In the era of exponential change we’re living through, no company has time to re-learn the things they once knew.
In fact, if you look at most businesses, they just about have time to learn the things they need to know today to keep up with the pace of change.
The problem is that so many companies are losing valuable knowledge every single day! And that’s no exaggeration.
Skills head out the door as people leave, collective wisdom is chipped away at by poor information management, absolute gold gets lost in the flow of conversation – there are countless reasons this happens.
But in a nutshell, it can be summed up by a bucket full of holes – some big, some small – that allow knowledge and skills to seep through the cracks. Over time, this makes it more challenging to remain competitive and relevant as the world changes around you.
Why? Because our goal is to build on our collective knowledge and skills, using that as a platform for success. But if we keep losing them, our foundation for building the new skills and knowledge we need crumbles away…
Sharing knowledge and going through compound learning together helps plug those holes in our leaky bucket. But before we get to how you can close them off completely, we have to understand how and why they open up.
How companies lose knowledge without knowing it (short and long term)
Let’s continue our leak theme and pretend we’re in an inflatable boat. A small hole appears in one side, and water trickles in, we either don’t spot it or tell ourselves that the small pool must have splashed in from the side – which prevents us from confronting the idea that we might have a bigger problem on our hands. That could happen multiple times before we decide to face the truth.
We’ve then got the bigger issue of a gaping hole appearing, and suddenly we’re in a lot of trouble. The damage is done! We might chuck buckets full over the edge, but that’s just a short-term fix – the big problem of plugging that hole remains.
The same is true when it comes to a company’s knowledge! It’s lost in small amounts that we don’t notice or choose to ignore because alone, they’re not much of a threat, while in reality, they add up to a big problem. Or the only person who possesses the skill and knowledge needed for a business challenge leaves for pastures new and opens up a gaping hole in our collective wisdom.
The everyday: Knowledge that’s lost in the flow of conversation
Think about the apps you use every day, chances are a messaging tool like Slack or Teams is on the list. We’re working remotely from colleagues, we need a way to communicate quickly, and they fit the bill.
The dilemma lot of companies face is that countless nuggets of information and wisdom are shared through these channels every day and lost in the flow of conversation. Here are a few Slack statistics that give us context around the scale of the issue.
- More than 10 million people use Slack every day across over 600,000 global organisations. (TechJury).
- The average user signs in for 9 hours each day, and that helps Slack surpass one billion usage minutes every week (TechJury).
- The average user sends 200 messages per week, but power users can send up to 1,000 messages per day (Web Tribunal).
That’s a lot of people, sending a lot of messages, every single day! But how much of it are you capturing?
This is one of the easiest ways for holes to appear in your knowledge bucket. Pearls of wisdom are probably sent every single day, we fail to capture them, and the same questions get asked time and again. It’s a massive waste of time and loss of knowledge!
Experts who’ve answered questions before have to do it again, and people waiting for answers are at the mercy of how quickly they can reply and how willing they are to go into detail when it’s the 15th time they’ve replied about the same issue.
The longer term: Knowledge that’s lost the day people leave your business
Like a dripping tap, we can ignore those small leaks for a while, but it’s impossible to ignore a crashing wave of knowledge that’s lost at once.
Unfortunately, that’s what happens when internal experts leave companies with all their knowledge locked away in their heads. It’s not saved anywhere, it’s not been shared with colleagues, nobody has been tapping into their wisdom and then it’s gone…
Sadly, it’s a tale as old as time, and yet it’s ironic that the solution is to move away from time as the trigger for tackling this. Too many companies wait until someone’s notice period begins before they mine all this great knowledge. But if Sharon from our sales team has worked here for four years, four weeks is hardly enough time to capture all the relevant, on-the-job knowledge she built over the past 48 months.
How to plug your holes and build a knowledge-sharing culture
Create a more collaborative culture
The more we’re collaborating through work projects and learning experiences, the more likely it is that we’ll share knowledge and tap into subject matter experts. A great example would be a leading sales rep working with your latest batch of new starters on their elevator pitches.
Your skilled deal closer has a wealth of experience and relevant guidance to share with those fresh faces. And those new sales reps can work together to share feedback on their pitches and the process to foster that sense of collaboration.
In both instances, knowledge is shared in the right context and at the right moment for it to have a tangible impact.
Provide tools to capture and share knowledge in the flow of work
Now, it’s not always going to be as formal as this! Once the pitch is built out, a rep might test the water, realise they’ve left too much unexplained and get bombarded with prospect questions. As they’re new to the role, it’s fair to assume they can’t answer all of them.
So, they turn to Slack and their SME. Thankfully, they get some great advice in the response and realise it’s probably going to be useful for current colleagues and future joiners.
This is where L&D teams can step in! If you’re providing frictionless ways to capture those responses and share them with others, you’re encouraging knowledge sharing as a behaviour and value.
At HowNow, we integrate with Slack and Teams so that your people can search for, save and surface resources in a matter of clicks, where they already work!
Empower subject matter experts to create content with structure and guidelines
We’ve ticked off capturing knowledge reactively, but if you’re going to get all that good stuff from your knowledgeable employees, you’ll have to be proactive too!
On paper, it’s simple: Identify who your subject matter experts are, give them the tools to lay out their knowledge and make that available to others.
But there’s more to it. Firstly, how are you going to find those SMEs? A good starting point is with data. If it’s the customer support team, see which reps have the highest customer satisfaction score. Or maybe you’re looking for the most efficient team member, so you might need to look at response times.
But data is only half the story. You should be listening to and observing your team for knowledge sharing behaviour. Perhaps one colleague constantly shares great advice with their peers in a Slack channel. Maybe employees are flagging a wise, supportive teammate in their feedback to managers.
You’ve also got the challenge of capturing it. Yes, we want people to share their wisdom in ways that feel natural to them. No, we don’t want an inconsistent library of resources that feel disconnected and miles apart from each other.
Let’s say one colleague naturally creates content that simply tackles one issue at a time and makes life easier for others. You might find someone else who takes more of a brain dump approach and builds out a very long-form resource covering every aspect of an issue in detail.
That’s not to say one is necessarily right or wrong, but it’ll depend on the challenges at hand and what feels like a fit to your company culture. The point is that, left to their own devices, SMEs won’t create resources that follow the same structure – your role is to provide guidelines, tips and templates to drive consistency.
Bring everything to one place
An often-overlooked part of this conversation is the need to bring all your resources to one single place. Why? Because if people can’t find shared resources and knowledge, they’ll revert right back to asking a repeat question.
And it’s a far bigger issue than you might realise:
- 55% of employees named finding and sharing organisational knowledge as a challenge.
- 57% also flagged locating specific files and people with specific expertise as a difficulty.
This also prevents people from finding information at their point of need, where they’re most motivated to learn, more able to apply what they’ve learnt and where it can have the greatest impact!
HowNow integrates with your shared drives, course libraries and the tools you use every day, bringing the things you’ve created there to the end of a single search. One that also surfaces relevant content you’ve created and we’ve curated in the platform.
Book a demo today and we’ll you exactly how it all works
Read our guide to Knowledge Sharing In A Fast-Changing World: Tapping Into Your Untapped Wisdom
A shameless plug, but we’ve the written the knowledge sharing guide that gives you the full story! From overcoming the typical barriers to lessons learnt from forward-thinking companies and tips for doing it when your company’s growing fast: