The Case for Knowledge Management

CaseforKnowledgeMmntTrainingbyNelle

Ok. I gotta rant really quickly. I know, I know. There's a time and a place for everything, but I feel the need to say this, and yes, I do apologize in advance. 

-- Start Rant -- 

I can’t begin to tell you how disheartening it is to see so many people neglect their business knowledge. Just treat it like it doesn’t even exist. They don’t document any processes or routines, outline major procedures, or even transfer information to the right people for starters. They just seem to either act like it’s no big deal, until something major happens. Then the panic starts to set in, and folks start asking, ”Well, what do we do now?" It just doesn’t make sense.

--- End Rant ---

But I’m here to help you avoid all of that mess. I don’t want to see your business - the very business you’ve worked so hard for - end up in shambles because you failed to see the value of recording and storing your information.

Before I get ahead of myself, let me break down this whole “knowledge management” concept.

Knowledge management is simply the development, documentation, transfer, review and storage of your business knowledge. Knowledge can include everything from operational business plans to ideas, and even hard-to-describe type of know-how. 

It is an incredibly popular concept in the corporate world, and even more so today as Baby Boomers are leaving the workforce and taking their knowledge and expertise with them. It’s a pretty serious issue because Millennials (who are now flooding the workforce) want (and crave) the knowledge and training to move forward in their careers. 

So if a company is dedicated to knowledge management, they will not only document the knowledge Millennials need to know, but establish “transfer” techniques to “pass along” key information or knowledge to this group. It could be in the form of coaching, mentoring, classroom instruction, or even communities of practice (more on this example later).

But KM isn’t just for major corporations and businesses. Startups and small businesses (like you) can protect their greatest assets and look at ways to document, share, and preserve the knowledge around them, too. And its worth considering as KM has its benefits. 

Just take a quick peek at my chart below to see what Knowledge Management can do for you.  

7 Things to Keep in Mind Before You Tackle Knowledge Management

7ThingsAboutKMTrainingbyNelle

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So, you're really ready to do this Knowledge Management thing, huh? Well good for you! Your business will thrive as a result. But before you get ready to dive in, take a moment to think about these  7 major areas you need to think about before getting your hands dirty. To help you think about teach area, I've created a KM Think Sheet to help you during your planning. 

Time

How much time can you honestly commit to collecting, capturing, transferring and storing your business knowledge? Think about it. Each stage of the knowledge management process takes lots of time, commitment, organization, and the ability to focus. If you're running your business, you're likely involved with other tasks - answering phone calls, responding to emails, overseeing the office/floor, managing employees, and knowledge management might not be too high on the list.

So you've got to think about the following: 

  • How can I make time for knowledge management?
  • How long will it take to collect and document my business knowledge?
  • How long will it take to put/convert all of the knowledge into an application or platform for employees to access? 
  • What type of KM practices should I implement on a daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly basis?
  • If I'm interested in knowledge-sharing sessions, how long can my employees afford to be away from their desks without impacting productivity and the bottom line?

Type

What types of knowledge are you concerned with collecting, documenting, transferring or storing? In KM, you've got five kinds of knowledge (not including miscellaneous) that your business contains such as: 

  • Data (Numbers + Figures)  
  • Tacit (Hard-to-Put-into-Words Knowledge) 
  • Information (News, Content, Policies, Research) 
  • Cultural (Symbols, Stories, and Values) 
  • Procedural (How-To Knowledge) 
  • Miscellaneous: Ideas, Suggestions, Plans 

Looking at the list, is there a certain category of knowledge that takes priority over another? Of course for housekeeping or regulatory reasons, you know you've got to keep track of financial data and accounting for your business - so that's a given. But what about everything else? Just take a moment to think about it. Also, you don't want to spend all your time gathering your employees around to record their accounts of how your business started (cultural knowledge), and you neglect to re-write the new procedures for handling returns that went into effect last week (procedural knowledge). That's not going to help you any, right? So focus on what matters first.

Ask yourself:

  • What type of knowledge do my employees and I consider to be most valuable? 
  • Have I come across any knowledge that hasn't been recorded yet? Or revised? 
  • Am I at least maintaining basic records of figures, statistics, etc. for my business?
  • Am I actively documenting or soliciting ideas and suggestions from my employees?

Methods

Next up: your plan of action. Now, you must focus on how will you go about capturing, documenting, recording, transferring, and storing all of this knowledge. This is where you should ask yourself the following: 

  • What kind of a system can I create so my employees can effectively document and record what they know?
  • Should I use video to capture hands-on procedures/tasks or just record everything with a voice recorder? Or a combination of both? 
  • Which platforms, applications, programs should I use to store my knowledge in? Or should I opt for something completely out of the box?
  • What type of knowledge-sharing practices should I use that actually make sense for my business? 
  • Should I nominate someone to take "ownership" of the the different knowledge processes? Or allow everyone to "own" certain parts of the processes? 
  • How should I evaluate the knowledge for accuracy or relevancy? 

Equipment

So, what's in your office desk that you can use to collect, capture, transfer, and preserve your business knowledge? Don't forget to think about some of the basic tools - pens, pencils, paper, filing cabinets, printer to the more complex (i.e. computer programs, smartphones/video cameras, cloud subscription services, etc). This is where you should ask yourself the following: 

  • Do I have enough money to splurge on some new tech gadgets?
  • What is the most cost-effective and suitable devices to help me out with knowledge management?
  • Is there money in the budget to buy new programs/apps for knowledge management? Maybe even use some free trials? Can I barter resources with another business? 
  • Do I at least have access to a computer, pencils, and paper? 
  • Can I make use of what I've got for now? 

Location

Exactly where do you need to go to collect and record your business knowledge? Do you need to coordinate some time with an employee who is only a few office doors away, or will you need to schedule time to physically visit another location?

If you have multiple business locations, you will have to take into account making time to visit each spot to help collect, share, and store the knowledge (or at least train the staff on the proper KM strategies).  Perhaps it's not a physical location that's the issue, but needing a KM plan for folks who are telecommuters. This is where you should ask yourself the following: 

  • Do I have access to the areas I need for managing my knowledge?
  • Will I need to make travel arrangements to get to a specific location?
  • How will I go about working with virtual workers/telecommuters? 
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Permission

Next step: Granting Permissions

If you're not going to be hands on for every aspect of the knowledge management processes, chances are you'll have to hand over some responsibility to an employee. When you do this, they will be exposed to (and have access to) sensitive knowledge, (employee data, company information, competitive intelligence, intellectual property, business strategies, etc.) to employees. The key is to decide what type of knowledge an employee should come in contact with, how often, and the protocol for using it. This is where you should ask yourself: 

  • If I'm not directly accessing sensitive information, what type of policies should be in place for those who will?
  • How will I decide which employees will need permission to access sensitive information?
  • What type of information will employees need access to? Should I redact or omit certain information?  

Safety

Last Step: Secure + Storage 

When managing knowledge, safety is one of the biggest issues businesses typically deal with, especially with the growing concerns of hacking and cyber security. Although no storage solution is perfect (or foolproof), through proper research you can find highly secured systems or programs (computer-based or non-technological) that offer encryption, monitoring + support, and security compliance other features that meet your own standards. But before you settle on a choice, just be sure to ask yourself: 

  • Where will I store the knowledge? If so, what type of security needs do I have?
  • If I opt for online cloud storage, what type of security will you absolutely need?
  • What type of a contingency plan will you have in place in the case of a breach?
  • What backup plan will you have if you can't gain access or there is a system failure?

Okay, so now that I've posed a million and one questions, I hope you get the idea about being thorough and methodical when it comes to thinking through the different stages of knowledge management. It may seem tempting to just grab a piece of paper and a pen, and get to work, but it takes so much more than that. Especially if you want to do it right.

So use these questions as a guide when you're starting to build your knowledge management strategy, and remember to take your time and do what's best for you and your business.