Imagine this: Your business is doing well, quarterly reports look promising, analytics show high engagement and you’ve got a talented manager at the helm of it all.
But just as things pick up the pace, two high-performing employees hand in their resignation. All of that time, effort and money you spent on training them goes in vain and you’re back to square one.
Here’s where institutional knowledge comes to the rescue. To ensure everything runs smoothly, you need to codify the knowledge and experiences of your top talent. This prevents information silos — a concentration of information in one place — from holding back your progress.
With the Great Resignation, employee churn rates are at an all-time high. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of people quitting their job stands at a whopping 4.4 million. To make matters worse, organizations need to spend 1.5-2x the employee’s salary to find a replacement.
Sharing institutional knowledge saves costs, streamlines employee training and helps organizations zero in on areas of operational improvement. If you’re new to the concept, we’re here to break it down for you, as well as discuss a few tips and best practices to get the ball rolling.
What is institutional knowledge & why is it important?
Institutional knowledge refers to the experiences, knowledge, policies and workflows developed by an organization or employee over time. In a nutshell, it details how organizations operate. Since a single employee generally develops this knowledge, organizations must capture and share it with other team members.
For example, say you’ve been in the marketing department of a company for years and produced great campaign results every quarter. Over time, you would have developed several best practices and workflows to make your job easier. It could relate to project management on tools like Notion or research tips for whipping up a content calendar without much back and forth.
When you leave the company, this wealth of information goes with you. New employees will have to start over, right from scratch. Organizations can find ways to safeguard institutional knowledge to prevent this from happening. Here’s how it helps.
Preserve & pass on expertise
An institutional knowledge strategy can save your business a lot of money over time. It does this by capturing and transferring essential knowledge that can streamline organizational processes and policies.
Rather than having your employees reinvent the wheel with each new project they take, you can record expert-level lessons, best practices and step-by-step guidelines (Scribe can help!). This eliminates training redundancy and empowers every employee — not just the most experienced ones.
Enhance products & services with consistent brand values
Brand consistency is the key to boosting credibility and retaining customers. By defining standard operating procedures through institutional knowledge, you can ensure all your customers get the same quality of service.
Keep up & enhance organizational performance
Think of your long-term employees as the head chef in a restaurant. They know the ins and outs of the menu, the “usual” orders of each customer and where to get the best quality ingredients.
What happens when the chef leaves?
The whole kitchen falls into disarray. The new head chef is still in training, so junior chefs have to shoulder all the responsibility. But with so many knowledge gaps, this can quickly devolve into chaos.
Most institutional knowledge lives in the heads of specific team members. Once they retire, the company loses years worth of experience and expertise. This leads to slower operations, with employees scrambling to find the nuts and bolts of every project they’re assigned.
How to document & socialize institutional knowledge
If you’re looking to enrich in-house resources and improve your bottom line, just having institutional knowledge doesn’t cut it. As Ron Ashkenas, Partner Emeritus at Schaffer Consulting, says:
“Organizations spend a lot of time and resources developing knowledge and capability. While some of it gets translated into procedures and policies, most of it resides in the heads, hands, and hearts of individual managers and functional experts.”
To prevent this, you need to document and distribute institutional knowledge, so all your employees are on the same page. These five pointers will guide you through the process.
1. Start documenting!
Most employees won't have the time or energy to document their many responsibilities. So, instead of asking them to shoulder the burden of documentation, use tools like Zoom to record project meetings and briefs. There’s a lot of scope for internal training with content assets like eBooks and webinars too, but these formats are slightly more time-consuming.
Scribe top tip: Auto-generate step-by-step guides complete with text and screenshots. Instead of spending hours on manual process documentation, use Scribe to capture any workflow.
Leveraging the knowledge of experienced staff helps you define effective workflows, enabling recruits to quickly catch on. To train your top talent, you’ll need to:
- Develop a plan: Don’t assume your employees will take the initiative to share information. They already have a lot on their plate. Instead, create a knowledge-sharing plan and ask everyone to stick to it.
- Identify the essentials: Zoom in on five or six key processes you want every employee to remember. Create guides for these. You can share them during onboarding, off-sites or leadership meetings to help everyone retain information and ensure consistency.
- Use the right tools: Apart from Scribe, there are a ton of tools that preserve institutional knowledge. For example, EdApp is an excellent solution for building e-learning content libraries.
“Team check-ins and meeting notes provide a historical record that can be tagged for certain focus areas or departments. We also use a well-organized Google Drive system for different departments to record processes and policies which pans out well if someone wants to cross-check or verify a piece of information.” — Josh Spilker, Director of Content at Range.co
Different teams within the organization might have different ways of performing a particular workflow. So, audit your documentation to ensure everything is up to date. Huddle with your department heads and iron out details of each business process listed in your knowledge bank. These documents will serve as a single source of truth that employees can verify or refer to while performing those operations. That way, you reduce the scope of mistakes and misalignment.
Make it a point to schedule a monthly knowledge training session so that colleagues can discuss and document their learnings.
Many companies have reconsidered their internal processes, documenting institutional knowledge through repeating employee feedback systems. Dropbox managed to save hours by adopting a searchable knowledge management system. The software allowed employees to access information and resources in seconds.
2. Host the documentation by managing access controls
Your internal knowledge is precious and exclusive. Make sure you’re giving the controls to the right people.
For example, if you’re hiring a video editor for a one-off assignment or a temporary account manager, giving them your fully-fledged documentation is not ideal. You want the right access controls in place to ensure everyone has the information they need without going overboard.
With Scribe, you can document and share workflows with team members and use a tool like Dropbox or an asset management software like Invgate Assets to create an internal wiki or knowledge base. These tools help senior management store, organize, segment and audit institutional knowledge. You should also give every permanent employee in your company access through their work email address. You can easily revoke it should they leave the company.
Additionally, organize and label your organization’s institutional knowledge to save time. That way, employees will know exactly where to look. While naming your content assets, don’t forget to add an underscore to separate two or three tags. Here’s an example:
For organizational purposes, add the recording date before the name of your file. If the tool has customizations (like color-coded labels), go crazy. Colors help you distinguish between multiple files.
Use two-factor authentication to verify employee ID and protect your institutional knowledge from hackers.
3. Implement knowledge-sharing strategies
Effective leaders reward and prioritize knowledge-sharing, encouraging employees to learn from each other. Without efficient knowledge-sharing strategies, well-established businesses risk losing a significant chunk of their profits — $47 million every year.
Social media is a great way to combine knowledge-sharing activities and documentation. You could create a Facebook group and add sub-groups for each department. Employees can use this to share information on their work and ask for help or feedback.
This encourages learning and interaction among colleagues. The best part? The conversations stay online forever. Recruits can scroll down or search for solutions if they run into roadblocks.
You can also implement mentorship programs. Identify experts and experienced staff who have a fair amount of institutional knowledge. Pair them with less-experienced hires and ask them to guide workflow and potential bottlenecks. This prevents delays and improves outcomes.
Don’t forget to make knowledge-sharing fun and engaging for employees. Trianz did a great job of this by conducting an annual, gamified event called Trianz Knowledge League (TKL) which encourages knowledge-sharing by forming a leaderboard, turning this otherwise monotonous activity into an exciting and rewarding one.
4. Encourage incentivized learning
Incentivize knowledge transfer with a reward system. Here, you can offer bonuses, paid leaves and gadgets to reward your employees for contributing to and learning from the institutional knowledge pool.
This prompts them to take the initiative to learn and share during knowledge training sessions. Keep these pointers in mind to create an incentive system that actually works:
- Make your incentives more visible by asking top management to participate in the presentation.
- Provide incentives for various performance levels; the all-or-nothing approach doesn’t work here.
- Incorporate knowledge-sharing into the appraisal process.
- Create leaderboards to track everyone’s progress.
To encourage experienced staff members to participate, publicly acknowledge their contribution to the knowledge base. You can do this through a post, e-mail or public announcement. Provide details on the type of content shared and how it helped the organization grow.
5. Involve institutional knowledge sharing in employee offboarding
Employee motivation to work often decreases during their notice period. So, they probably won’t be open to writing an extensive document on the nitty-gritty of their job. Contributing to the organization is easier when you have positive feelings towards it. Host a farewell party and give your departing employees send-off gifts to promote goodwill.
Apart from knowledge-sharing sessions, host team meetings where the leaving employee talks about critical business processes and how they handled specific problems. Selective documentation is essential here. Instead of recording all the information, ask existing employees to maintain learning logs where they jot down tips relevant to their work.
Facilitate regular Q&A sessions and ask new hires to shadow the expert. Emphasize the need to record the workflow of various tasks. You can then convert these recordings into guides.
Start leveraging your internal knowledge pool
Preserve institutional knowledge to improve productivity and maintain the processes you’ve built from day one. The best way to do this is through consistent documentation and storage.
Use the best practices in this article to create a knowledge-sharing game plan and streamline documentation. Your progress should (and can!) only ever go up.
Scribe can help you save time manually documenting and recording each procedure with auto-generated step-by-step guides. Create your first Scribe today!