According to TISA’s State of Knowledge Management report, 43% of managers believe they could improve employee productivity by 30% or more if their organizations were sharing knowledge more effectively.
Knowledge management systems boost productivity by giving employees access to processes, solutions, best practices etc. so that they’re not constantly reinventing the wheel. Additionally, they limit the loss of information that occurs when people leave your organization.
How great of a productivity boost your team can achieve from these initiatives depends on your ability to create a knowledge-sharing system that is easy to use and frequently leveraged by employees.
This guide will teach you how to do that by diving into:
- How to design your system so that it’s easy to find answers
- Systematically document your team’s knowledge
- Continuously encourage your employees to leverage resources
By the end, you’ll have a framework for how to create an effective knowledge management system.
Design Your System So that It’s Easy to Find Answers
To get employees to leverage your company’s shared knowledge, your system must be extremely easy to use. Otherwise, they’ll either give up on trying to use it or waste more time looking for answers than they would have coming up with a solution on their own.
Here are five ways to design your system so that it’s easy to navigate:
- Choose a wiki-based system such as Confluence or Slab. This makes it super easy for your employees to create and update pages as they learn new information. People can also opt-in to receive notifications when pages they’re interested in are updated.
- Create sections for every team. Keeping team wikis separate limits the potential for employees to access information that they shouldn’t see and allows them to browse relevant information when they’re seeking inspiration or are otherwise uncertain of exactly what they’re looking for.
- Write titles that state exactly what the page is about. People should be able to read the page title and immediately know what they’re going to learn from it. Here are some examples of great page titles: “How to file expense reports,” “Best practices for creating product design timelines,” and “Outbound sales email templates.”
- Create a system for tagging/labeling every page. Tags make it easier to specific types of information. For them to be useful, you need to create a limited set of tags and have definitions for each. Having a consistent method of using them helps organize your content around different topics and types of content.
- Link to other pages on the same topic. If someone is learning about a topic for the first time or is struggling with a complex issue, they may not learn enough from a single page to fully answer their questions. Linking to other pages on the same and/or similar topics lets employees quickly access the resources they need without having to spend additional time searching for them
In addition to these tips, get your employees feedback on how to organize it for your organization as a whole and within each team’s section.
Systematically Document Your Team’s Knowledge
The success of your knowledge management system depends on your team’s ability to easily understand and leverage the information in it. To ensure that happens, you need to have guidelines about how content should be created and updated.
Here are some tips for successfully capturing your team’s knowledge:
- Double-check that all steps are included. Once people have mastered a process, it’s natural for them to focus on the big pieces and forget about all the small steps in between. However, the small steps are key for people who are just learning a process. Have contributors double-check that they’ve included everything by following their processes exactly as they’re written. If it doesn’t work, they need to add more detail.
- Use short paragraphs and lots of bullet points. If your documentation looks like a textbook, no one is going to read it. Instead, instruct all your contributors to use subheadings and short paragraphs so that it’s easy for people to skim and find the information they’re looking for.
- Use pictures and videos whenever possible. A lot of processes are difficult to understand just by reading. By having internal experts create videos, screenshares, and photos of how they complete tasks, it makes it much faster for other employees to learn how to do it.
- Define all jargon that a new hire may not understand. Your knowledge management system is your greatest asset for quickly getting new employees up-to-speed. To prevent confusion, you need to define anything that’s not common knowledge outside of your industry. If you want to prevent pages from being cluttered with definitions, link to a glossary page.
- Limit the scope of each page to a single process, solution, or set of best practices. This makes it easier for employees to find answers to the exact issues they’re facing and prevents pages from becoming overwhelming.
- Review and update every page of your wiki every six months. For your wiki to remain relevant, it must be kept up-to-date. Some pages like company best practices may only need slight updates, however others, such as how to use certain tools, may need significant changes twice a year. To ease the workload of this task, spread out the responsibility among your employees by assigning each person a couple of pages on topics they are knowledgeable about.
Document all of these best practices (plus any other preferences) in a wiki page that teaches employees how to create effective contributions.
Continuously Encourage Your Employees to Leverage Resources
Aside from having bad and/or difficult to navigate content, the biggest reason knowledge management systems fail is that employees don’t leverage the resources. Often, this is because employees either forget it exists or just don’t grasp the value that it has to offer.
To combat those mindsets, you need to continuously engage your team in conversations about they can use and contribute to your wiki. Here are three ways to do that:
1) Incorporate your knowledge management system into employee on-boarding.
One of the easiest ways to get your employees to see your system as a valuable tool is to make it a significant part of your on-boarding process. Doing this gets them in the habit of using your wiki. Plus, your wiki is a great place to store information that new hires will need to reference throughout their first couple of months.
Here are some pieces of information you should include in the on-boarding section of your wiki:
- Employee handbook
- Training resources for specific job roles
- Guide for how navigate your system
- Checklists of tasks they should complete during their first month on the job
- Guides to using all of your organization’s tools
These wiki pages give you new hires a strong foundation of knowledge about working for your company and leveraging your resources.
2) Chat about it in your one-on-ones.
To keep your knowledge management system top-of-mind, chat about it during your one-on-ones. The two times that are best to bring it up are:
- When they come to you with a problem. Instead of trying to quickly explain how to fix it, send them links to wiki pages that answer their questions in much greater depth than you can during a short one-on-one. This helps them get better information and ensures you have time to cover everything on your one-on-one agenda.
- When they learn how to solve new problems, adopt new knows, excel at something etc. Encourage them to use their knowledge to update existing wiki pages and/or create new ones. As your employees hone their skills, have them take ownership of the sections of the wiki they’re experts in.
After these conversations, follow-up with your employees about their interactions with the wiki to make sure that the content is helpful - both the content you referred them to and pages they create/update.
Chatting about the wiki in your on-going conversations with employees ensures that leveraging and improving your knowledge resources is a key part of your team’s day-to-day activities.
3) Reward employees for making contributions
The State of Knowledge Management report found that one of the biggest obstacles is employees being unwilling to share their knowledge due to fears of their peers becoming more successful than them. To combat this, you need to create a culture that rewards helpfulness and transparency. Here are some ways to that:
- Publicly praise employees when they contribute to your knowledge-sharing platform. This reinforces that, to excel in your company, they need to be collaborative.
- Make the quality of contributions a KPI to incentivize employees to make valuable additions to your wiki.
- Emphasize team performance even among employees who spend most of their time working independently. Individual contributors are often the hardest people to convince to adopt wiki systems and this is an effective way of making them see the importance of supporting your company’s success as opposed to just their own.
Continuously emphasizing the benefits of your knowledge resources creates a culture where your team is leveraging the shared knowledge and working more productively as a result.
3 Keys to a Successful Knowledge Management System
As you create or improve your knowledge management system, remember these three keys to success:
- Design a system that is easy to navigate so that employees can quickly find the information they’re looking for.
- Create and implement guidelines that enable contributors to produce content that is easy to understand and highly relevant.
- Continuously engage in conversations about your system to encourage your team to leverage and contribute to it.
If you follow these three steps successfully, you’ll have a knowledge management system that boosts your team’s productivity.
About the author: Emily formerly led Prialto's content production and distribution team with a special passion for helping people realize success. Her work and collaborations have appeared in Entrepreneur, Inc. and the Observer among others.