“Knowledge management” kind of sounds like some abstract concept — how are we supposed to actually "manage" something like knowledge?
But forward-thinking companies understand that knowledge is a key differentiator in business. In fact, the global knowledge management market is expected to reach $1.1 trillion by 2026.
So what is knowledge management?
Knowledge management is the practice of creating, documenting, organizing and sharing your company’s collective intelligence — that is, the knowledge that comes into your organization through your employees, customers, business partners and other subject matter experts (SMEs).
If your organization isn’t already making an effort to harness the knowledge that lives within its teams, it’s time to start: Productivity loss created by inefficient knowledge-sharing costs companies millions of dollars per year.
So how do we put this idea into practice?
Understanding knowledge management
A knowledge management framework is meant to give everyone on your team access to the same institutional knowledge, from your least-experienced employees to your most senior team members. That way, everyone is empowered to work efficiently and autonomously.
A knowledge management system includes any type of information your team members need to do their jobs, like:
- Onboarding & training materials.
- Standards of practice (SOPs) and other process documentation.
- Product FAQs.
- Brand information and templates.
- Competitive analyses.
- Org charts and company updates.
With a knowledge management strategy, organizations can:
- Increase productivity. Employees can make decisions and execute business processes faster when information is easy to access.
- Standardize processes. Best practices are applied uniformly, which increases organizational efficiency and ensures consistency.
- Improve employee satisfaction. Workers can self-serve information, which can eliminate roadblocks and reduce frustration.
- Prevent knowledge loss. Documenting internal processes ensures that institutional knowledge stays within the company even when tenured employees leave.
- Boost collaboration. Expertise is documented for asynchronous teamwork, and employees know which co-workers to approach for answers.
Knowledge management enables companies to create an environment in which information flows freely and employees can do their best work without interruption.
Implementing a knowledge management system
Knowledge management (or KM) is an ongoing process that requires input from across an entire organization. It has three main steps:
Step 1: Acquire & document knowledge
The first step in the knowledge management process is to gather information that is relevant to your business (e.g., customers, competitors, industry, internal operations) and document it.
There are three types of organizational knowledge:
- Explicit knowledge: knowledge that can easily be captured and documented, such as standard operating procedures or onboarding processes.
- Tacit knowledge: intuitive or experience-based knowledge that’s difficult to explain. This is often described as “know-how.”
- Embedded knowledge: routines, processes, and structures that have become “embedded” in a work environment through practice.
Documenting tacit and embedded knowledge can be challenging — not only is it hard to explain, but employees often don’t recognize it as unique knowledge that needs to be shared.
Step 2: Preserve & distribute information
Store documents in a central location — such as a company wiki or knowledge base — so anyone on the team can access the information they need rather than disrupting their co-workers to ask for it.
Be sure to also inform the relevant teams when new knowledge is added to the knowledge base — people can’t use information that they don’t know exists.
Step 3: Use & optimize shared information
As employees retrieve and apply information from the knowledge base over time, they might find shortcuts or establish new best practices that the knowledge base articles should be updated to reflect.
Conversely, information that isn’t frequently accessed can become outdated and be of little use to people who search for it. For both of these reasons, it’s important to regularly revisit documents in the knowledge base to ensure they’re still relevant.
Some organizations have a knowledge manager who handles this process, but maintaining a useful, up-to-date knowledge base, as they say, takes a village.
Creating a knowledge-sharing culture
Just putting a knowledge management system in place does not guarantee that employees will use it. Leadership needs to “walk the walk” to get organizational buy-in and maximize the impact of their knowledge management efforts.
Incentivize knowledge creation: Reward team members who share their expertise with shout-outs, gift cards — even promotions. Unfortunately, some people believe that hoarding knowledge makes them indispensable. Show your subject-matter experts that sharing what they know makes them more valuable, not less.
Facilitate knowledge sharing: Provide employees with knowledge-management software that makes it easy for people to both share and find information. Give veteran employees time to mentor their teammates and invest in documenting their best practices.
Advocate for your knowledge base: Repeatedly interrupting colleagues to get answers becomes a distraction and hinders the productivity of the group, so encourage your team members to check the knowledge base before asking a co-worker. Of course, new hires will ask lots of questions at first, but using the knowledge base to find the information they need will increase their confidence and get them up to speed faster.
These three strategies will promote curiosity and team cohesion while raising your organization’s collective intelligence.
Transforming knowledge management with technology
The ability to self-service information is critical as remote work becomes the norm and more workers spend their time physically isolated from their teammates. Fortunately, advances in technology are ushering in new knowledge management trends that make the process simpler and more efficient.
For example, knowledge-sharing tools like Scribe and Loom enable workers to share know-how quickly and easily. With Loom, users can record their screen and themselves simultaneously to create shareable video walkthroughs.
Scribe revolutionizes this process by using AI to auto-generate step-by-step guides — complete with text and annotated screenshots.
Here's how it works.
Easily create, edit, store and share team knowledge for any digital process. Build a robust knowledge base within the platform, or embed in any of your favorite tools.
And with Scribe Pages, you can combine Scribes with images, video and more in visual process docs, templates, training manuals... and whatever other longform documentation you can think of. Check out the Scribe Gallery to grab ready-to use knowledge management docs and templates.
On top of creating a knowledge management program, Scribe also supports day-to-day knowledge-sharing. Users can create and share one-off guides for teammates and clients via link, email or pdf export (or embed their Scribes in the company knowledge base or FAQ page).
Another trending way to leverage AI to improve the speed and accuracy with which information is gathered, understood and shared.
For example, Microsoft is using AI to automatically extract and organize important information into shared topics, creating knowledge networks that are accessible across their teams and systems. Philips’ knowledge management site uses AI to connect engineers working on similar projects so they can avoid duplicating efforts and collaborate upfront to get their solutions to market faster.
Uncovering opportunities with knowledge management
Effective knowledge management isn’t just about capturing and sharing information — it’s about giving people access to the expertise and ideas of their colleagues to improve decision-making and uncover new opportunities. With the company’s collective knowledge at their fingertips, your employees can stop searching for information and get straight to innovation.