How You Can Use Knowledge Management to Finally Achieve Operational Excellence

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    Executive Summary

    Knowledge management can be an important part of moving your organization to operational excellence. Best practices include: leveraging a robust knowledge engagement platform and processes, connecting subject matter experts across the company to enable true cross-functional collaboration, and setting organization-wide goals and KPIs.

    Achieve Alignment Across Functions

    If you’re like most time-strapped leaders, your calendar is so packed with meetings and conversations that you have little time for much else. In fact, enduring a day full of “meetings that could have been emails” is so common that it’s become a meme. Yet, despite our near-constant communication, many organizations still struggle with low productivity and poor cross-functional collaboration.

    Worse, many leaders’ first reaction to these challenges is to schedule more meetings — or, if budget allows, expand the headcount. (Which, judging by the avalanche of recent layoffs, doesn’t always pan out well. Especially if you aren’t making an effort to preserve your people’s knowledge.)

    The problem is that, too often, the real culprit behind dwindling output or misaligned departments is ineffective knowledge management. And no amount of meetings or hiring frenzies can make up for a lack of knowledge sharing due to misaligned technology and an inability to identify a single source of truth. Until you solve the root challenge, successful operational excellence (i.e., the ability to execute business strategies more efficiently and consistently than your competitors) will always remain out of grasp.

    Fortunately, improving knowledge management is less resource-intensive and more conducive to sustainable growth than packing employees’ calendars or over-hiring — especially amid financial uncertainty. 

    Here’s how you can connect knowledge across functions to align all teams on shared goals, boost output, and foster greater profitability.

    What’s Causing Misalignment and Why is Functional Knowledge Management the Solution?

    Over time, organizations amass a practically unfathomable amount of data and internal knowledge — much of which resides in disparate systems and employees’ brains. In recent years, senior leaders have recognized how much operational excellence hinges on that vital information and have prioritized capturing that knowledge and data.

    Unfortunately, in many cases, businesses fall into the trap of managing information by department or function, with each team creating its own tactics and conventions for storing and organizing data. And while this approach may work in some scenarios, it inevitably leads to information silos and costly inefficiencies. After all, when knowledge isn’t centralized and easily accessible across the entire organization, how can you ensure everyone is aligned on the same goals or using the same data to inform their efforts?

    And when silos form and limit cross-functional knowledge sharing, it often leads to duplicated work, lack of trust across teams, and inconsistent customer experiences. Plus, when teams are working with different sets of information, it can compromise decision-making.

    For example, suppose a marketing team at a software company reports that their efforts generated more than enough leads for the sales team to hit their quarterly revenue goal. However, the sales team finds the majority of those prospects lack the necessary budget or are too early in the buyers’ journey and need more nurturing.

    Because marketing and sales keep their data in disparate systems and teams have no insight into each others’ reporting or performance in real time, they compromise sales enablement efforts and friction develops between the two departments. Because they’re misaligned, marketing continues targeting the wrong audiences, and salespeople continue wasting their time on bad leads.

    However, if the organization used one centralized system to share reporting and knowledge, marketing could quickly identify the issues in their campaigns and collaborate with sales to ensure they bring in more qualified leads.

    As an operational leader, it’s up to you to unify sales and marketing — and all other cross-functional teams — and prioritizing knowledge retention and eliminating barriers to knowledge sharing is foundational to achieving this.

    Tips and Tactics for Connecting Knowledge Across Functions

    Here are a few things you can do to facilitate better knowledge transfer and collaboration and achieve operational excellence:

    Use One Centralized Knowledge Management Platform

    For teams to work together, you must ensure they’re privy to the same information. For example, a retailer’s customer service team needs insight into functions like shipping and fulfillment to provide buyers with accurate expectations. And a product team needs insight into technical support to identify which issues they need to resolve in future iterations. Yet, sharing information becomes extremely difficult when each department has its own methods and tools for collecting and storing knowledge.

    This is why implementing a centralized knowledge management platform is key. Instead of scheduling countless meetings to download information from one department to the next, knowledge is always there — easily accessible and ready to be applied.

    Of course, some types of information should stay within individual departments — either because it’s irrelevant to other teams or too sensitive to be shared with unauthorized personnel. That’s why it’s vital you opt for a platform that allows you to partition out department-specific or confidential information as needed.

    For example, Bloomfire allows organizations to create Groups within their organization-wide knowledge base and restrict access to specific departments or teams. This way, people in other business units are overwhelmed with information they don’t need, and you can protect sensitive data from leaking and becoming a liability.

    Give Employees Access to Subject Matter Experts Across the Organization

    According to a study from the University of California, Irvine, it takes more than 23 minutes for an employee to get back on track after an interruption. And if people have to navigate a complex labyrinth of drives, intranets, and disjointed systems — or chase down internal experts to find the information they need to do their jobs, it’s likely even longer. This creates headaches, makes people less efficient at their jobs, and can lead to longer customer service hold times, jeopardizing customer experiences.

    A knowledge management platform can eliminate this hurdle to operational excellence by giving employees access to subject matter experts (SMEs) across the organization. One way to streamline access to SMEs is by creating a “knowledge directory” where you list experts and their contact information, organized by area of expertise.

    Or, you can use a Q&A feature that allows employees to crowdsource information. This way, SMEs aren’t bombarded with the same questions repeatedly — they simply answer it once, and it’s available for anyone else who may have the same inquiry. Bloomfire’s Q&A tool also allows users to publish questions that everyone in their community can see and tag specific SMEs to notify them directly. The SME’s response will remain available to everyone within that community.

    Build Cross-Functional Teams

    There’s a reason a quick search for “cross-functional collaboration” generates over 200 million Google results, including numerous articles, books, and recommendations for tools: it’s a really difficult thing to accomplish. Yet, it’s essential to your company’s success. If you can’t align people across business units and fine-tune processes that make collaboration possible, you risk being leapfrogged by competitors who have figured it out.

    One way to help teams connect and standardize processes is by designating cross-functional ambassadors — representatives from each business area who come together to streamline workflows and prepare a comprehensive knowledge-sharing strategy.

    For example, according to a McKinsey article, after a global industrial company saw steady performance declines in its key business areas, senior leaders created a group dedicated to connecting teams end to end and overcoming cultural resistance. These “ambassadors” not only helped identify and eliminate barriers to knowledge sharing but also championed process changes across the organization to ensure everyone got on board.

    By creating a team of cross-functional ambassadors, you can help prepare and execute your knowledge management plan while spreading awareness and education to maximize your knowledge management software ROI.

    Set Collective Goals and Priorities Across the Organization

    Can every employee in your business confidently list your top organizational goals? If not, that’s a problem — but, fortunately, it’s one that effective knowledge management can easily solve.

    Communicating objectives from the top down means information has to filter through several layers of hierarchy, meaning there are multiple opportunities for critical elements to get lost in translation. But publishing collective goals and priorities via a company-wide knowledge management platform, along with the KPIs each department will be measured against, ensures everyone has complete visibility and leaves little room for misinterpretations.

    Then, as long as you’ve effectively executed your knowledge management process and evangelized knowledge sharing across the company, all employees will be fully informed on all objectives, their responsibilities, and how their performance will be measured. This is the foundation from which sustainable operational excellence can take root.

    For too long, companies have struggled to foster the collaboration and innovation they need to meaningfully boost output and ensure sustainable revenue growth. And short-sighted stop-gaps, like over-hiring or drowning employees in meetings, have only worsened the problem. Fortunately, by implementing the right knowledge management platform with the right strategy, operations leaders can finally cultivate stronger cross-departmental connections, ensure everyone moves toward a unified vision of growth and innovation, and achieve lasting operational excellence.

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