accurate. If people start finding inaccurate information, they will — at best — become confused and at worst lose trust in the system.
Organizational leaders can prevent this by regularly reviewing and updating their knowledge base. They should ensure that previous versions are removed when a new document is added. This should be added to any project's workflow to become part of the company's process.
Knowledge management technology may even flag duplicate or near-duplicate pieces of content so that leaders can determine which document is most accurate and remove the outdated content.
Although it's OK to keep old documents on file for later reference, they should be maintained in a separate archive so the organization doesn’t risk having team members use old information to guide their work.
5. Foster a culture that values knowledge sharing
One recent study showed that more than half of all employees choose not to share knowledge that could benefit their teammates. This phenomenon, which has been dubbed “quiet constraint,” can be caused by several issues, including:
- Not knowing how to share knowledge
- Not having an avenue through which they can share knowledge
- Not being asked to share those specific pieces of knowledge
- Not feeling like their talent is appreciated in the workplace
By telling employees that the company values knowledge-sharing and giving them an easy way to share their knowledge, leaders pave the way for their entire team to benefit from the collective wisdom of its members. A demonstration of support from the executives is also key to building a foundation for knowledge management. A company's willingness to pay for training, systems, and people to manage their knowledge demonstrates it's a high priority for the business.
But just as important as explicitly asking employees to share their knowledge are the unspoken ways the organization gets buy-in from the team. One way to get the team to buy in is to ensure that leaders are not rewarding employees based on specialized knowledge, as that can lead to a competitive environment in which employees avoid knowledge-sharing to ensure personal gains. Instead of praising individual success, leaders should praise the success of teams and ensure that individuals feel empowered when they work together.
Improve day-to-day organizational functioning by focusing on knowledge
Improving organizational knowledge doesn’t just make a company more organized. It has the potential to help everyone thrive by improving initial and continual training and giving information access to the people who need it most.
Leaders must first communicate the importance of sharing knowledge with their team to make the most of this system. Together, they can work to create a comprehensive database of knowledge, organize that knowledge appropriately, and keep it up to date as time goes on.