In today’s knowledge-driven businesses, knowledge management isn’t a “nice to have”. Knowledge is the life-blood of your organization. Without effective systems to capture, store, access and share knowledge, your business will soon be dead in the water.
And yet, in many companies, knowledge management is still something of an afterthought. In fact, research by Deloitte found that, while 75% of organizations agreed that creating and preserving knowledge across their evolving workforces was important for their success over the next 12 months, less than 10% felt their current knowledge management system was up to the job.
The good news is that improving your knowledge management system needn’t be excessively complex or expensive. You won’t need to fork out for (yet another!) pricey enterprise platform or project management certification.
In fact, for most businesses, good knowledge management is more about culture than it is about tools. And it’s up to HR teams to lead the charge.
This guide will break down:
What HR professionals need to know about knowledge management
Why knowledge management should be part of your Human Resources strategy
How your HR team can help improve knowledge management in your company today
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What is knowledge management?
The field of knowledge management has changed radically, thanks to digital transformation and remote work. However, the basic principles remain the same. Effective knowledge management is a system that allows a team, group or business to:
Capture explicit knowledge (facts and figures - think customer contact info or web user data).
Capture tacit knowledge (the more intangible forms of “how we do things round here” - the fact that Customer X only ever responds to phone calls, or that everyone is expected to contribute a new idea in the weekly standup meeting).
Store that knowledge in a shared platform that everyone can access.
Actively access that shared platform to keep knowledge circulating through the organization.
Why is knowledge management important for HR teams?
Many people assume that knowledge management is an IT issue. After all, if you’re struggling with managing internal information, then you need better tools, right?
In part, yes. Without the right technology in place, it’s going to be hard to capture the information you need in a centralized location. Instead, you’re likely to fall into the trap of creating data silos. If your company’s knowledge is sitting in unconnected platforms, then your employees can’t effectively find, access, or exchange the information they need.
However, knowledge management isn’t just a problem for IT to solve. It’s a problem that HR needs to work on too. After all, if you’re one of the troubling 90% of companies without an explicit system for managing your company’s knowledge, then you’re facing multiple HR issues:
- Your employees are wasting time looking for information they need, instead of doing their jobs.
- They are probably finding that highly frustrating, making their overall employee experience much less positive.
- You’re also making it harder for them to do their best work, because they’re always reinventing the wheel.
Avishai Abrahami, the CEO of Wix, sums it up perfectly: “When you hide information from your team, you limit their intelligence to that of your own, crippling the smart people you hired.”
- Every time someone leaves, they are taking their highly valuable and hard-won knowledge with them – probably to your competitors.
- Your business is less productive, less efficient, and less good at serving your customers than it could be.
In other words, if you don’t have a knowledge management strategy, it is emphatically an HR issue, not just an IT issue.
Matt Benton, the CEO of the Trenchless Information Center, agrees:
“Knowledge management is all about human beings. It's about how we learn, how we remember, what we forget, and why. Those are all things that should be under the purview of HR because they're all things that affect people's lives in profound ways.”
How can HR teams improve knowledge management?
Here are 5 ways that your HR team can help to level up your company’s knowledge management:
1. Reduce the data silos in your HR data
HR knowledge is often very hard for employees to access – so cleaning up the knowledge management of your HR data is often a great place to start. Begin by auditing how you exchange information with your employees. Ask yourself:
- How easy is it for employees to find out about a specific company policy, without contacting a member of your team? Is there an easy-to-access employee handbook that makes it simple to find the answers to employee questions?
- On the flip side, if you have an employee handbook available, does it overwhelm your employees with too much information? Does it contain a lot of knowledge that is out of date (such as old policies that no longer apply)?
- If a new policy is decided on, how quick and easy is it for your HR team to share it with the rest of the company?
- Can employees access and update their own personal data (such as a change of address or a copy of their paycheck) or do you need to do it for them?
- How easy is it for people to book leave or check the company calendar?
For Jennifer Morehead, the CEO of HR consultancy Flex HR, Human Resources teams should make it a priority to set up a consolidated knowledge database. She explains:
“Knowledge management is rapidly becoming a business enabler, showcasing the need for organizations to become more sophisticated in their communication of inter-company information. For example, your company could implement a KM database that is accessible to all employees to store its information. Having an employee go directly to the knowledge storage area would omit any time delays that come with passing along information from person-to-person.”
If you notice that your HR data is scattered, inaccessible or hard to share, or you find yourselves answering the same employee questions all day, it’s time to consider adding an employee experience platform to your existing HR arsenal. There’s no need to scrap everything and start again – a solution like Applaud lets you connect all your existing sources of information into a single, self-service and unified knowledge base. Take a look at the webinar below, where our panel of experts discuss how we can create a truly consumer-grade employee experience at every touchpoint in the employee journey that leads to a happier, more engaged, higher-performing workforce.
2. Integrate knowledge capture into existing talent management systems
Once you’ve addressed the immediate issues with data, it’s time to focus on optimizing your existing HR procedures to make it easy to capture important information. Here are a few suggestions:
- Upgrade your employee directory to include employee’s areas of skills and expertise, so everyone knows who to contact if they need help with a specific topic.
- Use an enhanced scheduling tool to automatically create and distribute meeting agendas and post-meeting action points whenever a meeting is set up, so that employees can refer back to what was discussed. This also helps to make sure that remote and in-house teams have access to the same information.
- Overhaul your performance management systems into a single platform which lets you consolidate manager one-to-one agendas and notes, employee development meeting notes, and performance review documentation into a single employee experience platform. That way, employee performance information isn’t only available in the heads of individual managers.
- Develop a formal process for offboarding employees. If you can, encourage exiting employees to provide you with as much notice as possible, to give you time to properly gather all the information. Ways to stop knowledge leaving when employees leave include:
- Having them shadowed by another member of the team while they work out their notice period.
- During the notice period, ask leaving employees to set up an alarm that goes off every few hours, at which point they should make a note of what they’ve been working on and any information they’ve used that only they currently know.
- Creating a mentorship program so that employees are encouraged to train each other well before they even think of leaving.
3. Optimize your internal communications strategy for knowledge management
“HR is a prime spot to ensure that correct information is kept both accessible and up-to-date, as well as keep inter-departmental communication flowing,” says Morehead. “Because of HR’s central location for communication within a company, HR teams should be at the forefront of ensuring that their organization proactively keeps knowledge management databases updated.”
Here are a few pointers:
- Appoint a member of the HR team as the manager for the information that is uploaded to your centralized knowledge base. They should be responsible for:
- Removing or refreshing outdated information.
- Adding tags to make information easy to find.
- Encouraging employees to rate articles and learning resources, add comments or suggest new topics to improve the content over time.
- Use employee surveys to track how easily employees can find the information they need at work.
- Encourage employees to use asynchronous and easily-stored communications (email, messenger, or adding comments to a shared online document) instead of relying too much on phone calls and in-person discussions. Try to ensure that all communications and decisions are written and centrally stored.
4. Create a knowledge management culture
Remember that knowledge management is a process, not an event, recommends Matt Benton. “It's not about coming up with one big idea and doing it all at once; it's about continually improving and refining your processes so that you're always learning from the past, applying what you learn to the present, and preparing for the future.”
Creating a culture of knowledge management starts with great technology–but systems only work if people use them. In addition to encouraging managers and employees to record meeting notes, here are a few ways to make your culture more KM-focused:
Use the “Bus Test” principle
This concept was coined by Luke Chesser, the co-founder of Unsplash. The principle is simple – if an employee was suddenly hit by a bus, could your business cope? Or would you lose vital information that was only in their head? In other words, knowledge should always be duplicated between multiple team members. This can apply to everything from passwords to company systems to internal processes, or even the reasoning behind a specific product decision.
Make it easy
Make sure that every employee information system – including your HRIS, your learning and development platform, and your document management platform – are extremely easy and enjoyable to use.
How can HR get the most from their tech? In the below webinar PwC and Applaud discuss the business case for focusing on employee experience.
Make it a performance metric
If you really want employees to take knowledge management seriously, you can make it a component of their performance evaluation. For instance, recognize and reward employees who create and upload learning resources to your central knowledge system. Or you could make mentorship and knowledge transfer part of the criteria for promotion to a management role.
Great knowledge management starts with the right technology.
If you don’t offer your employees an easy-to-use, accessible and unified HR knowledge base, you won’t have strong knowledge management, no matter how hard you try. Too many HR teams are struggling along with HR technology that makes it hard for employees to use to find answers. Employees are frustrated, and HR teams are overwhelmed with employee queries.
Doesn’t your workforce deserve better? Applaud’s employee experience platform makes it effortless to get all your employee and manager services in one place, so you can offer your team an easy-to-use consumer-grade experience. Schedule a consultation with an Applaud expert to find out how we could help improve your company’s HR knowledge management.
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