What do sales teams, airfield mechanics, and professional football teams have in common?
For all three, learning matters for job performance. Competitive advantage derives from the ability to respond rapidly to changing conditions. And whether you’re aware of it or not, knowledge management is the operational backbone of every learning organization.
What Is Knowledge Management?
Knowledge management consists of the handling and distribution of information and resources critical to a team member’s competence, confidence, and success in their role.
Practically speaking, knowledge management consists of everything from onboarding and documentation to advising and training processes. It promotes a practice of continuous learning and improvement, providing resources for team members to develop new or existing skills.
Every job comes with a whole slew of best practices and SOPs. To ensure that your team masters the ins and outs of operations, it is your job as a team lead to understand both what they know and the critical topics that they have yet to learn.
Recently, the definition of knowledge management has expanded to include the process by which information is captured, achieved, evaluated, and shared interactively and collaboratively. Two strategies are critical here: codification and personalization.
Codification refers to thoughtfully recording and storing knowledge where anyone at the company can access it. Grouping this data into a knowledge base enables access to learned expertise and helps enact a codification strategy for valuable institutional knowledge.
Personalization is a knowledge management strategy centered around communication — not just the storage — of knowledge. Knowledge management is more than simply passing out a workplace handbook and telling your team members to read it.
Personalization makes the process specific to the company and highlights your company’s competitive advantage.
Benefits of Knowledge Management
In an organization with poor knowledge management, employees know only bits and pieces of what they need to excel in their jobs. They typically lack the tools and resources to fill in gaps in their knowledge.
Organizations that excel at knowledge management have built processes to capture and share the critical operational knowledge that typically lives in their top performers’ heads. At Learn to Win, we call this team-specific operational knowledge Last Mile Knowledge. Studies have shown that Last Mile Knowledge is 6x more valuable than generic off-the-shelf training.
Companies that implement effective knowledge management processes see improvements in the following areas:
Employees can’t do their jobs without clear communication between management and colleagues. When it comes to company culture, effective communication is vital.
Organizations with solid communication processes understand how to capture and disseminate organizational knowledge to reach those who need it.
A cultural norm of documenting and sharing the tools and processes used to do one’s job opens the avenues for formal and informal communication.
Decisions won’t be made quickly and effectively in environments with fractured information networks and half-trained team members. Your team will not feel confident enough in their skills and won’t have valuable data to make decisions.
Take, for example, a sales rep who keeps coming up short when going head-to-head with a specific competitor. Sharing knowledge among the team can help management make better decisions about positioning strategy.
Data from the field informs team strategy, while the sales rep may also learn more about approaching a similar situation from their peers. Knowledge management aims to eliminate single points of failure by empowering everyone with the institutional knowledge required to make the right decisions.
The best knowledge managers build systems that obtain unshared information and experience from individual team members. Unshared information is often at the root of poor decisions.
None of the above requires all workers to share the same strengths. Instead, knowledge management helps everyone better understand the skillsets of their team to inform their individual expertise and decision-making.
Cross-functional collaboration is a key component of innovative workplaces. Magic happens when people from different departments and areas of expertise work toward a common goal.
When discrete teams within an organization share their experience and expertise, it results in both increased productivity and workplace achievement.
Most projects are better approached when team members with diverse perspectives are given the opportunity to weigh in and contribute their time, effort, and creative thinking.
Full access to information systems is important for a collaborative workflow to function efficiently. Without the necessary knowledge base and context — not to mention the tools required to communicate ideas and feedback — innovation has no foundation from which to grow.
As a knowledge manager, soliciting challenges and best practices from employees in the field allows you to take advantage of live training time and benefit from the wisdom of teammates.
Types of Knowledge Management
Knowledge is an organization’s most critical ingredient for success. This section differentiates between the types of knowledge and explores where each occurs.
Explicit knowledge encompasses all knowledge that is easy to codify and share. Often, the actual documentation process tends to be simple, but that doesn’t mean acquiring the underlying expertise is.
Management of explicit knowledge explores how to best disseminate large amounts of documentation and data so that the most crucial pieces of information are easily found and understood by the workers who need it.
Implicit knowledge involves understanding a concept or process well enough to maximize the application of explicit knowledge.
Gaining implicit knowledge of an organization can be a lengthy process — much of it comes with experience. However, documentation and knowledge transfer from experienced employees can speed up the process for new employees.
Practical know-how can be shared through workshopping and contributing to shared team knowledge databases.
Not only will your team members be learning from one another, but they’ll also be working together to problem-solve as issues arise. This approach will encourage them to support each other through complex tasks.
Perhaps the most elusive knowledge to manage and share, tacit knowledge is gained only through personal experience. It is often very personal and even cultural, so it can be tricky to explain in a straightforward, objective way and can resist being put into words.
A lot of the interpersonal aspects of customer service and sales, for instance, cannot be shared. Instead, much of the tacit knowledge involved in building the strong customer relationships needed to succeed in these positions comes from encountering such interactions many times and picking up on the behavioral habits that work best through observation and experience.
Knowledge Management Process
Knowledge management aims to create a coherent and consistent structure for handling information within an organization. Here are the steps involved in implementing that strategy:
1. Knowledge Collection
Gathering data is the first step in knowledge management. Often, it involves mining external and internal databases to gain a thorough grasp of what processes require documentation. Interviewing employees about the resources and knowledge they rely on day-to-day is also an excellent place to start.
The best knowledge managers know how to thoroughly hunt down all the institutional knowledge their team needs to succeed.
2. Knowledge Organization
Beyond the process of harvesting information, data collection also involves developing a storage platform such as a corporate wiki to access and sort the data. Confluence and Notion are two well-known examples. Having a robust infrastructure for your content is critical for shared institutional knowledge.
3. Training and Practice
Once you have your systems in place and your documentation thoughtfully applied, then it’s time to put those systems into action.
Learning should be an ongoing process consisting of many fast cycles rather than a one-and-done situation ending after employee onboarding is complete. Repeated, hands-on practice of workplace skills is the best way to transform standard operating procedures into productive habits.
Agile Learning software like Learn to Win helps organizations incorporate fast, hands-on learning cycles into their training. By making training cycles focused, fast, and easy, organizations can get better, faster.
Continuous learning improves employee job satisfaction and makes your team more confident in their job duties. This can reduce stress and increase employee retention.
4. Assessment and Feedback
Even the best collected and organized data is useless without successful application to team operations and ongoing implementation. After developing an information-sharing infrastructure, determine how best to integrate it into your team’s day-to-day operations and be proactive in addressing feedback from your team.
Knowledge Management Tools
While managing institutional knowledge may sound like a daunting process, powerful yet user-friendly technologies can simplify the process.
Provide an online space for team members to store critical documents. By doing so, you’ll facilitate building a valuable arsenal of institutional knowledge.
Define communication mediums and cultural norms. Since knowledge management is enhanced through collaboration with team members and access to direct feedback, clarify how and when employees should use knowledge management systems.
Studies have shown that team-specific operational knowledge – also known as Last Mile Learning – is 6x more valuable than generic training content. However, organizations often struggle to capture and share this team-specific knowledge. The most valuable institutional knowledge often lives in chat threads, one-off emails, and in your top performers’ heads.
Training Software like Learn to Win can make a huge difference when it comes to capturing and sharing the team-specific knowledge that drives team performance. The most effective training software follows three key steps:
- Capture the knowledge specific to YOUR team: the explicit and implicit Last Mile Knowledge that matters for performance.
- Identify knowledge gaps in your organization so that you can focus training energy where it matters. A targeted micro assessment is usually the best way to start.
- Drill to help your team build mastery. Gamification and microlearning are powerful tools to make learning focused, fast, and easy for your team.
See how Learn to Win can help YOUR team Get Better, Faster
Knowledge Management Basic Practices
Keep It Interactive
While there might be times when simply sharing a document provides the required knowledge, passive knowledge management rarely maximizes comprehension.
Instead, have your team learn through various types of engaging practice, shared communication, direct feedback, testing, and other such types of interaction.
Direct engagement with the knowledge-sharing process will help engrain lessons so that they can become tacit and implicit, as well as explicit. For example, after teaching a new skill, follow up with a short quiz or practice roleplay so learners can apply the new knowledge they’ve acquired.
Change It Up
Not every knowledge management process will be successful right off the bat. Nor will all knowledge management best practices stay the same over time.
As the needs of your team members change, mix up their learning and informational tools to match their ongoing development. Changing your tactics in response to team growth will show them that you are responsive to their needs and have their future success in mind, too.
Regularly changing your training regimen will also prevent detrimental workplace burnout amongst your team!
Strategies to Make Knowledge Management More Effective
Not every professional has the luxury of pausing operations to participate in training and testing sessions. More often than not, training needs to happen on the fly.
Most industries demand quick learning with little to no period of formal, dedicated instruction subsequent to onboarding. Training platforms must reflect the need for rapid and flexible operations and implementation. For example, a new sales rep typically needs to complete their training while concurrently working with real customers.
Even if a worker has been with an organization for years, there’s still more learning that can happen on the job. A mobile learning platform like Learn to Win means that every worker — no matter how fast-paced and demanding their industry — has the resources to upskill what they need — when they need it.
Another benefit of gearing your knowledge management towards mobility facilitating training on multiple devices like smartphones and tablets dovetails with the recent seismic shift towards hybrid and remote work.
When it comes to training, there is no one-size-fits-all platform solution. What might work for an office of sales reps in one region might have little in common with their counterparts across the country.
Sales training consultants might know a lot about theoretical frameworks or negotiation strategies, but they’re less aware of company-specific nuances.
Why, then, should a generic, off-the-shelf training solution be expected to meet the needs of many diverse organizations?
Platforms that are fully customizable from workplace to workplace have a huge advantage in producing training programs specifically tailored to an organization.
Being able to customize training programs to the unique needs of a team at the moment in an easy-to-use platform will most effectively help workers succeed.
Managers need to be able to evolve their training over time. With progressive alterations, managers must continuously workshop training programs to ensure they’re meeting learners’ needs.
Even within an organization, meeting each learner’s individual needs is challenging. Particularly when they have diverse backgrounds and experience levels, what works for one employee might not work well for another.
Tracking and responding to learner trends is the most efficient way to ensure your training is effective and accessible for the majority.
A platform like Learn to Win that can provide detailed feedback and analytics will help inform you of knowledge gaps and facilitate regular updates.
Whether you lead a team of sales reps, maintenance inspectors, or professional athletes, fluency in knowledge management will improve your team’s performance on the job.
Learn to Win’s collaborative, highly interactive training and information-sharing services stimulate the flow and management of knowledge. Our services are just as useful for the sales reps as they are for the ballplayers, thanks to the easy-to-use customizability of our platforms.
If you’re still unsure whether or not Learn to Win is the best choice for you and your team, then fill out a quick online form to schedule a demo.