The Key to Assessing Knowledge: Start a Review Crew



After you've documented and shared your knowledge, you've got to assess it. I know, you're probably thinking after all that hard work you have to now go back and look it over, but this will help you to prevent problems such as:

  • knowledge gaps
  • irrelevancy
  • incompleteness
  • redundancy 

and you just don't have time for that. Just like a college paper needs to be looked at, assessed, and revised, so does your knowledge. So, saddle up! It's time to review your precious know-how with a fine tooth comb! And don't worry, I'll provide you with a method to all of this madness so you don't end up pulling out your hair! 

Step One: Choose your knowledge source

Decide what needs to be assessed and establish your goal(s). What are you looking at that needs to be checked and critiqued? Does it have to do with explicit knowledge (such as training manuals or instructions), or does fall along the lines of general business information (customer personas, employee records, business plan)? Or are you more interested in assessing the foundational aspects of your business (i.e. mission, values, culture, etc.). Whatever you've got in mind, assess one source at a time. 

Here is a brief list of knowledge sources that your business should consider reviewing: 

  • Training Manuals
  • Job Aids/Task Sheets
  • Policies
  • Intranet/Databases 
  • Shortcuts 
  • Customer Information
  • Mission/Value Statements
  • Business Culture 
  • Performance Reviews
  • Job Descriptions/Roles
  • Exit Interviews
  • Meeting Notes 
  • Safety Reports
  • Assignments/Projects (Plans + Outcomes)
  • Grievances/Complaints
  • Individual Development Plans
  • Surveys
  • Training Records
  • Customer/Client Feedback

While this isn't an exhaustive list, it gives you an idea of some recommended areas to address within your business. 


Step TWO: Establish Your Goals

Before diving right in, you must stop and ask yourself: What are my goals in this Knowledge Assessment Session? What am I hoping to accomplish? What should be the outcome?                                                                                                                             

Do you want to assess this knowledge in order to... 

  • change behavior?
  • solve a problem? 
  • improve performance?  
  • educate employees?  
  • update systems?  

You must be clear and determine your purpose before you proceed any further. It's a must. You don't want to review the material just to review it. That's just a waste of time. There should be some actionable step that aligns with your business objectives. 

If you need a little bit of help, use this sentence to guide you:

I am reviewing ______________ (type/name of knowledge) from _________ (date/time period) because I want to ____________________ (action or desired result). My goal is to  ___________________  (linked to business objective) by _______________ (strategy to address action). 

Ex: I am reviewing the training records (type of knowledge) from the past six months, (date/time period) because I want to identify any knowledge gaps among new employees. My goal is to improve employee performance by designing new strategies for training (goal tied to business objective). 

Step Three: Decide the action

So now that you've identified the knowledge you want to assess (including your goals), you need to determine what you want to do with the knowledge. Technically, you have four options with knowledge checks: update, correct, omit and add. Each area is relatively self-explanatory: 

  • Update - Knowledge is outdated and should be revised. 
  • Correct - Knowledge is incorrect and needs to be fixed.  
  • Omit - Knowledge is correct, but certain parts may be irrelevant or inaccurate. 
  • Add - Knowledge is correct, but should be expanded upon.

You may need to do all four, but just concentrate on one of the areas listed above first before pursuing the others. 

So, let's say, you believe the knowledge desperately needs to be corrected, expanded upon, and some portions entirely erased. Prioritize your needs first, and then proceed. 

Step four: gather your Crew

Now you need to decide who's going to help you. It's time to assemble your crew. This is where you need to gather your subject matter experts, and reel in a few hard-working and highly interested workers. You want a healthy mix of both types of employees because your SMEs can tell you exactly what is right (or wrong) with the knowledge. 

Let's say, for example, you and your people decide to revisit a job aid called "How to Add New Employees to the Official Employee Roster," and one of the steps is incorrect. While you aren't exactly familiar with this particular process, you call on your SME David, who is quite advanced at handling your HR processes. You cross-check the Job Aid instructions with David, and discover the step is indeed - incorrect. As a precaution, you ask another employee who is familiar with the task (Awesome Worker Angela), and she tells you that she's found a great work around for accomplishing the task in half the time. Angela then shows SME David her process, he co-signs the shortcut, and you all agree to write it down, and adopt the new steps. Mission Complete. 

See how having both types of employees are beneficial? It's always helpful to get different points of view, you never know where suggestions and additional input will lead you. Now, if you haven't identified the Subject Matter Experts in your business, keep these few tips in mind:

  • Don't assume seniority equals SME success. An employee doesn't have to be a "Day One" (an employee who's been with you since the beginning of your business) in order to have a good grip on your knowledge. Some of your most qualified SMEs might be new or seasoned staff who have really taken the time to understand your business. 
  • Let employees volunteer for the job - first. Advertise that you're looking for some great SMEs to help you. Throw in an incentive or two. People like gift cards, and time off you know. But more important, re-emphasize that this is an opportunity to not only show you what you know, but to build your understanding of the business. So for employees who are looking to move up the ladder, this is a key opportunity to learn the inner-workings of the business. And if you find that you have few people offering to volunteer, start holding required mini-review sessions during the week (much like a monthly departmental meeting). That way you can lessen the likelihood of employees opting out. 
  • Peep their credentials. A SME isn't just someone who just knows a little bit about a lot of knowledge, they have a high degree of specialized knowledge in a particular topic or subject. So when choosing your SME, assess their years of work experience (in and outside of your business), level of education, successful assignments or projects, subjects/topics they've mastered, and their communication style for starters.                                                                                                   

Step five: establish a time

When can everyone get together to assess the knowledge? This is one of the hardest parts about creating a knowledge crew: trying to work around everyone's schedule to find a convenient time to come together. Plus, you'll have to decide if it makes more sense to meet in person as a group or use video-conferencing capabilities to get the job done (i.e. Google+ Hangout, Skype, etc.)? There are pros and cons to each choice.

If you decide to physically meet up, there are the obvious benefits like instant feedback, the personal connection, and the ability to share and see physical resources. 

If you're doing the virtual thing, there are pros such as flexibility, comfort, and overcoming distance barriers, but on the flip side you may face issues such as connectivity/speed, and difficulty maintaining attention (avoiding distractions). (Even more than in person!) 

So make sure you weigh your options before diving in. 

STEP Six: create a system

Collectively, you and your crew need to decide what your plan of attack will be. How will you assess, revise, correct, and update the knowledge? Will you print out the material and review it line by line, or embrace emerging technologies like collaborative and project management apps and software to help you get the job done? What makes the most sense in this situation? What will be the most cost-effective? Before you think about breaking the bank, try to identify some of the resources that are available to you to help you out. But more importantly, how will 

I know that seems kinda strange - a documentation system for reviewing your documentation? 

Make sure when you create your system you include the following: 

  • Date + Time: You want to keep track of when the person (or people) who are accessing the knowledge. If you are using a collaborative application like Google Docs you can use the Revision History function (File < Revision History) to view who, what, where, and when, the content was altered, but if the material is printed, you'll have to use a physical sign-in sheet to limit and track access, and adopt sticky notes, tabbies, or other methods to indicate content revision. 
  • Crew Members: Keep a running list of the knowledge session crew members, and update it anytime someone is added or removed from the group. It helps you to stay organized and potentially identify other areas people can be used as assets. 
  • Notes: Track all changes, no matter how big or small. (Again, if you're working with a collaborative app, make sure you have an option like Google Docs to help you keep tabs on all revisions and receive notifications when they are made). But if you're working with printed material, have each crew member use a specific highlighter or pen color to identify his/her markings/suggestions on paper. Plus, you'll have to either let your crew know you've made those revisions via email (or some form of communication), or simply by creating a separate Google Doc just to notate revisions. 
  • Leadership: Who will be the leader or co-leaders of this knowledge session? Does it make sense for you to lead (the CEO/Boss), or would a SME (subject matter expert) be more appropriate? 
  • Processes: This is the backbone of the knowledge session. It will dictate how you operate and the flow. What types of techniques, resources, and applications, will help you figure out how to dissect the knowledge in front of you? Can you devise a step-by-step process? Or will it be more big-picture oriented? 
  • Approvals: Before proceeding, make sure you find out if you need to get special approval in order to access the knowledge (i.e. hitting up IT for permissions you don't have (or were aware of), or if requesting special credentials for a/an employee/employees. Allow plenty of time beforehand just in case. 
  • Deadlines: You and your team will need to decide when certain revisions need to be done. Midnight? Mid-day? Morning? Or is this an on-going project with no specific time-frame? Discuss this with your team to see what is most appropriate for the session. 

And of course, this is just a broad view of the different elements of a full-scale system for your knowledge session. As you begin to craft a system that works for you, you will find                                       


Step eight: Follow Up

Solicit ideas, and suggestions for improving the assessment sessions. Discuss what went well or what could have been improved. Was the process too tedious, or was the flow just right? Were the right people in charge? Was the outcome as expected? Get the feedback of your crew and capture their responses. The more you include the input of your crew the better the future sessions will be. 

You can follow up with: 

  • Surveys + Questionnaires
  • Emails
  • Polls
  • Interviews
  • Focus Groups

Just remember, whatever you method you choose to keep it short, sweet, and thank your crew for their time. 

Step EIGHT: moving forward

How often will you assess your job aids, workbooks, training manuals, databases, policies, and procedures? Better yet, what type of a routine will you establish to help make sure your knowledge is regularly up to date, accurate, and user appropriate? Will you check your material daily, weekly, bi-weekly, monthly or yearly? Maybe you and your team feel that one area of knowledge needs to be checked more often than another (i.e. customer policies vs training aids). And there's nothing wrong with that. The frequency and type of knowledge you review will depend entirely on you and your business needs. 

Take a look at this short little example of a KM timetable: 

  • Policies - Revisit Every 3 months
  • Job Aids - Revisit Every 3 months
  • Training Manuals - Revisit Every 6 months
  • Databases - Revisit Every 12 months

You may even want to consider using a knowledge management calendar to help you keep track of who, what, where, when, and why you should be reviewing your material. 

You can even grab my Training by Nelle KM Calendar for your personal business use right here. 


and that's it!

You're well on your way to starting an awesome Review Crew! Now, it's time to get moving! Print out this post and use it as a guide! Gather your team and get started! There is no time like the present, and your knowledge is waiting for you.