How Proactive Business Leaders Are Preserving Their People’s Knowledge

8 min read
About the Author
Ben Little
Ben Little

Ben remains focused on the future of knowledge management and guides the company centered on the intersection of humans, knowledge, and technology. Empowerment and accountability are essential to how Ben builds companies. He knows and values the compounding effect of incremental, continuous improvements.

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    Knowledge is the lifeblood of your business. It’s essential to everything your organization does and directly impacts your ability to grow and generate revenue. Unfortunately, when employees leave, they often take precious knowledge with them, and if you haven’t adequately documented and organized that crucial information, it could leave entire teams or departments in a bind.

    During this era of large-scale layoffs, frequent reorgs, labor shortages, skills gaps, and slowing-yet-still-elevated turnover rates, keeping valuable knowledge is more challenging and important than ever.

    Knowledge retention gives you an edge over your competition, fosters innovation, allows you to scale productivity without increasing headcounts, and shortens onboarding—all of which support your bottom line. But it can also be incredibly overwhelming to get started.

    To help, we’re sharing actionable tips and examples from business leaders who excel at preserving, sharing, and leveraging their workforce’s collective knowledge.

    Centralize Knowledge for Easy Access

    One of the biggest challenges leaders experience when developing a knowledge retention strategy is determining how to organize information. After all, you could collect and store terabytes of essential knowledge from your subject matter experts, but it won’t offer much value unless it’s also well-organized and easy to retrieve. That’s why it’s vital you implement a centralized knowledge management platform.

    “Retaining knowledge in a central location is hugely important for our team,” says Tina Nathanson, Director of Market Research and Analytics at Quest Diagnostics. “Before we had Bloomfire, I had to memorize folder structures and know where my team’s work was to help stakeholders find the necessary information.”

    When knowledge is easy to find and access, people are more likely to use it. According to research from the University College of London, humans are biased against anything they perceive as challenging and overwhelmingly opt for the path of least resistance. So, if people have to jump through hoops to access knowledge—like digging into a complex, multi-tiered filing system or memorizing a unique file naming convention—they’re less likely to leverage that information and instead create less-effective workarounds.

    Retain Tribal Knowledge

    Tribal knowledge, also known as tacit knowledge, is the type of information someone learns through context and personal experience, and, in most cases, it’s difficult to put into words. For example, a successful salesperson can sense when a customer is ready to move on to the next step because they’ve learned to identify specific verbal and nonverbal cues. They’ve gained this knowledge after years in sales, observing veteran pros and honing their perceptiveness.

    Preserving tribal knowledge is challenging because it’s not something you can easily record in a process document. And sometimes, people who possess tribal knowledge don’t realize they have it until someone asks them about it.

    But one leader found an excellent method for capturing this vital knowledge.

    In a recent webinar, Paul Ponsford, Senior Marketing Research Manager at Delta Faucet Company, shared that his organization uses Bloomfire’s commenting function to facilitate conversations between internal stakeholders and research teams. He explained that this helps the company organically grow its knowledge base and helps people “broaden their thinking and increase their tribal knowledge.” And according to a research team member, “The comment function provides staff with a great platform to exchange thoughts and spark new ideas.”

    By capturing organic conversations, you can preserve the hard-to-explain but essential knowledge floating around your organization.

    Empower Employees to Preserve Knowledge Through Video

    According to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Millennials and Gen Z make up nearly half of the country’s workforce. Over the next decade, this number will grow significantly.

    Proactive leaders understand the landscape is changing and actively work to ensure internal processes reflect younger generations’ preferences and work styles. And, when it comes to capturing and sharing knowledge across the organization, that means prioritizing video. Gen Zers are hungry for knowledge and consume significant amounts of educational video content. In fact, a LinkedIn report found Gen Z workers logged 50% more hours watching courses online than any other age group. And leaders see similar trends within their organizations.

    For example, when Gainwell Technologies hired a cohort of summer interns, Business Analyst Joe Carruth noticed a clear preference for video content. “They love sharing knowledge and putting great content out,” he said in a KMWorld webinar. “And one of our interns put out a video log about using OneNote. Very quickly, we noticed, based on the views, comments, and likes, that it was number one on our leaderboard of engaging posts [in Bloomfire].”

    After other employees noticed the video’s engagement rate, they also began incorporating videos and visuals into their content. 

    It’s also worth pointing out that some people find it easier to create a quick video to walk through a process or demo a tool than write a document. By empowering employees to create content in whatever format makes the most sense for them, you’re more likely to retain higher rates of knowledge.

    Make Knowledge Documentation Fun, Easy, and Interactive

    Half the battle of preserving knowledge is encouraging your workforce to take the time to document information. Based on our client’s experiences, there are two things you should do to ensure successful knowledge retention:

    Dedicate resources to knowledge retention

    Gathering, organizing, and disseminating knowledge is a significant and ongoing effort. But, if you want to drive a robust ROI, you have to allocate resources to prioritizing knowledge retention.

    Some organizations have dedicated KM professionals responsible for identifying essential knowledge, gathering it from subject matter experts, documenting it via multimedia resources, and ensuring all employees’ questions are addressed. But you don’t have to hire a team of knowledge management professionals to amass that content.

    For example, a biotechnology company hosts monthly upload sessions where employees are encouraged to contribute their knowledge to the organization’s platform. Instead of making it a tedious experience, the company turns its upload sessions into social events. They play music and give employees plenty of time to focus on recording their knowledge.

    Make it part of your culture

    Investing in a knowledge management platform and uploading and organizing content is an excellent first step. But how do you ensure your organization continues to preserve content, scale content management efforts, and update content as knowledge evolves?

    One of the most important things you can do as an operations leader is to make knowledge a fundamental part of your company culture and processes.

    For example, a leading consulting firm leverages training events where they crowdsource and share internal knowledge and foster behaviors that support knowledge retention. Every year, the firm’s learning and training team hosts a two-week learning extravaganza in which they cover various topics they’ve gathered from employees in the months before. Recently, the team held sessions about creating and searching for content in their knowledge management platform to help evangelize those behaviors and demonstrate how easy it is to find knowledge and document what they know.

    Lay a Strong Foundation of Well-Organized Knowledge

    Documenting knowledge is immediately beneficial, and over time, it becomes even more valuable. And once you have a solid foundation and repeatable and scalable processes, documenting knowledge becomes easier. Plus, as time goes on, you’ll have an increasingly rich repository of historical data to help inform current and future efforts.

    For example, King’s Hawaiian leverages the Bloomfire series feature to help stakeholders familiarize themselves with areas of research. A series on their “Slider Sundays” campaign includes ad testing results, research into consumer behavior around sliders, and more.

    “It’s been incredibly helpful to take all that information and put it in one series so that if anyone ever needs to be brought up to speed or go back to the foundational rationale for why we’re doing this and what our consumers care about, it’s all very easy to get to and super organized,” says Troy Figgins, Head of Consumer Insights. He also notes that, because it’s a living document, the team can continue building on the series as new information comes in. And by grouping related knowledge, leaders have a big-picture view of what the workforce knows so they can continue building on existing knowledge.

    Making It Work for Your Organization

    Unfortunately, some turnover is inevitable—even when your employees are highly engaged and your business is growing. But, while you can’t stop your best and brightest subject matter experts from leaving, you can work to ensure you preserve all their valuable knowledge. And as other leaders have proven, taking a proactive approach to knowledge retention will help you grow, innovate, scale output, and ensure employees can stand on the shoulders of the experts before them.

    About the Author
    Ben Little
    Ben Little

    Ben remains focused on the future of knowledge management and guides the company centered on the intersection of humans, knowledge, and technology. Empowerment and accountability are essential to how Ben builds companies. He knows and values the compounding effect of incremental, continuous improvements.

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