With billions spent on corporate training yearly, companies just can’t afford for employees to forget knowledge they gain. A knowledge management...
How To Turn Employees Into Active Users Of Corporate Knowledge
Launching their knowledge management initiatives, organizations often resemble oil extraction companies. They start to drill their knowledge wells and rub their hands in anticipation of the upcoming boost to their business. However, knowledge management often turns to be even harder than real oil extraction from the entrails of the earth. That is, even with such a sustainable resource as knowledge, only few companies succeed in making a good use of it.
After finding the optimal ways to externalize and store their corporate knowledge, organizations often stop halfway forgetting how important it is to actively use it. This leads to negative consequences: provided with the access to all the necessary knowledge, both tacit and explicit, employees just don’t retrieve it and thus underperform. But what can be the reasons of such inertness?
Why knowledge lays idle
The problem of poor knowledge use can have two reasons: technological and organizational ones.
The technological reason points to defects in knowledge management tools themselves. Instead of stimulating knowledge use, they impede navigation across knowledge sources or don’t let employees reach out to knowledge owners. As a result, organizations get exposed to the following issues:
Explicit knowledge is hard to access. Badly structured, non-indexed, non-rated knowledge assets can be really annoying for employees. However, the case is pretty common. According to the TSIA survey The state of knowledge management 2015, 66% of respondents state that they don’t index their knowledge base, while 58% confirm they don’t index community content.
Tacit knowledge is underused. When a knowledge management system has no hands-on collaboration tools, employees lose the opportunity to exchange tacit knowledge. As a result, knowledge gets stuck in employees’ heads only and hardly crosses departmental borders. In this case, knowledge flows are very short, as knowledge is shared among limited groups of people.
Apart from technical issues, there can be organizational barriers. A corporate culture with poor knowledge use can bring up the following scenarios:
Knowledge use is optional. In the absence of official guidelines on knowledge use, employees perceive it as an unnecessary, futile procedure that only eats their working time. As a result, employees rely on their own knowledge exclusively, which makes working processes inconsistent and deficient.
There is no formal procedure for knowledge maintenance and update. Obviously, employees are interested in using up-to-date and relevant information, so as soon as they find their internal knowledge sources outdated and misleading, they won’t return to them anymore. There are 2 critical situations that can put knowledge use to a stop:
- Chaotic knowledge generation and storage. When managed chaotically, knowledge sources quickly become overloaded with information noise. Therefore, users have to spend a lot of time trying to sift out relevant information and, eventually, stop searching for it at all.
- Knowledge isn’t maintained and upgraded. If nobody controls how adequate knowledge is, it quickly becomes obsolete and useless. Surprisingly, the percentage of companies neglecting knowledge updates is pretty high. TSIA’s statistics shows that less than 50% of the surveyed companies regularly review their knowledge base content for accuracy, and 27% admit that knowledge hasn’t been updated for a very long time.
Stimulating knowledge use with technology
To increase knowledge use, companies can take a few feasible steps to adjust their knowledge management solutions or tools. Taking corrective actions, organizations can tailor software features to be knowledge use accelerators.
Convenient and pervasive search that will enable users to quickly find required information across all knowledge sources. For example, companies using SharePoint-based solutions can fine-tune the platform’s search capabilities to provide users with a direct way to knowledge located on different sites and site collections. Even a bigger advantage have the owners of SharePoint 2016 that allows an instant, hybrid search across different SharePoint environments, both on-premises and cloud.
Knowledge rating tools will allow classifying knowledge assets by their value and relevance. This will help users to get the most valuable knowledge ranked first in knowledge search results.
Automated workflows for knowledge updates will help knowledge owners to carry out knowledge reviews as soon as the relevancy of a knowledge asset expires. Such workflows will allow organizations to keep updated such important knowledge assets as market researches, internal policies, methodologies and more.
Collaboration tools for tacit knowledge exchange will facilitate dissemination of tacit knowledge among employees by allowing them to connect to knowledge owners regardless of their location. Companies that use SharePoint intranets can enhance knowledge use with the help of diverse built-in collaboration features, for example, knowledge discussion hubs, knowledge exchange and Q&As.
Fostering knowledge use on the organizational level
To improve knowledge use on the organizational level, companies should aim at intensifying cross-departmental knowledge exchange and make knowledge use an essential part of daily working processes. To reach this goal, companies can:
Provide employees with ready-to-go knowledge. Developing SharePoint-based knowledge management solutions, we at ScienceSoft advocate the push approach to knowledge dissemination that encourages companies to distribute available knowledge among employees with the help of:
- In-house trainings and courses aimed at showing available knowledge, introducing knowledge owners and bridging knowledge gaps. Trainings can be allocated in a corporate learning management system (LMS) that will be integrated with a knowledge management system so that employees’ new knowledge and competencies can be then fixed in a knowledge base and added to the knowledge map.
- Collaborative knowledge transfer that should stimulate more active knowledge flows throughout the company. To facilitate collaborative knowledge transfer, companies can focus on creating both formal and informal Communities of Practice (CoP) and provide them with the possibility to carry out knowledge exchange workshops supported with discussion forums and blogs.
Make knowledge use obligatory
Corporate knowledge use should be considered as a critical factor in a company’s success. A high importance of knowledge use should be communicated to employees during their working process and supported with relevant internal policies. For example, a knowledge management policy can stipulate an obligatory use of available corporate knowledge in employees’ daily tasks. Moreover, a regular knowledge use can become an essential element of employees’ performance reviews. Therefore, employees not following the policy will be subject to penalties.
Bringing the accelerators together
Even clearly understanding the value of knowledge and having invested into knowledge management, many companies still don’t stimulate knowledge use. As a result, employees continue to ignore corporate knowledge and apply ineffective methods that impede their working process. Since the reasons for poor knowledge use can be technological and organizational, companies should take relevant measures to eliminate barriers at all levels.
Organizations that already put their efforts into developing knowledge management tools, can start with reviewing their current functionality and focus on features that would stimulate knowledge use (pervasive search, rating tools, automated workflows for knowledge updates, etc.). If corporate knowledge has barriers to its use on the organizational level, then companies should concentrate on creating a favorable knowledge environment where employees can freely reach out to both knowledge assets and knowledge owners.
About the Author Sandra Lupanava is a SharePoint Evangelist at ScienceSoft, a software development and consulting company headquartered in McKinney, Texas. With her 5+ years in marketing, Sandra voices SharePoint’s strengths to contribute to the platform’s positive image as well as raise user adoption and loyalty. Today Sandra advocates harnessing SharePoint’s non-trivial capabilities to create business-centric, industry-specific innovation and knowledge management solutions.
Zach Wahl, expert in knowledge and information management strategy, content strategy, and taxonomy design, presents a brief explanation of the...