5 Types of Knowledge You Need to Document NOW

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Are you new to the knowledge management world? Don't sweat it! In this blog post, I'm going to introduce you to the five types of knowledge you need to document for your business. If you're serious about organizing your business, then let me give you the 411 on Knowledge Management 101. 

Cultural Values + Symbols

Let’s take a look at Squarespace, for example, the all-in-one website builder that allows people to create simplistic websites with little to no web design experience. 

Squarespace, Inc. is based in New York, New York, and boasts a very unique business culture with a mission to “make beautiful products to help people with creative ideas succeed.” 

Now, if you didn’t know much about the Squarespace company culture, you could probably get a pretty good sense of it just by looking at their official website. When you navigate to the About page, the first thing that pops out at you is the phrase “Giving Voice to Ideas,” streamed across the middle of the page. 

Immediately, you see photos of diverse Millennials gathered around common areas casually conversing, exchanging ideas and working hard on what they love most. And the photos of the Squarespace offices are just as sleek and professional as the web design samples on the front page. I mean just by browsing around, you get a feel for the business vibe - structured, open, and simple, and if you were a young tech professional, looking for your first gig, then you’d be right at home. And all of these elements give you an inside look into the culture of Squarespace. 

Culture can include the way employees:

  • dress (i.e. casually, business-casual, or alternative styles)
  • speak to each other
  • identify with the business (beliefs) 
  • behave within the business setting 

These characteristics contribute to the overall nature of the business and essentially make it unique. 

But what exactly does Squarespace say about its values? You know, the standards and beliefs they believe are important to to their business. What do they want the public to know about how they operate?

Well, here is what Squarespace cites as their values per their website:

  • Be Your Own Customer: Our entire business relies on the same platform and tools our customers pay us for. To that end, we build products and design experiences we would want for ourselves. 
  • Empower Individuals: Squarespace believes in the power of the individual to create great things. This is what our product enables and our marketing celebrates.
  • Design is Not a Luxury: Good design means coalescing hundreds of details into a package that is simple and beautiful. From the tools we create, to the experience our customers have, Squarespace strives for excellence in design and iterates relentlessly in order to achieve that ideal.
  • Good Work Takes Time: We respect the creative process and pursue long term ideas without fear. We only release our products when we feel they meet our standards.
  • Optimize Toward IdealsWhile metrics are critical for tracking and testing the performance of our business, they are merely a reflection of our ideas and execution in the market. Our values and ideals are our decision making guide.

For Squarespace, these values serve as the foundation for the business. It captures how they think and feel about their products and the work it takes to create it. And these values also drive the CEO, leaders, management team and employees to do what they do each day. 

Now, think about your own business for a moment and ask yourself:

  • What are my mission/vision statements and values?
  •  If there are changes in your mission or values, am I taking the time to document it?
  • Are they well articulated? Am I updating them on the web site or business materials?
  • Do these values resonate with my employees and customers?
  • Is this the direction I want my business to go in?

Ultimately, the more you take the time to assess your business environment and document all of the different changes to your culture, the better you can plan ahead and promote your business internally (and externally). 

 

Symbols

Now, symbols are a little bit different than values. Symbols are merely the representation of an idea (or relationship) within the business world - only in a different form.

Symbols, for instance, can be physical (logos), verbal (stories and myths), or rituals (meetings, themed luncheons) used to depict the culture. 

Just take a moment to think about some of the physical symbols you learned while growing up - black cats (mean bad luck), thumbs down (means unhappiness or dissatisfaction), hearts = love, etc. etc. I could go on and on. Those symbols shape our perception and enhance our understanding of things around us (and the same concept applies to the business world as well). Think about it. The first physical symbol we come in contact with for a business is the logo. It's a visual representation (often depicted by words and graphics or both) that gives the viewer some insight into the tone of the business and the impression it gives.

Verbal symbols, on the other hand, are really stories and myths that are born inside the business.

In the case of Squarespace, stories that might be symbolic in nature are: how the company was founded in CEO Anthony Casalena’s dorm room at the University of Maryland, or the time when the company secured its first one million dollars in venture funding, or landed its first customer. These stories are collected, embedded and stored within the business because they hold some sort of significance in the collective eyes of its leaders and employees. And when new employees join the company, these stories are passed on to them as a way of educating them about the history of the business and indoctrinating them into the culture. It’s actually pretty cool because it’s not only about being informative, but bonding with others. 

But not all stories are cheerful and upbeat. Some companies may choose to use cautionary, or distressing stories to send a message or reinforce the magnitude of an event (or a shift in the environment) such as the passing of a leader who was instrumental in taking the business to the next level or a critical mistake that cost the business thousands of dollars. Like it or not, these stories too, have a place within the business culture and can be used to reinforce values (this is who we really are), highlight past mistakes (this is who we aren’t), or embrace a vision for the future (this is who we aim to be). And yes, these stories do serve as great case studies for both internal and external use as well. 

Rituals (which can take the form of special events or routines) are another important aspect of business culture. Two prime examples that most people are familiar with are employee luncheons and meetings. These events symbolize fellowship and unity. People gather around, talk about shared or common interests, and these happenings occur fairly often. 

Other examples might be annual conferences, trainings, joint volunteer efforts, etc, as they are all apart of business culture. 

 

Why Must You Document This Knowledge? 

So you can: 

  • Transfer stories to employees as a means of bonding and sharing information
  • Use your business culture to connect with your targeted consumer/client audience
  • Reflect on your values and symbols to see if they really are in line with your business practices (are you saying and doing what you claim?) 
  • Have a recorded footprint of your business’ to preserve the history of your business

Data - Numbers, Facts and Figures

Hey, you already come in contact with plenty of data on a regular basis (numbers, times, dates, figures, etc). But all of that data is meaningless if you’re not doing anything with it. 

Now, before I continue, I want to make sure you’re not confusing data with information.

Data is simply numbers in raw form. Information, on the other hand, is data that has been synthesized and interpreted to explain the meaning behind the numbers. Then, it gets compiled into presentations, reports, and documents for reference.

Let me give you a quick example. 

Let’s say you’re interested in learning about the performance of your customer service reps. What is the first thing you would do to get some insight into the issue? Well, for starters, you could review the CSR monthly performance stats to see what’s going on - BUT - the numbers alone are of no use to you until you organize, assess and interpret the data. 

In this instance, you would have to find out the range of statistics that are considered desirable (or undesirable) for performance and the categories they fall into (i.e. high, low, and middle). Then you would have to locate what the monthly targeted goals are, and compare them to the actual sales achieved by your employees. Your next move would depend on what the data tells you, so if the employees fell short, you might feel the need to invest in additional sales training or possibly reform the sales tactics altogether. If the employees exceeded or met their target sales (yay!), you might decide to reward them with a certificate or a luncheon. 

What I'm really trying to get at is, whether or not you have a love affair of numbers, data is a valuable thing and its purpose is only magnified when transformed into information.

 

Why Must You Document This Knowledge? 

So you can: 

  • Maintain compliance with industry/government standards of record-keeping
  • Transform data into information and disseminate it around the business

Information - News, Content, Reports

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Oh, and while we’re on the subject of information - I can’t stress enough about how important it is to maintain and retain any and all types of info related to your business. 

Take a look at the chart below to see what information you should be properly documenting: 

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Oh, and don’t forget about identifying and collecting information OUTSIDE of your business that can help you too, such as:

  • Newspaper articles
  • Scholarly journals
  • Industry reports 
  • Journals/magazine articles
  • Blog posts
  • Podcasts
  • Interviews
  • Books
  • Films/Videos

All of these sources can help you to assess your current business environment, understand your industry, evaluate customer satisfaction, anticipate training needs, help you solve problems, and lots more. 

 

Why Must You Document This Knowledge? 

So you can: 

  • Stay up to date with industry trends in your area of business
  • Assess your business needs to improve your environment
  • Plan and implement training and development
  • Create targeted marketing content for your audience
  • Maintain and preserve records for compliance

Document the Know-How (Tacit Knowledge) 

Tacit knowledge “is the kind of knowledge that is difficult to transfer to another person by means of writing it down or verbalizing it” (Wikipedia). 

In other words, tacit knowledge is the knowledge (skills, experience, or ideas) employees have stored up, but hasn’t been broken down (or organized) in a step-by-step manner (codified).  

Here, I’ll give you a quick example. 

Let’s say you have a knowledgeable CSR who knows how to successfully de-escalate angry customers and turn them into repeat buyers (and he/she is very skilled at this). In order to find out how the CSR is able to do this, you might sit down with them and try to figure out their process - the steps, psychological tactics, and resources that helps them to accomplish their goal. This means taking your time to ask questions, watching them in action, and maybe even taking a hands-on approach by video or tape recording them going through the motions. 

It may seem impossible - and maybe even tedious, but through the wonders of technology, you can capture (record) somewhat complex know-how. And as a business owner, your employees and those who work with you have lots of valuable tacit knowledge just waiting to be extracted. It’s just up to you to make it happen. 

 

Why Must You Document This Knowledge? 

So you can: 

  • Improve your processes and procedures to ensure proper results
  • Create documented guides for all employees to follow to maintain consistency
  • Capture information you didn’t have before

Document the Procedural Knowledge

Procedural knowledge is the knowledge you use to perform a task. It is typically presented in a step-by-step format and used in problem-solving scenarios. A couple examples could be, how to file a new application in the HR drawer, or how to process returns for customers. In your business, you probably use procedural knowledge more than you think: operating office equipment, on-boarding procedures, or conducting any other specialized task surrounding what you do. 

And you'll want to make sure everyone is on the same page about how to perform job tasks in your business.

To maintain consistency, consider providing your employees:

  • Job Aids 
  • Drawings
  • Screenshots 
  • Checklists

This may seem like common sense, but you would be surprised how often people neglect to give some kind of aid or instruction with their procedures. 

So make sure you not only tap those employees who hold the procedural knowledge, but double check the steps for accuracy and that they warrant the right results. 

 

Why Must You Document This Knowledge?  

So you can: 

  • Protect your business knowledge  
  • Be prepared when someone leaves or takes off work
  • Execute procedures in the proper manner
  • Update or change steps within the procedures if necessary

 

So, there you have it. Those are the major areas you need to focus on documenting for your business. Is it exhaustive? No, but it's a great place to start and in the upcoming blog posts, I'll get into further detail about recording, documenting, sharing and storing your business knowledge. 

The Key to Assessing Knowledge: Start a Review Crew

StartaReviewCrewTrainingbyNelle

 

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. 

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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                                       

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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.