Although there’s no single, agreed-upon date for the start of the Information Age, we can safely say it was the tech developments that made accessing knowledge so convenient which were responsible for bringing about the new era.
If you were to take a guess at the exact moment, you could look to November 15th, 1971.
A little company called Intel had just released a nifty, little microprocessor called the Intel 4004. In doing so, they had slashed both the size and cost of the average computer, kicking off the PC revolution and unlocking a world of information.
In the resulting digital world that we find ourselves, knowledge is truly abundant. Though in this sea of facts, figures, statistics, records, registers, forms – *gasp* – archives, libraries, compendiums, databases, accounts and stores, knowledge management becomes quite the challenge.
The good news is that it’s a challenge worth taking, simply because mastering the management of knowledge is an absolute game-changer.
- Read more: The toughest knowledge management challenges
Whether you’re talking about a fresh start-up, a rising business, or a stalled organization, proper knowledge management brings a heap of benefits to your operation.
What is Knowledge Management?
Let’s keep this simple. In a business sense, knowledge management is the process of gathering and structuring the knowledge within an organization so that it can be seen, used, shared, and otherwise maximized.
The name of the game is to make quality information available to the right people, enabling them to work more efficiently through making more informed decisions.
The key distinction is that it’s a systematic approach, which is only made possible through employing a range of processes, tools, structures, and other knowledge sharing techniques. There’s no getting away from the fact that you need a lot of moving parts to properly facilitate the collection, storage, and distribution of knowledge throughout an entire company.
What Kind of Knowledge Are We Talking About?
Any worthwhile discussion on knowledge management should find time to cover the types of knowledge that we hold, and how they translate to the workings of an organization. In terms of a business, we can sort the knowledge into three primary categories: Explicit, Tacit, and Collective.
This refers to knowledge that can be captured in a structured manner, clearly documented, and shared widely within an organization through tangible media, i.e. manuals, reports, guides. Organizations store their explicit knowledge in databases, which
Why is it important? Explicit knowledge is important to retain intellectual property (IP) within an organization, as well as facilitate successful (and speedy!) knowledge transfer to new employees
This is knowledge acquired over time through personal experiences. It’s characterized by its intangibility, and so in everyday conversation we call it ‘know-how.’ By nature, tacit knowledge is hard to codify because it is intuitively learned and highly individual, manifesting as personal insight’ or simply ‘experience.’
Why is it important? Although it’s near impossible to fully communicate, tacit knowledge is critical for internal process efficiency and general decision-making.
This is the combined knowledge of a group, often embedded within an organization’s culture. It’s anything and everything a company knows related to their operation. In a learning culture, where sharing experience and insight is actively encouraged, a proper KM framework empowers employees to tap into subject matter experts (SME) and bypass the trial and error phase altogether, significantly boosting productivity.
Why is it important? A company culture that fosters knowledge sharing paves the way for stronger collaboration, which at the same time promotes team alignment and raises employee engagement.
Explicit vs. Tacit Knowledge
Thanks to the way these two contrasting knowledge types work, companies often dedicate the entirety of their knowledge management time to explicit knowledge. While it is important to capture knowledge in writing, the shifting opinion on the matter is that companies need also invests time in imparting tacit knowledge in order to develop.
“The focus was on… the process manual that all employees are expected to follow [which] relies on explicit knowledge,” says former co-chairman of Deloitte, John Hagel III, and former chief scientist at Xerox, John Seely Brown in the Harvard Business Review.
However, “much of the new knowledge comes in the form of tacit knowledge [that] evolves as we confront new situations.” Their parting suggestion is that “the old, ‘scalable efficiency’ approach… needs to be replaced with ‘scalable learning’, [which] focuses on creating environments where new tacit knowledge can be created.”
This relationship between explicit and tacit knowledge is an important consideration when building a knowledge management system. When you are dealing with knowledge that simply cannot be transferred through a written medium, it’s imperative that an organization gives good opportunities for employees to gain this valuable insight otherwise.
What are the Benefits of Knowledge Management?
You’ve heard how difficult it can be to manage an ever-growing pile of knowledge, so it’s only natural to wonder, “Why bother?” Well, let’s talk through some of the glaring reasons why you’d want to invest the time and effort into effective knowledge management strategies.
Knowledge management brings manifold benefits to an organization. Let’s take a look:
Standardized internal processes and best practices is a key step in any knowledge management strategy, allowing entire organizations to ensure consistency for deliverables and outcomes. Documenting your processes gives employees easy access to any information that enables them to perform their tasks more efficiently.
At the same time, this standardization afforded by effective knowledge management ensures that all members follow the correct procedures and guidelines. This has the two-pronged effect of limiting errors and increasing the speed at which people can work.
2. Resource Utilization
Whether you’re running a business or stranded on an island, properly identifying your resources and how they’re best allocated is how you succeed. Instead of spending those resources on redundant efforts, knowledge management ensures that resources are deployed where they are most needed.
When you keep a closer eye on things, through some form of company wiki (or knowledge platform otherwise), you can use real metrics to deduce how well resources are currently allocated, or leverage historical data to see further into the past.
This insight drives more productive decision-making, meaning you spend less time learning lessons the hard way and more time bringing resources to where they make the biggest difference.
3. Enhanced Employee Empowerment and Engagement
A knowledge management system is a boon for employee empowerment for the simple reason that it lets them work smarter. With quicker access to information, team members no longer need to break their momentum by dashing over to colleagues for clarifications, a labor that can both irritate the knowledge holder and belittle the person asking.
Access to knowledge is the keystone in the job satisfaction arch. The secret word is autonomy. With a central knowledge repository in place, people can ‘self-serve’ information and are thus free from dependency on others. Employees can make decisions with confidence and take greater ownership of their tasks. Time and time again, studies show a positive relationship between this kind of employee decision-making and overall job satisfaction.
4. Reduced Operational Redundancies
When you have best practices, solutions to common challenges, and standardized procedures well documented, you seriously reduce operational redundancies. Employees across departments, and even geographical locations, can tackle problems using proven methods, rather than having to create solutions in isolation and eat up valuable time.
A consolidated knowledge platform means that essential information is widely shared and as such repetitive tasks are reduced, or straight-up eliminated. This translates to less ‘wheel reinventing’ and more direct-path solutions, bringing you closer to optimal operation.
5. Retained Organizational Knowledge
Wisdom is hard-earned, so it’s a crying shame when experienced employees take that knowledge with them when they retire, resign, or move to different roles.
Having a system in place like a knowledge base allows companies to retain valuable insight, which means the team doesn’t skip a beat.
By creating a structured process of documenting and disseminating knowledge, as is the heart of knowledge management, companies have ensured that future employees build upon the foundation laid by their predecessors, rather than starting from scratch. Keeping hold of the essential know-how behind a process or role is critical for long-term success.
As we’ve seen, investing in knowledge management brings about many day-to-day benefits, i.e. utilized resources, reduced redundancies, operational efficiency.
However, there are advantages beyond ordinary processes.
Any organization that systematically captures and shares knowledge communicates to their employees that they work in an environment that encourages and stimulates fresh thinking and innovation.
Who knew that when you give employees access to a vast pool of insights, experiences, and data, they’re more likely to connect the dots and discover groundbreaking solutions? Knowledge management serves as a sort of breeding ground for creativity by opening people up to diverse perspectives, which has the bonus effect of reducing silo work.
7. Learning Culture
“What can organizations do to generate trust in their knowledge systems and get the best out of them?” asks Deloitte, “The answer lies in shifting the company culture to place greater focus on knowledge transfer.
Well, implementing a KM framework means introducing clear company policies for sharing information. These policies give employees the building blocks they need to contribute, which increases employee participation in the knowledge sharing scheme.
After all, where does knowledge that drives the everyday hustle and bustle actually come from? Mobilizing the subject matter experts (SME) within your organization ensures that all employees have convenient access to information. Before long, you have a true culture of knowledge sharing, a huge element in a company staying competitive.
How To Create Knowledge Base
In order to actually benefit from their collective knowledge, organizations need only establish quick and easy access to it.
This is the the essence of knowledge management, the strategic approach to gathering, storing, and sharing knowledge we’ve been talking about,
A knowledge base system serves as a repository where companies store crucial information. Depending on how you set it up, it’s a go-to for employees seeking insights into company policies and structures (internal) and customers troubleshooting issues (external).
The creation of a robust knowledge base begins with a ‘knowledge audit’, where an organization inventories their existing knowledge and evaluates their current knowledge management solutions.
There are numerous knowledge management tools and platforms available when it comes to capturing, storing and distributing information. The best tool for the job often depends on an organization’s specific needs.
It only takes five steps to create your knowledge base, and here they are:
- Step 1: Decide if you need a Knowledge Base
- Step 2: Decide on what goes in your Knowledge Base
- Step 3: Structure how your Knowledge Base will be accessed and used
- Step 4: Find your in-house Subject Matter Experts
- Step 5: Add Content to your Knowledge Base
You can read more about these five steps here, or head to the Practical Guide on Creating an Internal Knowledge Base.
Utilizing the Right Knowledge Management Tools (Like Tettra)
Establishing a culture of learning is paramount, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a daunting goal to set, especially if your current knowledge management system isn’t doing so great.
Giving employees access to the knowledge they need today and tomorrow, without overwhelming or misleading them, remains a delicate balancing act. We know that proper structures must be in place, but precisely how you set them up can vary hugely.
Well, whether you’re building an advanced intranet system or a simple documentation platform, the knowledge management tools you use will determine how effectively information flows within your organization. Once you’ve got the tools for the job, it becomes infinitely easier to foster an environment where knowledge sharing is the norm.
Tettra is an AI-powered knowledge management system that helps you curate important company information into a knowledge base, use it to answer repetitive questions in Slack and MS Teams and keep it up-to-date, organized, and complete with automation.
Tettra offers a full suite of tools for sharing knowledge. With Tettra, you’ll get:
- Q&A workflow to capture questions
- AI-powered knowledge base software to document answers
- Knowledge management features to keep content up to date.
- Integrations with Slack, MS Teams, Google Docs, Github and Zapier to help your team answer and capture knowledge quickly
Knowledge management is a multifaceted strategy that’s hard to get exactly right. Though when executed effectively, it really does propel organizations towards unprecedented growth, whether that takes shape in the form of operational efficiency, refined decision-making, enhanced customer satisfaction, or better outcomes on projects and initiatives.
So to any naysayers that remain, we say one more time that the benefits of knowledge management are undeniable.
And, as the business landscape continues to evolve, mastering this art of knowledge management becomes not just desirable but utterly essential.