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The 7 immutable laws of knowledge management

1. Inject knowledge into workflows

What good is knowledge if it can’t be reached in the midst of work? The reason why productivity is stifled is for one of 2 reasons:

  • You have been interrupted by something or someone
  • You do not have the knowledge or tools to continue along a productive path

Assuming you haven’t been interrupted, chances are that you have been blocked by a lack of information. So in order to get back on track, you need the pertinent information available to you, immediately, so that you can proceed along the same workflow. This is why the proximity of knowledge to workflows is absolutely vital; because it reduces the likelihood of shifting context one or more degrees of separation from results.

Consider the places where work commonly happens (for knowledge workers, of course). Most frequently, that is on a computer using a browser (more so today due to the ubiquity of cloud-based software), and now commonly, in a communication platform like Slack. The easier it is for a knowledge worker to access the information that they need from these channels with minimal disruption, the better.

2. Establish a single source of truth

A single source of truth is the trusted gateway through which knowledge is consumed, created, codified and shared (sorry, no fourth “c”). Frequently, companies that have them, knowledge repositories or silos are considered the organizational single source of truth. This might be a dedicated knowledge base software, such as an internal wiki (like Confluence), but it could be another repository that isn’t a full-featured KM tool like Google Drive or Dropbox.

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If your organization is large, you might have different sources of truth for each different applications. For example your Customer Success team’s knowledge might be powered by Zendesk, but your engineering team may never have any use for that content, and instead rely on another silo like Confluence. This multi-silo situation may challenge the unification of the organizational single source of truth. If this is the case for your organization, you should seek solutions that add a universal search layer (sometimes called “federated search”) to your single source or truth to consolidate access to all organizational knowledge and reduce confusion as to where the required knowledge resides.

3. Don’t rely on memory

If you need to remember who created it… or, if you need know when it was created… or, if you don’t know where it is stored… or, if you’re not sure who to ask… you’re risking ending up in the wrong spot.

Your memory is not your ally in the realm of knowledge management. Its best to simply depend on the channels that deliver knowledge for consumption. That said, there is a difference between what is known as tacit and explicit knowledge.

Explicit knowledge can be recorded and structured into an organizational knowledge asset with a KM tool. Others can find it, reuse it, and collaborate on the knowledge. This is ideal for situations when your memory can’t be completely trusted. Tacit knowledge is the information and knowledge you keep in your head, and you can spew at will. It’s what we know that we don’t know.

4. Build trust through engagement

The most important way to build trust and increase faith in a knowledge management strategy is to keep employees engaged in the process of codifying knowledge. That sounds theoretical, but here are a few ways to apply it:

  • Make codification a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)
  • Communicate knowledge validation
  • Explore gamification or leaderboards to increase competition
  • Employ social strategies (liking, sharing, etc)

With ongoing engagement, knowledge will become more familiar to employees and increase the feeling of belonging in their workflow. Trust is the basis for long-term relationships, both in life and in work. If your employees have trust in the systems that provide them support, they will continue to consume and contribute to the organizational knowledge for years to come.

5. Contribute, don’t just consume

Everyone has something to contribute to a centralized pool of knowledge. Knowledge is rarely static, it changes periodically to adjust to new realities, whatever they may be.

Contributions don’t have to be in the form of text, photos or videos. You can help increase trust by contributing upvotes/downvotes. These confirmations of knowledge quality will improve the broader group’s experience with the knowledge base. You can also identify knowledge gaps and create requests to have them filled. This form of contribution is highly valuable, especially in situations where the team might have a frequently asked question that causes recurring losses in productivity.

6. Embrace technology

Using technology to enhance or streamline existing knowledge based workflows is an important strategy to implement. Keep a finger on the pulse of the modern workflows and technology that integrates with that. For example, if questions are being asked in Slack, shouldn’t you find a knowledge management solution that integrates with that platform? There are ways to avoid overhauling your existing tech stack, at great expense, for the promise of greener pastures. Instead seek out ways to add layers that integrate with knowledge and improve what you already have. For example, if Confluence is a great wiki solution, but it’s search functionality is poor, find a tool that provides a better search tool that integrates with it to extend its limited features.

7. Ingrain documentation in your culture

A documentation-first culture has numerous benefits, but the most important one is autonomy of work. When employees know how to self-serve support, they can stay focused and in productive workflows for more time each day. Not surprisingly, this cultural aspect should be communicated and practiced during onboarding, encouraging not only search and access but capture and codification of knowledge too. Earning buy-in org wide can accelerate productivity to peak levels.