How to Capture Institutional Knowledge (and Why It’s Important)

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    Knowledge is hard to gain, harder to maintain, and even harder to retain. In an era in which your organization’s institutional knowledge is a strategic advantage, holding on to that knowledge is the key to success. 

    Learning knowledge-capturing tactics allows you to build a robust knowledge base that helps organization-wide learning, increases customer satisfaction, assists with new product development, and much more.

    During periods of high employee turnover, retirement, or layoffs, capturing institutional knowledge is critical. When an employee leaves, their accumulated knowledge doesn’t leave with them. It remains in the company and helps onboard new specialists.

    If you still haven’t implemented a knowledge retention strategy for your business, now is a good time to start. The key factors are transparency, consistency, automation, and efficient knowledge management software.

    Let’s take a closer look at what it takes to capture and retain institutional knowledge within your organization.

    What Is Institutional Knowledge?

    Institutional knowledge includes information, experiences, tactics, practices, and skills that employees acquire while working in an organization.

    An example of institutional knowledge is a sales professional’s in-depth understanding of certain customer segments and their pain points. They know exactly how to approach this group or individuals to maximize their lifetime value.

    Employees take a big part of their acquired knowledge with them when they leave. For this information to stay within the organization, especially when employee turnover rates are high, it’s essential to exercise good knowledge retention practices.

    The Importance of Institutional Knowledge

    Did you know that people tend to forget around 75% of what they’ve learned within 24 hours? That’s one of the reasons why undocumented verbal information sharing is ineffective at preserving institutional knowledge.  

    Internal Significance

    Institutional knowledge allows employees to pass key information and experience to everyone in the organization, including new hires, for many years. Access to this information guides managers and team members in making complex decisions or handling difficult situations.

    Newcomers can use institutional knowledge to understand the company’s history, values, products, processes, and culture. This can help them become fully productive in their roles faster and reduce the number of times they have to track down a specific subject matter expert to find answers to their questions. 

    External Significance

    Institutional knowledge helps employees improve their decision-making and elevate the customer experience. It also allows you to create a substantial knowledge base that can serve as a source of data for your customers. In fact, 91% of customers prefer to use a company’s online knowledge base if it’s available.

    Meanwhile, customers can benefit from working with a knowledgeable representative who knows exactly how to address their pain points.

    Types of Institutional Knowledge

    To make things easier (well, a little), let’s talk about the three types of knowledge that you can capture within your organization. While all knowledge is important, breaking it down into types can help you design efficient capturing tactics.

    • Explicit knowledge: This type of knowledge is the easiest to capture and preserve since it’s already recorded. Examples are documents, records, training materials, publications, and reports. You can view, store, and transfer it according to your knowledge base management tactics without person-to-person interactions.
    • Implicit knowledge: This type of knowledge is harder to capture and preserve since it’s highly personal (for example, practices and skills). For the organization to store this knowledge, team members have to share it through training, experience, and interpersonal interactions.
    • Tacit knowledge: This type of knowledge is the hardest to capture because it involves feelings, experience, and intuition. An example is knowing exactly what to say to a particular customer to drive a sale through. This knowledge stems from personal experience with this customer and knowing how they react to specific calls to action.

    While some knowledge types are tougher to retain than others, it’s possible to make them accessible even when people who carry the information leave the organization. The key is capturing and preserving information the moment it appears.

    How to Maximize Your Institutional Knowledge

    You probably already have an impressive collection of institutional knowledge. However, there is never too much of it. The more you can capture, organize, and retain, the easier it will be to take advantage of its major benefits. Here’s how.

    Rely On Your Subject Matter Experts to Document Knowledge

    Documenting knowledge is an ongoing process. Employees with extensive knowledge and experience must learn to preserve it correctly. You can encourage them to do so by:

    • Arranging detailed interviews (with the audio recorded)
    • Inviting them to run recorded learning sessions (webinars, workshops, training)
    • Giving them templates to speed up the content creation process

    It’s up to you to provide your subject matter experts (SMEs) with all the tools necessary to make documentation fast and easy. Time-consuming documentation keeps SMEs from focusing on revenue-generating tasks.  

    Make It Easy for Employees to Access Knowledge In Real-Time

    The value of institutional knowledge relies on knowledge-sharing tactics. By making captured information available in real time, you are allowing your employees to take full advantage of it. This involves creating a manageable knowledge base and using the right tools to make it highly accessible.

    Create Streamlined Documentation Processes

    Timely documentation is the pillar of capturing institutional knowledge. To ensure successful preservation, you need to design a documentation process that is:

    • Transparent
    • Consistent
    • Easy to understand
    • Available to all authorized employees

    You may need to rely on practical documentation tools that don’t just simplify the process but automate a big part of it. Ideally, the information the subject matter expert shares should be recorded consistently and become available to the rest of the organization. For example, you could develop a process for SMEs to share their learnings through short videos. By uploading your videos to a knowledge base that automatically transcribes spoken words, you would make this content easily searchable for the rest of the organization.

    Make it Easy for Employees to Share Their Knowledge

    When employees have vital knowledge, they need to know the value of sharing it, rather than just holding onto it. They’ll also need a way of making it easier to do so, like using knowledge management software. Your employees must understand how important their knowledge contribution is to the organization. This can increase employee engagement rates, improve productivity, and reduce turnover.

    Turn Knowledge Capture into a Regular Part of the Job

    Capturing institutional knowledge isn’t an extracurricular activity. Since it contributes to the success of your organization, it should be part of each knowledge worker’s job description.

    Knowledge preservation shouldn’t be something employees do when they have “some free time” at work. It’s up to you to:

    • Create regular opportunities for knowledge sharing.
    • Communicate the importance of knowledge capturing.
    • Help make knowledge capturing a part of everyday workflows.

    When it comes to tacit knowledge, you need to encourage social interactions. You can arrange webinars, seminars, training sessions, and other knowledge-sharing opportunities.

    Where Institutional Knowledge Can Be Used [Examples]

    Insufficient institutional knowledge sharing costs businesses around $47 million annually. Knowing how to capture this knowledge and where to use it can directly affect your company’s bottom line.

    1. Documentation and Tutorials for Better Onboarding

    According to studies, only around 12% of employees feel that their company does a great job with onboarding. Poor onboarding is one of the factors that contributes to high turnover rates.

    By capturing institutional knowledge and turning it into comprehensive onboarding materials, you are improving the process and raising employee satisfaction rates.

    2. A Company-Wide Knowledge Base

    A knowledge base is a digital library for institutional knowledge. It’s a place where you can store high-quality information and make it accessible to interested and authorized parties. The more structured information you add to the knowledge base, the easier it will be to:

    • Onboard employees
    • Communicate with customers
    • Preserve knowledge
    • Increase employee engagement
    • Improve cross-department collaboration

    As your knowledge base grows and develops, so does your organization.

    3. Succession Plan During Offboarding

    Robust succession planning is integral to handling turnover. Capturing institutional knowledge helps you create an effective succession plan that doesn’t involve scrambling for information when an employee is half out the door.

    If you manage to preserve all three types of knowledge, you can simplify offboarding and prevent employee frustration.

    4. Cross-Training Programs

    Cross-training programs do wonders for skill enhancement, empathy, cross-departmental communication, motivation, and getting employees out of their comfort zone. To maximize the efficiency of such programs, companies can take advantage of captured institutional knowledge  

    This benefit works both ways. A cross-training program can generate knowledge that’s worth capturing and using for other purposes.

    Growth and Development Start with Capturing Institutional Knowledge

    Capturing institutional knowledge is essential to your organization’s journey toward becoming (or maintaining its status as) an industry leader. With the right techniques and tools, you can turn expert knowledge and experience into an accessible database that caters to many business needs.

    Once you implement knowledge sharing, capturing, and retention into the company culture, you can start reaping the benefits almost immediately.

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