During my various adventures in the technology space, nothing was more frustrating than a poor culture of knowledge sharing. I can recall numerous occasions in which “end users” — aka people — were downright pining for information. A product workaround. An internal process for handling a particular kind of customer call. You name it.
Only to find that the knowledge in question was buried in some Tier 3 agent’s OneNote. Or collecting dust in the sales department’s private Google Drive. How can employees find what they need if that information isn’t accessible?
More often than not, these information black holes were indicators of a more endemic problem. Despite vast amounts of tacit and explicit knowledge across the organization, our people — employees, in particular — struggled to tap into it during moments of need.
Understand that When Employees Go, Organizational Knowledge Goes With Them
Search, unified or otherwise, is only as great as the content it surfaces. And, to be frank, many of these environments were bereft of any knowledge management strategy at all. At least not a comprehensive one. Not surprisingly, these employers also struggled to keep top talent. It was quite evident that poor knowledge sharing culture and employee turnover went hand in hand.
According to Mercy Harper of AQPC, knowledge management comprises four core components: people; process; content/IT; and strategy. I’d argue that people enjoy pole position on that last for good reason: without a strong knowledge culture, they feel unsupported in their jobs. And when they walk out the door, a lot of tacit, tribal, and organizational wisdom goes with them.
And they’re definitely walking. According to Pew Research Center, Boomers in particular are leaving the workforce in record numbers. The Great Resignation is in full swing, changing the very composition of how, where, and even why people do work.
When investing in a search platform, its success can hinge on the quality of content you make available to your users. This makes a knowledge management strategy paramount. So, how can you build a KM strategy that helps not only to retain talent, but to grow and attract domain experts that will create further growth cycles?
1. Think Beyond Tools and Software — Build Knowledge Culture
At first glance, the relationship between your talent management and knowledge management strategies might not be very clear. What does hiring have to do with your company’s knowledge base?
Turns out, keeping your company’s knowledge widely accessible, updated it in real-time as part of an automated improvement cycle, and open to contributions and improvement, is imperative if you want to attract, retain, and grow your talent from the ground up.
But your tools and tech stack is just one part of the equation.
Promote Knowledge Management Habits
Getting everyone on the same page with knowledge management means you’ll not only cut down on search times and limit the number of places information could possibly be. You’ll also encourage good habits early on.
It’s much easier to promote a culture of knowledge sharing and support from the beginning, than try to break a toxic culture of knowledge hoarding down the line. From the very beginning of an employee’s tenure, they need to get used to participating in the information-sharing culture. They need to not only understand that their contributions matter, and that it’s okay to ask questions, but be shown how to do both.
In one example from my past experience, the knowledge base team built a web submission form for suggestions embedded directly into the customer support agent’s daily workflow. The knowledge base tech writers collaborated with learning and development to make sure new agents were trained on how, when, and why to use this submission form. And they rewarded top contributors with gift cards and company-wide shoutouts.
“The percentage of companies with designated knowledge authors rose from 17% in 2020 to 22% in 2021.” TSIA State of Knowledge Management: 2021
Show the Value of Knowledge Management By Making It Real
Sometimes, new and experienced employees struggle to see the importance of a strong knowledge culture. I’ve found that the best way to demonstrate why it’s important to them is to give real examples that are applicable to them. This could be during onboarding, recurrent training, etc.
For example, if the team recently lost key information, there was a miscommunication, or process adherence broke down, you can demonstrate how having a knowledge management process in place would have either prevented the problem from occurring, or how it would have resolved the issue quicker.
People respond best to examples that apply directly to them, and if they can see and understand how their participation in knowledge management will help make their own lives easier, they’ll be more open to making the changes that your knowledge management processes require.
2. Attract Talent that Will Champion Knowledge Management
Attracting the right kind of people to work at your company is about more than a beer fridge and foosball. You need to bring in domain experts, most of whom expect their employers to empower employees to make informed decisions. And as I’ve already noted, you need to enable and reward those experts for making their domain-specific knowledge part of the broader company canon.
It’s the kind of environment that top talent insists on.
After all, there’s a reason strong knowledge management strategies have been linked with improved productivity and employee satisfaction. It’s much easier to resolve problems that have already been assessed and documented. That goes for new and existing employees: nobody wants to feel like they have to reinvent the wheel every time they’re at work.
Why would anyone want to sign on with an enterprise that’s ill prepared to support the distributed, digitally-enabled model of the future?
Knowledge management isn’t just for customer-facing support teams. Knowing what your employees know internally is just as important, and capitalizing on this diverse knowledge can really help improve retention within a team.
3. Capture and Share Info in a Findable Way
Speaking of the new ways that people work, 100% remote and even hybrid workforces have evolved multi-channel habits in terms of knowledge consumption. To thrive, they need the backing of infrastructure that captures knowledge and extends it to various experiences.
For example, if you have a moderator answering a question in a community forum, that expert answer should be made into a document and uploaded to the knowledge base. Otherwise, it’s just going to get lost in a sea of other questions and discussions. What’s more, that knowledge base content needs to be integrated across the multiple channels your employees use to do their jobs.
Some examples of knowledge that ought to be captured:
- Case resolutions, troubleshooting steps, and workarounds
- Call and chat scripts/playbooks
- Verified solutions from community forums
- “Tribal” knowledge specific to particular business units or departments
The list goes on. A relevance platform like Coveo, which integrates with 50+ platforms and systems used across digital workplaces today, even offers an option for companies to capture knowledge directly from Slack messages.
The point is to build a solid multi-channel knowledge management strategy that ensures employees never have to go far to find their answer. If an employee can’t find a document, there’s always another channel they can reach out to or a person they can ask.
4. Keep the Knowledge, Even When It’s Time to Say Goodbye
Fact: workplace happiness is a big deal. That said, even happy employees move on. And while it’s bad enough to lose good people, don’t compound the problem by losing all the knowledge that person developed during their tenure.
This knowledge is essential, because it can:
- Ease the burden of work for remaining team members
- Get backfills ramped up and creating value faster
- Prevent knowledge loss throughout your entire talent pipeline
Ideally, your knowledge management strategy has enabled this employee to capture their knowledge all along. Regardless, facilitate a knowledge transfer as part of your offboarding process. Make sure to bring the salient information that other employees, customers, etc. could benefit from is brought into your unified index.
I suspect that, as more people leave the workforce, knowledge and information retention will become an even bigger organizational priority.
5. Fill in the Gaps with the Help of Artificial Intelligence (AI)
It takes a lot to maintain the health of your organization’s body of knowledge. You can start by creating a knowledge map, which is a good way of taking stock of your knowledge inventory and see what is working and what is blocking potential business opportunities.
To scale your knowledge management practice, however, you’ll likely need the help of AI. As it turns out, AI and knowledge management can have a very symbiotic relationship. Compared with traditional search algorithms, AI search can prioritize knowledge base results that are most often successful in addressing specific queries. This provides answers faster and easier than non-AI search results. When indexing content from a lot of different sources, an intelligent search experience becomes quite important.
Elsewhere, organizations are using AI to extract knowledge from large pools of data—far more comprehensively than a single team could. Some teams are using AI in tandem with content gap analysis to find which content is working, what’s not, and where there are holes.
In the case of Coveo, knowledge management teams are using Coveo AI to expand access to information and improve the relevance of each knowledge-seeking experience in real time.
Going Forward, Retaining Talent and KM Will Go Hand in Hand
By combining your knowledge management strategy with your talent management strategy, you are effectively aligning the interests of the company with the interests of its employees. It’s a clear win-win: employees feel more confident in their roles — they feel empowered to upskill others — and your team is more adequately prepared to take on new business.
In the end, a healthy knowledge management (KM) strategy makes training, retaining, and empowering your employees a true differentiator. By following the strategies I’ve outlined above, you’ll be well on your way to building a body of knowledge that your most valuable people can depend on.
Get more insights into linking remote workers with information in our ebook, Build a Connected Workplace for Your Remote Workforce.