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Knowledge Management: Definition, Implementation, & Best Practices

on 19 November 2020


Posted by Craig Hyslop
knowledge management glasscubes

Today, data is the great differentiator. Companies that collect and make effective use of data tend to have a competitive edge over those that do not. It only makes sense then that further refined data—information and knowledge—unlock additional value for organisations.

The difference between these three terms is slight but often overlooked, so here’s a foundational breakdown:

  • Data is a quantitative or qualitative variable about one or more persons or objects.
  • Information is a set of data that is processed in a meaningful way to aid in comprehension.
  • Knowledge is information that has had experience and insight applied to help with understanding.

Moving from data to knowledge requires more effort and input, but you’re also able to generate greater value.

What is knowledge management?

The concept of knowledge management takes knowledge to the next logical step—adding structure and processes for the purpose of deriving organisational value from it. We can view knowledge management as a multi-disciplined approach to achieving company objectives by organising and applying knowledge in different business scenarios.

Effective knowledge management in organisations can help with skill transference between employees, improve processes, and increase efficiency.

“Organisational knowledge management also facilitates the decision-making process,” says Dan Kelly, founder and senior partner at The Negotiator Guru. “For example, we organise monthly, full-day forums to share best practices, and discuss successes and failures. Then we compile a report that we share with the entire organisation.”

D. Kelly says the result is people in all parts of the company avoid information overload and get the knowledge they need to make more informed decisions. “I believe that learning from experience builds knowledge that we can use to make our processes more efficient and streamline operations.”

Furthermore, regular knowledge coordination between company-wide experts enables leadership to create a more innovative environment. “The process of knowledge management allows leaders to recognise risks and opportunities early, and helps achieve the long-term vision for the company,” D. Kelly explains.

What is the purpose of a knowledge management system?

Technology is often used as an enabler for organisational processes and disciplines like task management and remote work. Knowledge management is no different. A knowledge management system provides an efficient, technology-powered way to collect, coordinate, and share knowledge across the organisation.

A typical use case for knowledge management systems is when a company has a lot of tribal knowledge—essential unwritten or unshared information that exists only in the minds of certain people. When employees with tribal knowledge leave, so does the knowledge. This may mean, for example, the company loses unique insights for producing proprietary equipment or software. Technology focused on capturing this knowledge ensures little to no disruption in processes or other business areas.

Knowledge Management Implementation

Incorporating knowledge management into your company is a process. Experts share their recommended steps below.

1. Establish goals.

Arnold Chapman, founder of ELD Focus, recommends setting goals for any knowledge management initiative you start within your company. “Having short- and long-term goals will ensure you have a specific destination in mind for your journey, and everyone involved will know the right steps to take to reach it.”

D. Kelly agrees, noting you should analyse and visualise your goals to ensure they’re realistic and achievable. He also calls out several questions you should reflect upon:

  • What do you want to accomplish by implementing knowledge management?
  • What knowledge will be captured and shared?
  • Who will be contributing knowledge?

2. Meet with organisational stakeholders.

“After outlining goals with your leadership team, set up meetings with team members at all levels,” says D. Kelly. Get their input and ideas on the strategy and execution of the process of knowledge management. “Don't be too proud to make changes to what you've already drafted if it helps to get everyone on board.”

Chapman agrees, noting that these meetings present great opportunities to identify additional goals (or modify the ones you have). “All your goals don’t necessarily have to come from the top. Ask your employees what they want from your initiative. Their input may help you formulate goals your management team didn’t consider,” Chapman explains.

3. Document key aspects of the process.

D. Kelly recommends clearly documenting the knowledge management process, including work instructions and procedures. It’s particularly important to take note of the needs of all functional areas to ensure knowledge management is adhered to consistently across the organisation. “Getting company-wide feedback and gathering current documentation will help you ensure your knowledge management goals are aligned with your company's vision and strategy.”

4. Prepare for culture shifts.

“Successful implementation of a new knowledge management program may require changes within the shared norms and values of the organisation,” says Oliver Andrews, owner of OA Design Services.

Fostering knowledge sharing across the organisation may be a challenge if your culture is not accustomed to a lot of transparency. This may require planning for a rolled-out approach to your initiative, including informational videos and real-time discussions.

5. Identify and fulfill technology needs.

No modern knowledge management initiative is complete without the right technology to support it. After you’ve done your preparation in the previous steps, search the market for a knowledge management system that addresses your needs and can help you reach your goals.

Want to implement knowledge management the right way, and ensure it lasts? Get Glasscubes, a knowledge management system that also fosters collaboration. Request a guided demo of Glasscubes today..

6. Monitor and revise your efforts.

Once you’ve started your knowledge management initiative, keep it going. Knowledge evolves over time, meaning it must continue to be captured and applied to continue generating value. “Make knowledge management an integral part of your company. Implement new approaches and integrate new tools on a regular basis,” Chapman advises.

Andrews adds that you should continually review and evolve your knowledge management roadmap based on changing economic conditions and internal needs. “You will undoubtedly gain additional insight through lessons learned that you can apply to future projects.”

7 Knowledge Management Best Practices

What does it take to keep your knowledge management efforts on track and producing value? The best practices below offer a great starting point.

1. Review current knowledge management processes.

“Before you go reinventing the wheel with your new knowledge management initiative, see what processes you already have in place,” says Ian Kelly, VP of operations at NuLeaf Naturals. You may not have to start from scratch if one or more functional areas have a process in place for capturing and assessing knowledge. “You may be able to expand upon those processes, or tweak them to suit your goals.”

For example, say you may have a maintenance team that’s already produced documentation for dealing with equipment that comes in for repair. If they also have a process in place for reviewing and updating their documentation, you may be able to tweak that process and roll it out to other areas of the business.

2. Create standard operating procedures.

Large companies typically have fully codified processes. However, small and mid-sized businesses may not have formal standard operating procedures (SOPs). Instead, their employees have tribal knowledge that enables them to “get the job done,” as the saying goes. As noted previously, this can be a problem when those employees leave.

That’s why Jacob Pinkham, CEO of In Smooth Waters, says it’s important to create SOPs to capture, for instance, the most efficient way to produce your company’s highest-selling product. “Our team creates an SOP for every key process. Sometimes they’re in the form of text, while other times we create video SOPs. Videos are great for teaching new employees, and text-based documents are useful for referencing. In either case, we save our SOPs in our shared drive so everyone has access.”

3. Develop case studies.

Scott Hasting, co-founder of Betworthy, says case studies offer a great way to share knowledge in context. A case study could cover any situation—how your team handled a finicky client, successful (and failed) ideas your team explored during a product brainstorming session, and so on. “The only drawback about case studies is the time it takes to produce them. But it’s a worthwhile tradeoff.”

Hasting’s team mainly uses case studies to assess and orient new employees. He says having new employees review case studies as part of the onboarding process gives him a way to gauge how they handle issues his team has faced before (and probably will again). “I can then determine how best to manage the rest of their onboarding experience, and get them quickly acclimated to the organisation.”

4. Use internal forums.

Employees have plenty of knowledge to share if you give them the ability to do so. This is where a knowledge management system shines—many come with a forum feature. You can set up management-approved forum topics for employees to discuss, such as those that directly align with your established goals. In addition, you can have employees create their own topics.

Hasting’s business tends to be project-based, so he’s set up his team’s internal forum in the same manner. “Our company works on numerous projects simultaneously, and we dedicate a forum thread to each project/sub-project. This way, we’re able to not only keep up with progress, but also maintain knowledge for future reference and lessons learned.”

5. Keep feedback channels open.

Knowledge can come from anyone inside (and outside) the organisation—it often stems from employee input, but customers can also be a source of knowledge. For example, Pinkham invites both his workforce and client base to weigh in on his business and the products it sells.

“We maintain a spreadsheet that has all the feedback we’ve collected internally and externally,” Pinkham explains. “At the end of every month, I review new feedback. Depending on what’s been shared, I may, for instance, greenlight a new project to update our website, improve one of our products, or tweak one of our businesses processes.”

6. Incentivise employees to share their knowledge.

Diane Gayeski, Ph.D, professor of strategic communications at Ithaca College, advises leaders not to assume employees will willingly contribute their knowledge just because a knowledge sharing tool is available. “There are actually several deterrents to sharing knowledge—it takes time, it distributes power, and it leaves employees open to criticism and even legal action.”

Thus, it’s important to curate a safe space for employees. They need to feel comfortable sharing their knowledge. Bonus points if they feel there’s something in it for them. For example, you may hold a contest for knowledge sharing where the employee who provides the most insightful point about a process wins a prize.

7. Put knowledge into practice.

Regularly collecting and evaluating knowledge is important, but at some point you must put the knowledge into play. I. Kelly says you should consider knowledge execution just as much as collection and evaluation:

“How can the knowledge you have available help improve processes, customer service, or some other key business area? The process of knowledge management is essential to organisational success, but you must use it for it to pay off.”

Easily establish knowledge management in your organisation with Glasscubes.

Glasscubes is a robust knowledge management system that ensures your entire organisation is kept in the loop about best practices, ideal process approaches, and other key insights.

Our solution gives teams like yours the ability to stay in the loop on the latest updates, and share what’s most important—all while keeping work moving efficiently. From task management to communication to file sharing, our platform helps you stay in touch and on top of things all in one place.

Use threaded discussions to keep conversations in context, whether discussions deal with client tasks or important project files. And speaking of files, share them to your heart’s content—with team members, your clients, your suppliers, and so on.

With Glasscubes, you can:

  • Store and share files in a secure location, complete with automatic version control. You can even create approval workflows and view clear audit trails of user actions.
  • Assign and manage tasks for different members of the team, and track them to completion.
  • Create customised workspaces for each project team in your portfolio. Team members can share resources and communicate with one another in their specific workspace, and you can access them all for easy oversight.

Capture and share knowledge across your organisation with Glasscubes. Request a guided demo of Glasscubes today.

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About this author: Craig Hyslop

Craig leads the Glasscubes Customer Success Department, and with over 30 years experience in the field, helping companies achieve maximum success with collaborative technology.