At the most basic level, a knowledge management strategy is a plan of action that details how your company will manage information, data, and knowledge to help everyone do their best work. It sounds simple, right?
But in reality, companies often find themselves trying to manage complex information that exists across a wide array of platforms. In some cases, important information lives in binders, filing cabinets, or the minds of individual employees. In other cases, information is stored in an outdated intranet that’s difficult to search and update. Either way, employees struggle to find the information they need to do their jobs and may waste time searching for answers or duplicating existing work.
The pitfalls of siloed information have become even more apparent as more companies have shifted to remote work models. With employees working at different times and in different locations, co-workers can’t just tap each other’s shoulders when they have a question, and work may be delayed as employees wait for an available subject matter expert to provide the information they need. And with two-thirds of knowledge workers predicting that the office will be obsolete by 2030, businesses can’t afford to procrastinate their planning on a knowledge management strategy that enables employees to work from anywhere.
To overcome the challenges of siloed information and hindered productivity, companies need to adopt a modern knowledge management strategy that makes all information central and searchable. That strategy requires: 1.) getting employees to buy into the importance of knowledge sharing, 2.) putting processes in place to make it easy to share knowledge, and 3.) adopting software that makes it simple to find and share knowledge quickly.
In this guide, we’ll break down the differences between traditional and modern knowledge management, provide you with advice for updating your knowledge management strategy, and show you how all company leaders and employees—not just the Chief Information Officer—can help build a long-lasting culture of knowledge sharing.
Traditional Knowledge Management Software: Where Did It All Start?
The rise of knowledge management as a field coincided with the rise of the internet. Businesses realized that they could use an internal subset of the internet— often an intranet or corporate wiki— to house documents and information that employees could access regardless of their geographic location.
In the early days of intranets, the primary focus was on documenting and preserving explicit knowledge (in other words, knowledge that is easy to write down, such as clearly defined policies and procedures). Early intranet software wasn’t known for being user-friendly, and it typically required the IT department to hard code any changes (which meant it could take days or weeks to update the company intranet).
Many traditional intranets use a folder structure to organize information. For example, there could be different folders for different departments of a company, with additional sub-folders nested underneath. The downside of this is that it can be difficult to find what you’re looking for if you don’t know the information hierarchy or labeling system that was used to set up the intranet. Think of it like trying to find a baking dish in a friend’s house: you may waste time opening a lot of cabinets before you find what you’re looking for.
Some traditional intranets and wikis do have search functionality, but a lot of the time, that search only works for the file names and manually applied tags of documents in the system— not the content that exists within each file. If someone doesn’t know the exact name of the file they’re looking for, they’re unlikely to find it through a keyword search.
In the past decade, several categories of software have emerged to support the sharing of documents and information. The goal for many companies is to have one knowledge base for the entire company, but in reality, information often ends up becoming siloed within different platforms.
For example, companies may use file storage platforms like Google Drive, Box, and Dropbox to store shared documents in the cloud so employees can access them when and where they need them, but different teams may create their own siloed drives. Chat platforms like Slack and Microsoft Teams allow users to communicate in the flow of work and share information in real time, but that information often becomes buried in long threads or is limited to one-to-one conversations.
The more solutions a company adopts, the more places employees have to store information— and the more challenging it becomes to make sure everyone has access to the information they need.
Why Traditional Knowledge Management Software Falls Short
With the sheer volume of information available to us continuing to grow, employees changing jobs an average of 12 times over the course of their careers, and information workers becoming more geographically dispersed, traditional knowledge management software just doesn’t cut it anymore. Below are four of the key reasons why traditional knowledge management software falls short in the modern workplace.
In traditional knowledge management systems, there’s not always a lot of incentive for employees to share what they know. Updating the company wiki or intranet may be difficult, and the format in which they’re expected to share content may be relatively inflexible. Employees often just decide that it’s easier to keep what they know on their hard drive or in their mind.
This can lead to information hoarding (the bane of every Director of Knowledge Management’s existence). The same people waste time answering the same questions over and over again, employees lack the information they need to do their jobs efficiently, and individuals or teams end up duplicating work because they don’t know what already exists.
When the company-wide intranet is difficult to navigate or update, individual departments or teams often end up adopting their own tools and systems for knowledge management. While this might be effective for sharing information across their teams, it can lead to knowledge silos across the company. And these silos prevent a unified customer experience, leading to frustrated customers and missed opportunities for growth.
Knowledge silos can cause your company to take a serious financial hit. In fact, Fortune 500 companies reportedly lose an estimated $31.5 billion per year by failing to share knowledge across teams.
Tribal or Tacit Knowledge
As we mentioned in the previous section, traditional knowledge management tools are primarily designed to store explicit knowledge: any knowledge that is easily articulated and recorded (think research reports or policy documents). But they’re not built to capture the tribal or tacit knowledge of employees.
As employees gain experience, they also build their tacit knowledge: a type of knowledge that’s more difficult to articulate than explicit knowledge. For example, a sales representative may spend years honing their communication skills so that they can have productive conversations with their prospects and address their prospects’ concerns with confidence. If a less experienced sales rep asked them to write down their secrets to success, the experienced sales rep might struggle to define exactly what they’re doing.
By its very definition, tacit knowledge is difficult to capture and often requires more context than a simple text document can provide.
Unfortunately, because traditional wikis and intranets are notoriously hard to update and don’t always support a wide range of file types, it can be difficult for companies to capture all this context around their employees’ tacit knowledge.
Remember that stat we shared earlier about how employees change jobs an average of 12 times over the course of their careers? Here are a few more harrowing stats:
Because traditional knowledge management systems aren’t designed to capture employees’ tacit knowledge, that knowledge leaves when employees do. And that means that when a new employee is hired to backfill a role, they won’t be able to easily tap into their predecessor’s expertise, and it will take them longer to ramp up.
What Is Modern Knowledge Management Software and What Are the Benefits?
Democratized knowledge is at the core of modern knowledge management. When a company democratizes knowledge, they make information accessible to everyone regardless of their role or department. Everyone can ask questions, share ideas, and find the information they need to work efficiently.
Of course, to democratize knowledge, companies first need to centralize it in a digital information hub. For many organizations, that hub takes the form of a searchable knowledge management platform (also sometimes interchangeably referred to as a knowledge base).
A modern knowledge management platform should:
- Capture knowledge in any format (including the tacit knowledge that lives inside the minds of experienced employees)
- Break down silos between departments by ensuring that everyone has access to the information they need to do their jobs well
- Make it easy for employees to find information in the flow of work, no matter where they’re working
- Encourage employees to share what they know (and make it easy to do so)
- Help employees discover new knowledge through predictive content suggestions, curated content feeds, and AI-powered keyword search
Democratizing knowledge is a crucial first step in a modern knowledge management strategy, and a knowledge management platform can help companies do this, but it’s also essential that company leaders work to keep employees engaged around the organization’s collective knowledge. After all, it doesn’t matter how great your knowledge management platform is if employees aren’t contributing to it and acting on the information in it.
Leading companies and Managers of Knowledge Management work hard to cultivate a learning organization culture. According to business strategist Peter Senge, a learning organization is one where “new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, collective aspiration is set free, and people are continually learning how to learn together.” In other words, employees are encouraged to share their ideas, collaborate with one another, and contribute to innovations that go beyond their basic job descriptions.
Modern knowledge management software and a learning organization culture go hand in hand.
What Are the Benefits of Modern Knowledge Management Software?
Modern knowledge management software can yield a wide range of direct and indirect benefits. Here are a few of the key ones:
Without an effective way to share and find knowledge, employees spend an average of 20 percent of their time searching for the information they need to do their jobs. By giving employees a way to quickly navigate to the information they need in the moment, you can significantly reduce the time they spend searching for information every day.
Improved Employee Morale
Democratizing knowledge across your organization shows that your company values transparency, which in turn builds trust. Additionally, employees feel more invested in your organization’s overall success when they can see what different teams and departments are working on— and how their own work impacts larger company goals.
Successful Knowledge Transfer
A knowledge management platform that is easy to update and supports a wide range of content types makes it easy for subject matter experts to share their knowledge in whatever form it takes. And when a subject matter expert goes on vacation or leaves for a new job, their knowledge stays with your company.
As information workers become more globally dispersed and more and more companies embrace remote work, a cloud-based knowledge management platform helps keep everyone connected around the same information, no matter where they’re based.
Insights Made Actionable
Big data and knowledge management go hand in hand. While not everyone within an organization needs access to raw data from customer and market research, data science and insights teams can extract meaningful insights and preserve them in their company’s knowledge management platform. This empowers business leaders to access insights on demand and make more data-driven decisions.
How to Build a Knowledge Management Strategy
If your company doesn’t have a documented knowledge management strategy— or if you’re relying on a legacy intranet or wiki for knowledge management— it’s time to change that. Below are the five essential steps you need to take to successfully democratize knowledge across your company.
Perform a Knowledge Audit
While a content audit focuses on taking inventory of the content your company has created, a knowledge audit goes one step further to look at the strengths and weaknesses of the information that exists across your company. It should help you determine:
- The resources that exist within your company
- Where those resources are stored
- What knowledge gaps currently exist
- How information is currently shared across your company
- What obstacles are preventing knowledge from being shared
Document Your Strategy
Once you know where your company or team’s knowledge exists, where your gaps are, and what’s preventing information from being shared, it’s time to start building your new knowledge management strategy. As you document your strategy, make sure you’re answering the following questions:
- Who are your end users, and what information do they need to do their jobs?
- How are people across your organization currently communicating, and what technology are they using?
- What information silos currently exist within your organization?
- What processes for sharing knowledge are currently working, and what needs to be improved?
- Who is creating content within your organization? Are there people who have well-defined roles as content creators or knowledge managers?
- What processes do you currently have in place to retain knowledge when employees leave, and what can you do to improve these processes?
Before you start looking for new technology to support your knowledge management strategy, you’ll need to take a step back and define your goals. Keep in mind that your goals should be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound). For example, if one of the goals behind your new knowledge management platform is to reduce the time it takes your call center agents to find answers to customer questions, how much time on average do you expect each agent to save?
Once you’ve defined the goals for your new technology, it’s important to identify the product features that will help you achieve them. Gather a group of stakeholders to determine your nice-to-have and your must-have features. In addition to looking at features, your stakeholder group should start looking at professional service offerings, online reviews, and case studies for different knowledge management software. This should help you build a shortlist of software solutions to evaluate.
Capture Existing Knowledge
Once you’ve chosen a knowledge management platform, the next step is to use it to centralize the knowledge that already exists within your organization. Your knowledge audit should have already helped you determine what knowledge assets exist and where they currently live, so at this stage it’s a matter of transferring everything to your new knowledge management platform.
This is also a good time to start a knowledge harvesting initiative, where you interview subject matter experts from across your company and document their knowledge in your new platform. You can also ask your experts to record short videos where they share best practices or walk through processes that others might not be familiar with. Many employees who might not have the time to sit down and write out a process document will be more than happy to record a video of themselves working through the process instead.
Make Knowledge Searchable
Your company’s knowledge is only valuable if employees can actually find it and use it, so you’ll need to think about how to make it as easy as possible for end users to search your knowledge management platform.
If you use Bloomfire, all the content in the platform will be searchable, which saves you from doing a lot of heavy lifting. However, you’ll still want to spend some time thinking about your information hierarchy, as some users will want to narrow their results by browsing through categories rather than using keyword search alone. Think about the pieces of information that logically fit together, as well as how users are likely to want to filter their search results, and use this to start creating custom categories.
If your knowledge management platform provides a thumbnail preview for each piece of content (as Bloomfire does), you should also think about what thumbnail images you can use to help users quickly determine if they’ve found the right piece of content. Thumbnails can be used to brand your community and create a visual shorthand (for example, maybe competitive sales content has a picture of a pair of boxing gloves, customer interviews have a picture of a microphone, and so on).
How to Create a Knowledge Engagement Culture
Rolling out a new knowledge management strategy— and a modern knowledge management platform— isn’t a one-time activity, and it’s not just the job of your Head of Knowledge Management or Chief Information Officer. You’ll need to work with a carefully selected team to get users excited about your new platform— and to make knowledge engagement a lasting part of your company culture.
Keys to a Successful Launch of Your Knowledge Management Platform
As you prepare to launch your new knowledge management platform, it’s essential to have a plan for change management. Gather a small team of knowledge management champions who can help communicate the change across your company. Schedule training sessions and give employees the opportunity to provide feedback. You may even want to choose a group of beta testers who can try out the knowledge management platform before the launch and help shape the end user experience.
When you’re ready to launch your knowledge management platform, make a big deal out of it. Ask a member of your leadership team to write a post or record a short video explaining why your company is investing in knowledge management technology. Consider holding a launch party, a naming contest, or a virtual scavenger hunt—anything that fits with your company culture and will help get end users excited about the new technology.
Making a Culture of Knowledge Engagement Stick
Hosting a launch event for your new knowledge management platform encourages a high level of employee engagement from the start, but you need a strategy to ensure that employees embrace a culture of knowledge engagement long-term.
As we mentioned above, getting a champion from your leadership team involved will show that your company is committed to knowledge engagement and transparent communication from the top down. Consider having your executive champion post a weekly update in your knowledge management platform to keep users coming back to the platform.
Look for ways to incentivize employees to share what they know rather than hoarding information. Give employees who have shared valuable content a shout-out in your company meeting, or offer a quarterly prize to the employee who has read or contributed the most content.
Finally, make it as easy as possible for employees to share their knowledge. Consider setting aside time for employees to contribute to your knowledge management platform. When possible, let employees choose the format in which they share information—some might prefer to write a post, for example, while others might find it easier to record a video or share a slide deck. Try not to place too many restrictions around sharing knowledge. The less friction employees encounter, the more willing they’ll be to share what they know.
How to Measure the Success of Your Knowledge Management Strategy
If you want your company leaders to continue investing in the knowledge management strategy you’ve helped shape, you’ll need to show that the strategy is leading to the desired results.
Of course, quantifying the return on investment (ROI) of knowledge engagement can be challenging. An effective knowledge management strategy can deliver both hard ROI (e.g. reducing the average time it takes employees to find information) and soft ROI (e.g. increasing employees’ confidence in the information they’re using).
As part of understanding your knowledge management ROI, you should focus on tracking the metrics that tie directly into the goals you set for your initiative. Below are a few of the metrics it may make sense to track when you launch a new knowledge management initiative.
One of the most straightforward metrics you can use to gauge employee buy-in is adoption rate. In other words, what is the percentage of employees using your knowledge management technology? You can measure this by looking at platform log-ins, and you can drill down to look at log-ins by month, day, or week.
You can also measure buy-in for your knowledge management platform by conducting employee surveys pre- and post-launch. In addition to including several open-ended questions to get qualitative feedback, you can also collect quantitative data by having employees rate a series of statements on a 1 to 5 scale.
To measure engagement in your knowledge management platform, you can look at metrics such as:
- Views (total and per individual pieces of content)
- Number of new posts
- Number of questions asked and answered
Check your engagement metrics at regular intervals to see which content is getting the most engagement and how you can optimize the information in the platform.
The specific performance metrics you choose to track will depend on the goals you’ve set for your knowledge management platform. Whatever you choose to track, it’s important to get baseline measurements before you launch your knowledge management platform and continue to track the metrics at regular intervals after you launch. For example, you might look at the before and after results for:
- Employee time spent searching for information
- Employee time spent on repetitive tasks
There are also department-specific before and after metrics you can look at, such as:
- Average time for support team to resolve a customer issue
- Time spent on new hire training
- Percent of marketing content used for sales enablement
- Amount of redundant market research
Knowledge management–or lack thereof–affects every part of your organization. It doesn’t matter their department or role: when your employees have trouble finding the information they need, it ultimately has a negative impact on both the employee and the customer experience.
A modern knowledge management strategy is no longer just a nice-to-have. To successfully grow your business and deliver a consistently excellent customer experience, your company must make knowledge accessible to employees the moment they need it. We hope this guide has provided the introduction you need to jumpstart your company’s knowledge management initiative.