Seventy-one percent of workers in the U.S. say that effective job training and learning opportunities increase job satisfaction. Close to half are willing to leave their current jobs for employers with higher quality pathways to knowledge.
What does this tell us about knowledge management?
It’s never been a bigger business priority.
But there are many moving parts to effective knowledge management — and it goes far beyond just creating documents that live in a static database or drive. If you want to create a culture of proactive and motivated employees, you need a framework that helps you anticipate and provide the resources your team needs to meet KPIs and performance goals.
This blog breaks down our five-step approach to building your knowledge management framework:
- Defining the strategy.
- Building a game plan.
- Creating content.
- Distributing knowledge.
- Maintaining quality
Why invest in a knowledge management framework?
A knowledge management framework defines your company’s standards and expectations for creating, sharing and retaining knowledge. It’s the foundation for all your knowledge-related processes, from how to document different types of procedures, distribution and keeping learning databases up-to-date.
Think of a knowledge management framework as a style guide for your brand’s learning and development efforts. It should communicate a clear sense of purpose, an understanding of your team and actionable examples and best practices to implement when knowledge is captured and shared.
A good framework leads to the following outcomes.
- Productivity: Forty-one percent of employees improve their time management skills when training programs are delivered effectively. Design your workplace documentation efforts to support your team’s KPIs and expected work ethic.
- Engagement: More burnout and digital distractions inevitably lead to shorter attention spans and lower engagement levels. When relaying information to your team, you can optimize delivery channels for the most interactive and user-friendly experiences to increase information retention and employee interest.
- Growth: Empower your employees with organized and actionable information so they can build skills and expertise faster. When teams are confident in their ability to do their job well, they’re more motivated to grow with your company and reach team goals.
- Culture: Knowledge management is a cross-functional effort that can directly impact your team morale and culture. When teams have the opportunity to learn and have their questions answered efficiently, it creates an environment where people feel respected and can be proactive.
What makes a successful knowledge management framework
Kevan Lee, Senior Vice President of Marketing at Oyster, says that:
“the chaotic results of content without rules makes the strongest case for the value of a style guide.”
He then lists three ways style guides help companies and content teams: creating the perception of quality, building consistency and settling disputes.
A knowledge management framework does the same thing for your learning, training and documentation. If every team member has their own distinct methods for conducting company-wide processes, you lose control over the quality of intended outcomes. You also lose the confidence of colleagues, customers and partners who expect excellent output ten times out of ten regardless of who on your team is helping them.
We’ll walk you through a step-by-step process for creating a framework for consistent knowledge management, from strategy alignment to forward-looking maintenance.
1. Creating a strategy
Your knowledge management framework starts with a strategy. Richard Rumel, a professor of strategy at UCLA and the author of “Good Strategy Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters,” identifies strategy as the result of three elements: a diagnosis, a guiding policy and coherent action.
Your diagnosis defines the challenge at hand.
It sets the tone for your planning efforts, giving team members a clear definition of what they should and shouldn’t do.
Let’s take Canva’s help center as an example. Beyond common operational questions related to billing, subscription settings and team management, Canva heavily emphasizes editing and designing instructions to empower new and experienced designers on their platform.
The guiding policy for this knowledge sharing is to not assume their audience’s design experience. Knowledge should motivate individuals who have never used a design platform before and be concise enough for experienced designers who only need to familiarize themselves with a new tool.
The corresponding action Canva put in place to empower self-service users (diagnosis) while making knowledge relevant for users of all design experience levels (guiding policy) was to establish their Design School in addition to a regular help center.
The Design School dives deeper into target use cases with courses for beginners, students, non-profits and more. It’s linked within the help center articles, giving readers a clear path to navigate depending on how much they want to learn.
💡Let’s get to work: Take a few minutes to think about the knowledge management project you’re tackling. What is your diagnosis, guiding policy and coherent action? Can you apply any ideas from Canva’s help center and Design School?
2. Establishing guidelines
With your strategy in place, you’re ready to list guidelines governing your team’s approach to sharing knowledge.
These guidelines detail the elements that support your strategy, like expertise to leverage, resources and motivational drivers for you and your team. These guidelines are unique to your organization’s desired business outcomes and team culture, but here are a few elements you can consider.
- Stakeholders: Who will your knowledge management efforts impact? Your stakeholders are the ones who have a say in the direction and execution of each process. This includes the audience you’ll be creating knowledge for, leaders and managers who influence business goals, and customers and partners who rely on your team’s productivity.
- Knowledge lifecycle: Knowledge management encompasses all stages of information-sharing within your organization, from creating documents to distributing them and keeping them up to date. Define your knowledge lifecycle for a more holistic framework that covers best practices for each stage.
- Accountability: Your framework should have clear oversight to ensure processes are running smoothly. Identify an individual or group to help monitor quality and measure progress at each stage of the knowledge lifecycle.
- Investments: If you want your team to invest in new processes, you must also make a few investments. One area to invest in is making knowledge management databases more user-friendly and well-integrated into everyday workflows. Find a knowledge management software that solves your most critical team bottlenecks while adhering to the guiding policies that empower your employees and how they work.
- Measuring success: Habits are easy to form but easy to forget. They’re also ever-changing, especially in fast-paced business environments. Set expectations for your team to have regular check-in points with stakeholders to identify specific results. Doing this also gives you concrete ROI to show stakeholders when you’re looking into increasing investments.
3. Creating knowledge
Now that you’ve identified what you need to prepare to put your plans into action, let’s jump into a core element of your framework — how you’ll create great content.
The knowledge you’re documenting and sharing must be relevant, action-driven and packaged into a format that’s engaging for your reader. Use the following questions to align the content you’re creating with your strategy:
- Who will read this document? Determine the tones of voice and writing styles most impactful for each department, job function or seniority level. Your documents should also be optimized for when you expect your audience to use them. For example, step-by-step walkthroughs that employees refer to while conducting a task have to be more concise and easy to digest than documents they can read on their own time.
- How does your team want to learn? It’s never been easier to optimize your knowledge for modern learners. If you look at Canva’s knowledge centers, you’ll notice how they prioritized giving readers the flexibility to learn in a way that’s easiest for them. You can view a quick and concise list of instructions in their help center or click a link and pop over to their Design School for visually striking animations and videos — which is helpful considering how 74 percent of workers describe themselves as visual or physical learners. Here’s how we would combine both methods into a single user-friendly guide:
- How are you making communication easier? Don’t just create content for big procedures directly tied to a KPI or business outcome. Think about what your team spends the most time on, which can often be minor tasks like navigating technology tools and relaying information to coworkers. Creating a robust library of knowledge doesn’t have to be time-consuming, especially if you have software to help you automate document creation and capture information quickly. The guide we embedded above saves team members several minutes of their time but only took 34 seconds to make!
4. Distributing knowledge
What is excellent knowledge management made up of? Fifty-five percent of organizations say it’s all about sharing knowledge. Without the right distribution efforts, the knowledge you create doesn’t get absorbed and retained. It’s safe to say that having weak distribution tactics for your knowledge documentation is just as poor as not having any documentation at all.
Habits strongly form after 40 to 50 repetitions. Build a distribution plan to help you naturally integrate these repetitions into your team’s day-to-day workflow. You can do this by:
- Creating an easy-to-navigate knowledge base with search capabilities and category management. You can use tools like Zendesk, Bloomfire or Guru.
- Using knowledge management software like Scribe, Notion or Confluence to easily integrate and share content via URL links to your technology stack, company wiki, and internal communication channels
- Create a cheat sheet with links to necessary documentation for each department or job function (have this document be a part of new-hire onboarding too!)
5. Maintaining quality
Instill habits and review systems that encourage teams to proactively organize and update knowledge. Set basic protocol for gathering feedback from employees regularly and systematically putting feedback into action. Having a point of accountability makes this much easier to execute. For example, you can create annual reviews of knowledge management databases and assign roles on your team for editing and approving documents. Here are a few other tips you can keep in mind.
- Use software that allows you instantly publish edits to source files, so you don’t have to manually update documents embedded across different locations.
- Include interactive quizzes and games as part of training processes to test knowledge comprehension.
- Set a few minutes in performance reviews to ask each employee how they’re utilizing internal knowledge and if it’s helping them conduct workplace processes better.
Create a framework before creating plans — there’s a difference!
A detailed knowledge management plan outlines a series of steps you and your team must take to achieve an outcome.
But a framework is the underlying structure that governs your organization’s approach to creating and sharing knowledge. It communicates intended values and habits without restricting teams from making their own decisions along the way.
As you take these tips back to the drawing table, create a framework so you can foster a culture of systematic knowledge creation, distribution and maintenance.
Instead of handing your team rigid plans, give them the freedom and trust to continuously share feedback, and improve on existing processes to best suit their learning and communication styles. That’s how you can ensure your knowledge constantly serves as a tool for empowerment, motivation and growth.