As the saying goes, Scientia potentia est, “Knowledge is power”, or so we thought.
I would like to give a quick update to this 500 years old quote attributed to Sir Francis Bacon. These days Shared Knowledge is power and is the key foundation for sustainable team performance. And for that you will need the Best Knowledge Management System.
Have you ever found yourself totally powerless after the departure of one of your experts or most knowledgeable people?
Is your team now spending twice the amount of time attending to customer issues?
Do you often feel like you lack important information to make decisions?
Are you tired of spending ages retrieving information, or identifying the right person to talk to?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are not alone. Bleeding knowledge is a slow death for many teams and organizations. It will force you to continuously reinvent the wheel when you could effectively execute, based on prior, well-established knowledge.
Is your team bleeding knowledge?
Tailor the right knowledge management system in 3 questions.
No matter what your industry or the nature of your solution (product, service, etc.), there are 3 questions you can ask yourself and your team. They will help you identify which knowledge management system you should develop. Then you can implement appropriate, effective knowledge management processes or best practices.
Question #1 – Is your solution more customized of standardized?
To answer this first question, think about the way you create and deliver value with your solution.
A standardized solution does not vary much depending on the client. You are not expected to develop tailor-made products or services to meet your customers’ needs. On the contrary, they know what you can provide and what value you will bring.
In this context, it will be easy for you to establish protocols and processes to guide your action. Since you face recurring needs and address them in a similar, standardized way, chances are you can use scenarios to improve business needs. If you ask your team members, they might feel closer to implementors than innovators.
Customized means that most of your work consists in meeting unique, original needs from clients. There is a moderate to high degree of customization to the service or product you provide. You need to hire people who like new challenges and can quickly get a good understanding of specific issues. Your clients will expect a tailor-made solutions to their goals, and most of the time innovative, out-of-the-box thinking.
Question #2 – Is your solution more mature or innovative?
To answer this second question, think about your solution.
A solution is considered mature when it has stopped growing. In this case, you protect it, and you do not spend time and money in big changes anymore. Your solution is recognized and appreciated as it is by your customers, you are well-established.
A solution is considered innovative when you must adapt continuously, develop new features, services, or strategies to address your clients’ needs or to remain relevant on your market. In this context, you can spend a significant amount of money in research and development. You must be ready to adapt and sometimes pivot your business, product or service.
Question #3 – Do your team members rely more on explicit or tacit knowledge?
Your knowledge will be considered explicit if it is rather:
Objective, Rational or Technical
Explicit means that your knowledge can be made accessible to anyone on some sort of documentation. Indeed, it does not depend on someone’s expertise or unique point of view, and it does not change much depending on the context. You can see it more or less as a recipe for success and effective action making. This kind of knowledge is depersonalized.
On the opposite side, your knowledge will be considered tacit if it is rather:
To understand what tacit means, think about the knowledge and know-how embedded into your team members’ minds, through their experience and job. This knowledge is deeply personalized and is not easily made available to anyone.
If people do not talk, share and teach what they do, tacit knowledge is not accessible and will be completely lost when the person leaves or retires.
Tacit knowledge is particularly common in organizations with innovative, customized solutions. Indeed, the value of these organizations relies in the unique experience, point of view and thinking journey of their people. They need innovative thinking, not recipe or standardized processes.
The two main strategies to choose from to design your knowledge management system
Depending on your answers to the 3 questions above (and of course you can have mixed, nuanced answers), you will fall into one of the categories below. It will deeply influence the kind of knowledge strategy that you should develop.
The codified approach to knowledge management
Codification-type organizations usually build a reliable, high-quality information system. They use work plans and software code. These organizations value the reuse of knowledge, which means that they make sure to use a knowledge asset as many times as possible once it has been developed and stored. To do so, they highly benefit from implementing a system like a library, containing a lot of documents which are made more accessible by a search engine navigator.
Remember that you can have the best documentation, but you still need to develop a user-friendly system to make it available and used.
Documenting knowledge and processes is great especially for standardized solution, where knowledge is mostly perceived as explicit.
Personalization in knowledge management
Most of the personalization-type organizations tackle problems that don’t have immediate solutions. They rely on experts and the unique knowledge, know-how of their people. Personalization-type organizations also value insights and intuitions.
Knowledge within these companies is mostly tacit. To make the most of their knowledge, they need to allow people to find each other as easily and as fast as possible. The best is to invest time in building networks of people, facilitate connections and sometimes traveling when you are on different sites or parts of the globe. Knowledge sharing, as well as the thinking journey behind it, is key.
It is important to note that research has proven that successful organizations, using knowledge effectively, pursue one strategy predominantly and use the second one to support it. You can think of this as an 80 – 20 split.
Therefore, you can predominantly rely on a codified approach, documenting most of your knowledge and making accessible through a platform with a strong backbone and a search engine, while still valuing people’s unique expertise and facilitating moments of direct exchanges. That works perfectly if you have a mature solution (then, you have some strong, fixed processes and features) but you still must come up with innovative approaches, to remain relevant for your clients and competitive in your market.
These questions and categories are perfect to start your conversation on knowledge management and build the strategy that will best serve you and your customers.
If you need some support and go faster in your reflection on knowledge management, feel free to take our free assessment. We combine all the questions into a practical test, so that you do not need to go through this on your own.
Get a good overview of where you stand and what strategy you need to focus on.