In recent years, knowledge management has found its way back into the spotlight — especially in the business world.
And that just makes sense:
In a world where data and knowledge is constantly flowing in and around your organization, a strategic approach is all but necessary to keep all that information under control.
With that in mind, we’re going to take a deep dive into all things knowledge management — starting with a complete definition of what KM actually is.
What is Knowledge Management?
“Knowledge management (KM) is the deliberate and systematic coordination of an organization’s people, technology, processes, and organizational structure in order to add value through reuse and innovation. This is achieved through the promotion of creating, sharing, and applying knowledge as well as through the feeding of valuable lessons learned and best practices into corporate memory in order to foster continued organizational learning.”
Knowledge management isn’t a task to be completed in isolation, or as separate from a company’s “normal” course of action. Rather, KM should be woven throughout an organization’s workflows — eventually becoming the driving force behind every decision and action the team makes.
But what does this mean for your business and why should you care?
In this article we're going to show you why implementing a knowledge management initiative is so important for your organization as we discuss:
- What knowledge management is
- Why knowledge management is important
- Benefits of implementing knowledge management processes and systems
- Key tenets to follow before creating your knowledge management strategy
- How to build a successful knowledge management framework
- Creating an effective knowledge management process
- Implementing knowledge management systems
Let's get started, shall we?
Core Components of Knowledge Management
A comprehensive approach to knowledge management is essential to your team’s success.
This comprehensive approach, then, must involve the following core components.
People and Culture
The people within your organization are the source of your company’s collective knowledge.
For one, they possess the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to perform their assigned duties — which, in turn, is what allows your company to operate as it does. Knowledge management aims to harness this expertise in order to fully optimize team performance.
Knowledge management also requires a strong team culture — one that is heavily focused on bringing team knowledge to the forefront of all company initiatives. In strengthening your team culture, you’ll continually develop the “certain something” that makes your company unique and that sets you apart from your competitors.
That said, it’s crucial for your KM efforts to consider the people and culture of your brand’s community, along with that of your industry as a whole. This way, you’ll be better able to keep your team aligned with the needs of those you intend to serve.
Structures and Processes
Your knowledge management efforts simply won’t be effective if they’re not built on a solid foundation — that is, a knowledge management system.
Firstly, your team’s collective knowledge must be organized for the sake of accessibility and usability. Taking the time to build out content hierarchies and structures from the get-go will ensure your knowledge assets are always right where your team needs them, when they need them.
(Conversely, a poorly-structured knowledge management system can actually cause more problems than it solves — and can even cause team’s to lose important knowledge altogether.)
Effective knowledge management also involves developing strategic and systematic processes for identifying, documenting, distributing, and improving knowledge content. While we’ll get into the specifics of this in a bit, for now just know that — again — a haphazard approach to these processes will cause your KM efforts to fall apart before you even get started.
Tools and Technology
By today’s standards, investing in technology to streamline and supercharge your knowledge management initiatives is non-negotiable.
While the specific tools that work best for your team will vary, you generally want to consider adopting the following:
- A dedicated knowledge management or knowledge base tool
- Tools for communication and collaboration
- Customer service and support software
- Data collection and aggregation tools
(We’ll discuss these tools in more detail a bit later on.)
The tools you adopt for KM purposes should integrate seamlessly with one another in order to optimize the flow of knowledge throughout your organization. Otherwise, your team will constantly be prone to bottlenecks, loss of knowledge, and other unplanned drops in productivity.
Goals of Knowledge Management
As knowledge management specialist Fred Nickols concisely explains:
“The basic aim of knowledge management is to leverage knowledge to the organization’s advantage.“
For the sake of clarity, we’d amend this statement to the following:
“The basic aim of knowledge management is to leverage your team’s collective knowledge to the organization’s advantage.”
With KM as a main focus, your team should always be looking for ways to use the knowledge and skills they possess to help the company succeed and grow. Moreover, they should constantly be looking to improve upon the knowledge they currently hold in order to continuously improve individual and team performance over time.
As we’ll get to, achieving these basic goals will lead to a number of benefits for your individual employees and your company as a whole. But it’s important to keep these overarching goals continuously top-of-mind — as it will be near impossible to achieve these additional goals if you’re not laser-focused on the core purposes of knowledge management.
Types of Knowledge
Organizational knowledge comes in three main forms:
- Explicit knowledge
- Tacit knowledge
- Implicit knowledge
Let’s take a closer look at each.
Explicit knowledge refers to information that can be easily documented, communicated, presented, understood, and used.
Some examples of explicit knowledge:
- Customer data
- Step-by-step instructions
- Employee survey responses
Tacit knowledge is that which cannot easily be put into words — and is best digested via observation.
Examples of tacit knowledge include:
- A salesperson’s knowledge of how to approach and engage with a certain prospect
- An illustrator’s technique for developing branded creatives
- The intangible “tricks” your employees know to improve their own efficiency and productivity
As this experiential knowledge is rather difficult to pin down into words, it’s usually conveyed via video demonstrations and recorded discussions.
Implicit knowledge is somewhat of a blend of explicit and tacit knowledge:
On the one hand, implicit knowledge isn’t readily apparent. More often than not, it’s used without the individual being aware of using it — and without even thinking about it.
On the other, once this knowledge is identified, it’s relatively easy to document and communicate to new learners.
As a simple example, we’d all understand that being instructed to “turn the computer on” means to press the power button on our device. Generally speaking, most wouldn’t need to be given these more specific and explicit instructions here — but this explicit explanation would be necessary for those with minimal experience with computers.
Of course, your team’s collective implicit knowledge is much more complex — but has nonetheless become second-nature to them. By looking inward to identify all of what they know, they’ll be able to communicate this knowledge to newcomers within your organization to help them quickly get up to speed.
Tribal knowledge is a subset of implicit knowledge that focuses on the collective wisdom possessed by your team members.
Typically, tribal knowledge is passed on via informal engagements and conversations. These passing moments are almost always full of valuable knowledge and wisdom that can benefit the team as a whole — if it gets documented and shared properly.
So, while tribal knowledge does tend to occur organically, strategic knowledge management will have your team actively working to document these moments as they arise.
Why is Knowledge Management Important?
The goal of knowledge management is to harness this knowledge, and channel it in a way that allows your organization—and your customers—to thrive.
Successfully implementing knowledge management processes allows organizations to:
- Store and organize explicit knowledge
- Capture tacit knowledge and codify it into explicit knowledge
- Make this knowledge easily accessible so your organization (or your audience) can operate more effectively.
As an example of how this can be applied internally, knowledge management systems can help with:
- Onboarding activities, processes, and goals
- Workflow and communication protocols
- HR- and personnel-related information
...and much, much more.
On the customer-facing side, the information captured via knowledge management software can be used to keep your audience informed, engaged, and trusting of your brand. Some key examples of such knowledge formats and software include:
- Blog posts, articles, and deeper, often-gated content (e.g., white papers, etc.)
- Knowledge bases, corporate wikis, and FAQ pages
- Testimonials, case studies, and other social proof-focused content
...and, again, much more.
Benefits of Knowledge Management
We’re just going to come right out and say it:
Knowledge management is just good for business.
Rather than just leave it at that, though, we’re going to take a closer look at exactly why adopting effective knowledge management practices can give your business a competitive advantage!
(Note: Throughout this section, we’ll be referring to some of the tenets of KM, and alluding to the process of creating an effective KM strategy. If you’d like to jump right to these topics, feel free to scroll to the next sections before coming up here.)
1. Improved Team and Employee Alignment
An effective approach to knowledge management keeps your organization aligned in two key ways:
This makes it easier for teams to stay on the same page while completing tasks—ensuring hand-offs go smoothly, and redundancies are kept to a minimum.
KM also allows your individual employees to truly understand how their efforts help the organization reach its overarching goals.
As TinyPulse recently reported, this ability to recognize their value to their organization actually leads employees to become more engaged in their duties—and more dedicated to creating success for their company.
On both levels, proper knowledge management enables all team members to continue working toward a common goal. When aligned toward a common goal, it becomes much easier to...
2. Increase Team Productivity
A 2017 survey by TSIA found that over 70% of organizations believe improving their KM-related efforts will increase their overall productivity.
And why wouldn’t they?
Knowledge management ensures that your employees can:
- Access documentation detailing best practices and step-by-step instruction for certain tasks and processes
- Communicate and collaborate with one another in real-time
- Use any available tools and technology to more efficiently reach their goals
Without proper knowledge management, your team members can easily lose sight of where they want to be headed (and may not know how to get there when they figure it out).
But, with KM acting as both a compass and a roadmap for your employees, your team will always know which way they should be going—and the best way to get there.
3. Retain Knowledge Within Your Organization
When a valued employee retires or moves on from your company, they tend to leave a pretty big hole within the organization.
First of all, the loss of an employee causes a gap in your organization’s workflows and overall productivity.
And, even when you do bring a new hire onboard, they’re still not likely to reach the productivity levels of your former employee for at least a year—and maybe more.
Finally—and perhaps worst of all—you lose the tacit, intangible knowledge your former employee had accumulated throughout their tenure with your company.
While these problems will always exist on some level when losing an employee, effective knowledge management helps with knowledge transfer which can help minimize the damage done to your business when an employee leaves.
With regard to workflow gaps, your team will have access to all documentation related to the empty position. With this clear insight into the duties and best practices of the position, your team will be better equipped to fill any workflow gaps left by the previous employee.
KM also aides the process of employee onboarding, as it ensures new hires have everything they need to start being productive from Day One.
With proper knowledge management processes in place, your new employees should always know their next steps.
Finally, while true tacit knowledge can be difficult to capture, it is possible to document it “in action.”
Demonstration videos, creatives portfolios, and other such knowledge creation activities by your previous employees all hold intangible information that can only be understood when seen.
Since you’ll no longer have access to their actual knowledge (i.e., their brains and their talents), having their previous work is the next best thing.
4. Provide Added Value and Enhance Your Customer Experience
An effective approach to knowledge management also benefits your customers—in two key ways.
For one thing, management of customer-facing knowledge involves creating and delivering content for self-service purposes.
This allows them to navigate the use of your products or services (complete with any troubles they may face along the way) without needing to reach out to your team for assistance.
(As we’ve discussed before, offering such a self-directed experience is key to improving customer satisfaction.)
Additionally, since KM provides your internal service and support teams access to a robust collection of knowledge, they’ll be much better equipped to handle customer inquiries as they come in.
Needless to say, the less friction your customers face during these engagements, the happier they’ll be.
It’s also worth noting that these two benefits actually go hand-in-hand, in a way:
Because your customers can solve smaller issues on their own, your team will likely experience fewer support tickets for said issues.
In turn, they’ll have more time and energy to invest in solving the larger problems that do require a more hands-on approach on their end.
In any case, it’s your customers who ultimately end up benefiting from your KM-related efforts.
5. Continual Growth Based on Knowledge
Take a quick look at the following graphs from the TSIA report we mentioned earlier:
See any common threads?
Basically, the more knowledge-focused your organization, the more focused on growth your team will inherently be.
More than just using their collective knowledge in various ways, KM-focused teams also continually look to improve the knowledge they hold, as well.
Since they’re essentially always learning something new—and figuring out how to apply it to their duties—your KM-focused team will only continue to grow as time goes on.
Four Key Tenets of an Effective Knowledge Management Strategy
Proper knowledge management is guided by four overarching principles.
In following these principles of knowledge management, it will become much easier for your team to accomplish the goals you’ve set for your KM initiatives.
Let’s take a look at what these four tenets are, and what they entail.
Knowledge management is a systematic process that needs to be ingrained in your organizational culture.
It’s not something to be done when it’s convenient, or when you’re reminded of how important it is. In order for your knowledge management initiative to be successful, it must be approached intentionally.
This means developing KM-related processes, procedures, and protocols for your team to follow.
It means injecting these KM-related processes into your employees’ duties.
And it means tying your employees’ (and organization’s) KM-related efforts into their overall performance reviews in a standardized manner.
If you’re not quite at this point yet, don’t worry; even top-performing organizations struggle with intentionality:
Still, in the interest of keeping your KM-related initiatives headed to your true north, your efforts must be intentional from the get-go.
(Note: We’ll talk more about how to create a comprehensive and intentional knowledge management strategy in the next section.)
The entire point of knowledge management is to ensure that all pertinent knowledge is available to all stakeholders, in the most convenient and/or efficient way possible.
As we discuss in our article on knowledge management software, knowledge can be presented in a variety of formats, on a variety of platforms.
Within these various content “types,” the relevant knowledge should be presented in a way that most effectively allows the user to consume said knowledge.
While creating a robust text-based library of knowledge is a good start, creating multimedia content can put your organization way ahead of your competition in this regard:
Additionally, you need to ensure your knowledge is accessible to the user regardless of the device they’re using. Again, this is where many organizations fall short:
It just makes sense:
If your knowledge isn’t easily accessible by the people who need it most, it’s not going to be of any use to them.
Make it easy for your users to access your vast collection of knowledge on their terms, and you’ll make it even easier for them to accomplish their goals.
3. Collaboration and Cohesiveness
Earlier, we talked about how introducing knowledge management into your organization can help maintain and enhance alignment throughout your organization.
This alignment must at least be somewhat in place before you try to get your KM-related initiatives off the ground.
This goes back to intentionality: If not all members of your organization are on board with the new initiative, there’s no chance of it being as effective as it can be.
All this being said, it’s essential that each of your team members:
- Regularly contributes to your organization’s collective knowledge
- Knows how to utilize this collective knowledge to enhance their own performance abilities
The goal, here, is to eventually make KM-related collaboration an organic part of your teams’ processes—rather than something done in isolation when directed to do so.
In facilitating this cohesiveness from the start of your new initiative, you’ll better enable your team to become even more collaborative as time goes on.
One way to get people on board is by identifying people who are interested in utilizing knowledge management and enabling them to build a Knowledge Management Community of Practice (CoP).
Communities of Practice consists of individuals that are looking to interact with others in the pursuit of attaining knowledge regarding a common practice (in this case the practice of knowledge management).
4. Iterative Progressiveness
The final overarching principle of knowledge management we’ll be discussing is the idea of continual improvement.
Knowledge management is an ongoing process that should never be considered “complete.”
There will always be more for your team to learn. Your organization will always encounter new experiences—both good and bad. Your audience, competition, and industry will always be evolving in some way.
Each new piece of information that trickles through your organization provides an opportunity for growth.
Knowledge management is about ensuring your team takes full advantage of these opportunities not just as they come to them—but as they actively work to discover them, as well.
How to Build a Successful Knowledge Management Framework
With the aforementioned tenets of KM in mind, let’s now break down all that goes into creating an effective knowledge management strategy.
Step #1: Define Your Focus
This first step is pretty straightforward, and can be done by answering a single question:
Who are you creating your knowledge for?
You might be aiming to create a comprehensive database of knowledge for your internal teams to pull from as they go about their duties.
Or, you may want to create a customer-facing knowledge management system that allows your audience to quickly find the information they need to accomplish their goals.
(Or, you may be looking to accomplish both of these goals simultaneously.)
Moreover, you also want to define your rationale for undertaking such an intensive initiative in the first place.
Now’s the time to get super-specific. While we’ve established the more general benefits to be gleaned from proper knowledge management, you’ll want to have clearly-defined goals for your use of KM—tied to granular KPIs to assess your efforts over time.
Though KM is an ongoing process with no “end” goal, you definitely need to set milestone markers to strive for along the way. In turn, you’ll be in a much better position to make continual improvements to your KM initiatives moving forward.
Step #2: Define Involved Parties and Their Roles
We’ve talked about the idea that everyone on your team should contribute to your KM initiatives in some way or another.
Here’s where you determine how, exactly, each of your team members will do so.
For each of your knowledge management initiatives, you’ll want to assign certain roles to specific individuals. These roles can include:
- Project Managers, who oversee the specific initiative at hand
- Knowledge Finders, who actively search for the necessary data and information
- Knowledge Communicators, who synthesize this information into usable knowledge
- Knowledge Creators, who document the collected knowledge in a way that allows for maximum accessibility
Now, these roles are not meant to be set in stone—especially if you don’t yet have the capacity to hire a dedicated KM team.
Rather, these roles should shift with each initiative you pursue, as each may involve different departments and team members to varying degrees.
Again, the goal is to get each of your team members involved in your KM efforts in various ways. The more fluid and flexible your roles are, the more likely you’ll be to achieve these goals.
Step #3: Define the Tools and Technology to Be Used
The advent of modern technology has completely revolutionized the concept of knowledge management altogether.
That said, you definitely want to take full advantage of the tools and technology that can enable your KM-related initiatives to succeed.
First things first, you need to have a comprehensive knowledge management system—or knowledge base—at the ready. A searchable knowledge base is the backbone of your knowledge management processes.
Your knowledge base (KB) is where all of your organization’s knowledge can be found.
As we’ve mentioned, KBs can be created for a variety of purposes.
For example, industrial automation giant Yokogawa developed a KB to be used internally by over 10,000 employees.
This allowed employees to capture and share “tribal knowledge” throughout the organization—leading to enhanced productivity and efficiency across the board.
Organizations can also use knowledge bases to provide self-service and automated support options to their customers. RMS Cloud did just that—and eliminated up to 75% of its support requests in the process.
By today’s standards, knowledge bases need to allow for:
- Navigability via search functionality and content categorization
- Internal communication and collaboration
- Analytics and optimization (i.e., Lessons Learned)
Once you’ve decided on the knowledge base software that best fits your needs, you’ll also want to look into using tools to complement your efforts.
For example, you might want to consider using separate tools for:
- Project Management
- Project-Centered Communication
- Content Creation and Collaboration
By integrating these tools with your KB software, you’ll quickly be able to optimize your knowledge management efforts.
Knowledge Management Process
Once you have your knowledge management framework set, you can effectively allow your team to create knowledge that is easily stored, organized, and shared.
This process, itself, is worth taking a closer look at.
The first step toward creating knowledge is to find as much relevant data as you can on the topic in question.
This can come from a number of sources, such as:
- Internal data collected over time
- Third-party reports on your industry
- Consumer-generated content or feedback
At this point, the focus is just on collecting the necessary data to be analyzed at a later time. For that reason, it’s best to be more broad in how you go about collecting said data.
Now, you’ll take your collected data and prepare it in an orderly fashion.
The way you go about doing so will depend on your overall purposes. For example, you may need to:
- Separate positive and negative customer reviews
- Rank data by a given metric
- Create a data hierarchy of some sort
Basically, the goal is to organize the data you’ve collected in a way that makes its meaning crystal clear.
Up until now, the data has existed in a vacuum, without context.
The goal, at this stage, is to establish this context.
(This will allow you to extract even more knowledge from the data during a later step.)
At this point, you need to still be objective in your assessment: As you summarize your findings, do so in the most literal sense possible.
Once you’ve documented your findings in an understandable and digestible manner, you can start to dig a bit deeper.
Now you’ll start thinking about what the information tells you—and why it’s worth listening.
Some questions to ask at this stage include:
- What trends appear as you organize the information in different ways?
- What changes—internal or external—may have contributed to these trends?
- What correlations between data points can be drawn that you might have previously overlooked?
As you may notice, your previously-isolated information is becoming more and more contextualized throughout this process.
Which leads us to the next step:
Synthesize information into knowledge
Earlier, we mentioned that knowledge management is about harnessing knowledge.
Which is what this step is all about.
Synthesizing information into knowledge requires that you truly internalize the meaning behind your “on-paper” data, so that your organization or audience may use it in a constructive way.
Now, you’ll have a new set of questions to answer:
- How can we use the information gleaned to improve our processes?
- Who and what will be involved in making these improvements?
- How will we assess the effectiveness of our efforts?
Apply learned knowledge
Once you have a clear idea of what you need to do, the next step is to just do it.
Of course, this can be a case of “easier said than done.”
Sure, you may end up needing to make drastic changes to your processes based on the information you find. Then again, you may only need to make a few minor tweaks here and there.
At any rate, putting your knowledge into action is why you collect said knowledge in the first place. Without this step, all your efforts up to this point will be for naught.
Store knowledge for efficient retrieval and updating
One of the best things about knowledge is that it’s everlasting.
Once a piece of knowledge exists, it always will exist.
As long as you document and store it in a secure yet accessible place.
(This is why a high-quality knowledge base is a must for your KM purposes.)
More than just preserving your knowledge, you also want to ensure that credentialed stakeholders can update and otherwise edit said knowledge as necessary.
The world around your organization is constantly evolving—as should be your understanding of said world. As we’ve said, your knowledge management efforts will never be fully complete; the longer your organization exists, the more knowledge it will collect.
For this reason, this is less a “final” step than it is a call to “rinse and repeat” the process of collecting knowledge ad infinitum.
By continually adding to and improving on your organization’s knowledge, you’ll easily be able to steer your company in the right direction—leaving your less-than-knowledgeable competitors in the dust.
Implementing Knowledge Management Systems
A knowledge management system (KMS) is a network of online channels and platforms through which information is documented, stored, and transmitted both internally and to the customer.
Essentially, a KMS is the technology backbone of your KM framework.
While there are a variety of software options to utilize, it's important to focus on tools that provide effective mechanisms for communication and collaboration within your organization to enhance sharing and transferring of knowledge.
This means making use of tools that includes features like:
- Capturing, cataloging, and categorizing knowledge
- Ability to collaborate when creating knowledge
- Content and data management
- Searchability of gathered knowledge
Using Helpjuice’s Knowledge Base as Part of Your Knowledge Management System
Helpjuice's knowledge base software is perfect for both internal and external knowledge management.
Our knowledge base software, which includes a content management system for writing and editing knowledge base articles, is fully customizable, comes with Google-like search, and insightful analytics.
These features make sharing, managing, and transferring knowledge easy for the end-users as well as for the content contributors of your knowledge base.
For more information sign up for a free demo.