Ever heard someone say something truly groundbreaking and thought, I’ll write that down before I forget it – only to get distracted and watch the thought float away forever?
Now imagine that’s happening every day, multiple times, across a company full of thousands of people. It’s the critical threat most businesses don’t even realise is there! Knowledge is slipping through the cracks, and with it goes productivity, performance improvement and more effective ways of working.
Unfortunately, that’s just the tip of the iceberg! Not capturing and sharing knowledge brings a host of other challenges, including people’s ability to find the information they need. 57% of employees named finding and sharing organisational knowledge as a challenge, and when we’re spending two-thirds of our week working from home, that’s a big problem.
And if we’re not capturing wisdom from people who’ve built up years of on-the-job experience, we risk losing all that information when they leave the company. In the short-term, you’ll also end up asking them repeat questions and killing their productivity.
Putting it simply, you’re risking re-learning the things you already knew when everything around you is changing at speed and there’s just not time to do it.
Creating a knowledge sharing culture can protect you from all of this! And this guide will talk you through how to do it. From finding subject matter experts and capturing their knowledge, to building a single place for people to find it, share it and collaborate, your journey to effective knowledge sharing starts here.
- Do you really know what knowledge sharing is?
- Why knowledge sharing matters and the benefits it brings
- Barriers to success: Why knowledge sharing never happens at some companies
- Types of knowledge you encounter in the workplace
- How to do knowledge sharing well in your forward-thinking, fast-growing company
- Using technology to drive your knowledge sharing culture
- Lessons from fast-growing companies and how they share knowledge effectively
- Take a tour of the modern LXP that’ll help you transform knowledge sharing!
Do you really know what knowledge sharing is?
Defining knowledge sharing in the modern world of work
Knowledge sharing is more than a process! Technically, you can define it as the transferring of knowledge between people in your company, but that lame definition does it a disservice.
When people are sharing knowledge, they build bonds, improve culture, help others become better at their job, amp up the productivity levels and keep the company firing on all cylinders as it tries to reach goals.
Right now, as you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that some of the most useful information in your entire company hasn’t been spotted, saved or shared beyond the person who discovered it!
That’s like striking gold and not sharing the location with the rest of your knowledge prospectors.
Just asking people to share it (treating it like a process) won’t remedy that. But building a culture of sharing relevant knowledge, giving people the tools to do it easily and ensuring they understand the value, that’s how you ensure your company and people have the midas touch…
Examples of how knowledge sharing helps you win in a global, hybrid world
Let’s apply this principle (not process) to a few real-life situations fast-growing companies might encounter in our distributed workplaces.
It’s important to understand what knowledge sharing really means before we dive into why and how you should implement it.
1. Expanding your operation into new locations
Congratulations are in order! You’re expanding into new regions, either in the same country, or across the world in what we hope are warmer climes than our London HQ. The doors are set to open in six months, and you’ve got two options…
A. Wait until the new staff are in place and let them ask questions as they settle into their new roles.
B. Start compiling all the relevant knowledge in your existing teams and make it available to those new employees.
A is a dicey option. They’ll have delays in getting responses to questions, especially if there are time zones to negotiate, they won’t get consistent answers, and they won’t necessarily know where to go for them.
B is better. Not only are current employees sharing knowledge and wisdom built on the job, they can deliver it in a format that helps others apply it on the job. It’s relevant, relatable and can be used when it’ll have an impact.
2. The leadership team is growing
Stop us if this sounds familiar. Business is booming, the team is growing, and that means new leadership positions are opening up. You decide to fill them with a mixture of internal promotions and new hires – the next question is getting them up to speed.
Leadership style, the culture, review processes, meetings and their agendas – there’s a lot to digest. And knowledge sharing could very likely be the answer!
Luckily, you have an established team who could probably answer their colleagues’ questions. Leadership’s not quite the dog eat dog or sink or swim world some people think it is, it’s more like dog shares knowledge bone with new dog, and they paddle their way to shared success.
3. You’ve moved to a hybrid or remote-first model
How much is a fixed desk worth? Before the majority of us started working remotely, we’d have called it nothing more than a piece of wood. That’s until we realised it was where shoulder taps, organic mentoring and stopping by for a chat happened.
We essentially have two types of company now:
- Those who have created new ways and places for people to have those moments.
- And the ones who are still floundering, with employees struggling to find the information they need.
The difference is knowledge sharing. If you’re creating a central hub for knowledge and people are contributing to it, employees know where to go and who to ask for guidance and information. Then you’re really on your way to creating a knowledge sharing culture.
Why knowledge sharing matters and the benefits it brings
The benefits of sharing knowledge at work: why is it so important?
Everyone is an expert in something, recognise and celebrate that!
No matter what your org charts tell you, your company doesn’t run top to bottom! At least it doesn’t in a knowledge sense…
You could be the most junior member in a team, and there’ll be at least one thing you can teach the most senior colleague. The most tired example of this is a young intern teaching the older CEO about tech. But if you’ve ever seen a child teaching their parent how to use a new phone, you’ll recognise there’s a kernel of truth and relevance that supports this knowledge sharing principle.
More commonly, however, is the idea that successful people in your team have built a wealth of business-specific, relevant knowledge that will help others replicate their wins and avoid their mistakes.
Break knowledge out of silos, build a collective brain, cut down on lost time
That expert knowledge is untapped potential until we tap into our expert’s head! The idea is that if we can mine the minds of our best people, we’ll build this collective brain of our best practices, knowledge and resources.
As we’ll get to shortly, people want knowledge on demand – but they don’t always get what they want… Here are two statistics that illustrate the dilemma perfectly:
- 49% of employees want to learn at their point of need.
- The average employee spends an estimated 2 hours searching for the information they need each day.
But many people can’t learn at the moment of need because they don’t know where to look for information. It’s scattered in too many places, and the moment of relevance has passed by the time they finally lock eyes on what they need.
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Protecting yourself when people leave: plugging the leaky bucket by retaining knowledge
It’s bad enough when great people leave your company! They might be the life of the party, the provider of afternoon snacks or a calming influence that’ll be sorely missed.
And the last thing you want to be doing during that difficult time is mourning the loss of all the great, relevant knowledge they took with them.
The trouble in a lot of businesses is that they wait until the notice period begins (or has reached its final week) before they start mining that knowledge. Can you really teach someone 10 years of experience in 10 days… The answer is no, and so companies end up with the holes in their skills and knowledge – their leaky bucket!
Creating a culture where knowledge sharing happens every day minimises the risk of these holes appearing – meaning you’re able to retain knowledge more effectively. It’s a mindset shift in many ways. We should be learning from each other all the time, not just when the responsibilities of a departing colleague need to be taken care of.
HowNow can help you plug your leaky bucket too! Our LXP empowers everyone to access and share knowledge in the flow of work, everywhere they work. Click here or scroll up to our demo form, and we’ll show you how… ☝️
Build meaningful relationships through a collaborative culture
We all value moments to connect with our colleagues, but those are even more valuable when they provide purpose and impact. Imagine you’re a new sales rep struggling to convert. You reach out to one of the most productive deal closers, and they share their winning approach. They agree to catch up before and after calls, and coach you until you reach target.
One. You’ve reached your target, hurrah! Two, that colleague has had the satisfaction of mentoring you through it. Three, you’ve picked up valuable skills while building a bond with that person.
A beer after work is also great for that, but it just can’t offer the same influence or impact on reaching personal and business goals. Ultimately, that’ll have a spillover effect on the overall company culture too.
Find better ways of working by learning from past mistakes
We should never be afraid of trying new things. But we should be wary of testing something that’s already failed for somebody else…
So far, we’ve only touched on how people can share all their positive experiences with you. There’s as much, if not more, to learn from what didn’t go to plan!
If there’s openness and transparency around techniques and tools that have been tried before, it’ll stop others repeating the same mistakes and wasting resources. Knowledge sharing is about taking the rough with the smooth, it’s important that you’re capturing both!
Lower the pressure on your most valuable employees
Your most knowledgeable and most valuable people are most likely to get asked the most questions – it’s the nature of the beast. The trouble is, they’re influential for a reason – they’re good at what they do. And the more time they spend answering the same questions, the less time they have to be productive in their role.
Capturing one consistent answer from them and sharing that with everyone lowers the pressure and frees up more of their time to do the things that matter. Like building even more on-the-job and relevant knowledge that they’ll end up sharing with everybody else.
Why now? Hybrid working needs a consistent approach to knowledge
Why are you reading this now? Why are we writing about this now? And why is now the ideal moment to hone in on knowledge?
Because the way we work has changed! We’ve broken away from traditional days of working, and spending five days in an office from nine to five is no longer the norm. We now spend…
65% of our time working from home.
35% of our work week in an office.
And as knowledge management expert Stephanie Barnes explains:
“In times of change, we need to take a step back and say, what are we doing, and why are we doing it?”
We’re using tech to support or replace face-to-face collaboration
Unsurprisingly, this hybrid move has increased our reliance on technology to drive collaboration. According to PwC’s US Remote Work Survey, 72% of US executives are planning to invest in tools that improve virtual collaboration as part of their commitment to support hybrid working.
The most common example has been our use of tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams. And, according to Microsoft, the average Teams user is sending:
45% more chats every week.
42% more chats per person outside of work hours.
More messages being shared can only be a good thing, right? It must mean more knowledge is shared. That’s true, but how much of that is captured and how much is lost in the flow of conversation?
Not enough, in most companies. Meaning your people end up asking and answering repeat questions, draining their productivity. Part of HowNow’s mission is to prevent this loss of productivity and useful knowledge. We integrate with tools like Slack and Teams so that your people can save and share relevant knowledge in the apps they already use to collaborate.
We’re in an era of context switching that requires consistency
More apps means more app switching, which presents its own challenge in finding knowledge. “Amid the race to stay connected across tools, workers switch between 10 apps 25 times per day—fragmenting communication and reducing efficiency.”, according to Asana’s Anatomy of Work 2021 report.
It’s all well and good finding new apps to solve problems, but that often happens without considering how they’ll work together. If knowledge and resources become native to each app, they just end up in new silos, meaning people have to search in more places for the information they need.
55% of employees named finding and sharing knowledge as a challenge in Beezy’s 2021 Digital Workplace Report. 57% also flagged locating specific files and people with specific expertise as a difficulty.
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.
People feel they’re missing out on opportunities to learn
41% of them in fact, as reported in the Nespresso Professional, Workplace Of The Future 2021 Report. Of course, that’s not solely a result of knowledge lost in conversation and constant app switching, but they certainly play a part in that frustration.
If you can’t find the knowledge you need when you need to overcome an obstacle, learning how to do it is far harder. While it’s great that companies are investing in more tech, they have to consider how these tools work together and what the overall employee experience is like in this hybrid world.
We’re in global teams and need to manage cultural differences
In the age of hybrid working, you can have colleagues both around the corner and on other continents. And it’s not as simple as managing time zones (although that is important), but it means there are cultural differences to navigate!
Knowledge sharing can help us tackle those, but cultural differences should also influence how we communicate and share information.
As knowledge-management expert Professor Eric Tsui explained to us:
“Culture affects the extent or willingness for sharing knowledge in a very big way.
“In general, the Asian culture, for example, we tend to be more introverted and to listen more before expressing any opinion. We tend not to speak or say things too directly.
“Another aspect is about the line of authority… the person above you is far more dominant in terms of influence and has the authority over you. So you’d tend not to contradict this person, right?”
As an L&D practitioner or people manager, your role is to understand these cultural differences and nuances, and build a knowledge-sharing culture that works for everyone. Once you’ve ticked that box, use knowledge sharing to educate people on the best ways to engage with their colleagues and promote your collaborative culture.
The on-demand economy has altered people’s expectations
In an era when the likes of Netflix and Deliveroo are so popular, why wouldn’t people expect more from their workplace technology!?
Whether it’s a crime drama where a suspect’s being grilled or a burger that’s coming fresh off the grill, these on-demand services have increased our on-demand appetite for everything – including how we access knowledge at work.
Video streaming services like Netflix were directly credited with a 47% increase in subscription viewing in 2020, as they added 16 million new sign ups and reached a total of over 220 million users. Deliveroo, meanwhile, managed to drive 59% growth in orders between July and September 2021 – despite UK restaurants reopening for dine-in diners in this period.
Which L&D lessons can we learn from Netflix and Deliveroo’s success?
Of course, these services had captive audiences in many senses, but this wasn’t the only reason behind their success!
Both Netflix and Deliveroo bring options from multiple sources into one single platform, meaning people don’t need to shop around. The time to find what you want to watch or eat and hitting that play/order button has been reduced significantly!
They also use artificial intelligence (AI) to deliver more personal recommendations, helping the right content or offers find you, rather than you having to seek them out. Ultimately, that means even less time is required on your end, and there’s a better user experience.
However, there is a pitfall we can avoid when we think about Netflix. Here’s HowNow CEO and Co-Founder, Nelson Sivalingam, explaining why L&D needs to move away from the binge content model Netflix has owned so well.
Rather than getting people to consume more content for longer periods, we should deliver the right content at the right moments.
Barriers to success: Why knowledge sharing never happens at some companies
Some people call them excuses, for the sake of diplomacy, we’ll call them barriers here. But whatever it is that’s supposedly blocking companies from sharing information, it’s often a far smaller hurdle than losing valuable knowledge forever when people leave the company. You could call it kicking the can down the road, swapping one problem now for a bigger one later. But it’s not a can, it’s a leaky bucket, and we need to take a quick detour to that before we unweave this ‘barrier’ narrative. Why?
Because a leaky bucket is the biggest barrier and most companies don’t even spot their knowledge slipping through its holes and cracks. Not only are you failing to retain knowledge, you’re not spotting when it’s happening.
What’s the leaky bucket and how does it open up?
There are small leaks and big leaks when it comes to knowledge. The small ones are the everyday things…
It’s almost certain that knowledge is being shared within your company every day, through tools like Slack, Teams or Zoom. The trouble is so much of it’s lost in conversation! And it means repeat questions are asked over and over again, rather than answers being captured and made available to people on-demand.
The bigger problem is when all that information is lost in the workflow AND people leave the team before it’s captured. People who stay at companies for a few years often build up a bank of relevant, on-the-job, company-specific knowledge. And unless it’s captured, it walks right out the door with them.
Fast-growing companies on a mission to reach goals simply don’t have time to re-learn the things they already or used to know.
And that’s how knowledge sharing helps plug the holes in your leaky bucket – the biggest problem most L&D teams haven’t even realised they have.
Now, onto the barriers people think are holding them back from a knowledge sharing culture…
The things many companies think are holding them back (and how to overcome those misconceptions)
We’re too busy!
To be fair, it’s a legitimate concern. If we’re telling people that we need to capture information that’s lost in the flow of work, they might presume we’re asking them to disrupt their flow of work to capture it.
But that’s normally a result of two things: L&D isn’t communicating the value of capturing that knowledge or making it easy enough for people…
How to overcome it:
Help people understand just how much time is wasted searching for information, asking for information and answering questions with the same information for the tenth time that day!
Having one consistent answer to a question that’s available on-demand makes it easier for people to find what they need, in the moment of need and be more productive at what they do.
The next question is how you reduce the friction of adding that knowledge to your one source of truth. At HowNow, we integrate with the tools people use every day, like Slack and Teams, so they can save answers as Nuggets in a matter of clicks. In the app, with no disruption to their workflow.
It’ll be too much of a culture shock
Resistance to change or the effort associated with it are often quite lazy excuses rolled out when people aren’t convinced about the need to make tweaks to how they work.
If people are used to working in certain ways and using certain tools, it might feel like rocking the boat. But a lot of the time, those old faithful tools are disconnected from each other, and it makes working far more difficult.
And even if you think knowledge sharing isn’t happening right now, it will be to some extent…
How to overcome it:
Work out where knowledge sharing is happening organically and learn what you can from that! How can you replicate those behaviours to make the transition to using your preferred method and platform smoother? What can you do to supercharge everything people are already doing?
Again, it’s also a case of communicating value. Be clear on the benefits of whichever change you’re asking people to make and explain how it will benefit them personally.
The wrong mindset
Whether it’s short-termism or not being goal-centric, not having the right mindset can become a huge blocker to knowledge sharing.
For example, if you’re onboarding ten new customers and only have two customer support representatives in place right now, it’s crucial that you’re mining their knowledge and experience for new staff who join in the future.
Rather than each new joiner asking one of them the same question every few days, you can create consistent resources for people who need to learn really fast!
Top-down approaches to L&D
Even if I’ve joined the team yesterday, there’ll be something useful I can share with my new colleagues. This is why it’s such a shame when companies are wedded to a top-down approach, with a few select leaders or L&D staff deciding what everyone else is learning and the content that’s available.
How to overcome it:
Find ways to highlight just how important, knowledgeable and experienced your best-performing employees are! Turn to the performance data if you have to. If a support rep has a 9.5 score from customers, it’s hard to argue against them sharing their approach with everyone else.
Subject matter experts (SMEs) exist at every level of your business, so a top-down approach limits your ability to tap into their knowledge potential.
Fear that the quality of content will suffer
If your dream car was on the forecourt and you needed an extra £1,000 to buy it, would you care if it came in a brown bag in 30 minutes or would you wait for a friend who could gift wrap and deliver it in the next two days?
The answer is undoubtedly the brown bag. It’s not fashionable, but it’s giving us what we need, when we need it, before the moment’s passed.
How to overcome it:
Apply the same brown bag principle and mindset to content creation. Sure, it’s great if everything looks slick and polished, but it’s no use if we’re waiting months for it to come – this is a common L&D bottleneck.
L&D tries to craft every piece of content into a masterpiece, while countless moments where people need the information pass by. Building this function over format mindset is key to L&D success and giving people the confidence to create content.
The wrong tools and technology are in place
In some organisations, it’s even worse than that – nothing is in place! This means resources are typically saved to hard drives and personal drives, scattered in so many places that it’s impossible to build a knowledge sharing culture.
The more common situation, however, is that companies use multiple tools for multiple purposes, and those tools don’t communicate with each other. It’s another bottleneck, but in this case, it’s that knowledge and resources are siloed within those platforms.
How to overcome it:
Find a platform that works with all your existing tools and tech! Employees can spend up to two hours searching for the information they need every single day, held back by uncertainty over where to look and what to look for.
Creating one single place for knowledge can reduce that time by up to 35%. And we’d love to be that place, one front door for learning that everyone can access! The solution for your leaky bucket, no matter how fast you’re growing…
HowNow integrates with the tools your people use every single day, bringing all your resources to the end of a single search. That also means your people can search for knowledge within the tools they already use, like Slack, Teams, Salesforce, Google Drive, Udemy, LinkedIn Learning, Hibob, BambooHR and the list goes on.
Finding all your resources at the end of a single search in HowNow
Capture valuable knowledge as it’s shared, in tools like Slack and Teams.
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Types of knowledge you encounter in the workplace
Let’s recap! We know what knowledge sharing looks like in the modern working world. We get why the iron is so hot right now that it’s a no brainer to strike. We’ve explored why some companies never get off the ground and how you can overcome those obstacles.
Now it’s time to understand how you implement a knowledge sharing culture that works in your business. Starting with a quick explanation (or reminder) of the different knowledge types that we’ll encounter in the workplace.
The clue’s well and truly in the name with this one! Explicit knowledge explains a particular issue or task in a straightforward and matter of fact manner. Typical formats include step-by-step instructions, FAQs and one-page tutorials for processes and procedures.
Having these available on-demand helps reduce that lost productivity asking for repeat questions and waiting for repeat answers.
Let’s take a writing guideline and tone of voice document as an example. It’ll explain correct spellings, the terms we should be using, the company approach to capitalisation and the overall writing style.
Coming back to our tone of voice document. In theory, you know how to approach writing an email in the company style, but how do you pull it off in practice? Implicit knowledge would be someone who’s applied that explicit tone of voice guidance on the job and can now offer advice on how to write your first email.
It brings realities of your everyday role into the equation of applying explicit knowledge. It’s more than just sharing information, it’s explaining why it works, and that’s invaluable in fast-growing companies where new people are learning at speed.
The intangible, the difficult to weigh but worth it’s weight in gold knowledge that’s also built on the job but differs greatly from implicit knowledge.
These are the things that are difficult to explain because they’ve been built up through years on the job, by people who understand the company, culture and products inside out. They could explain that using certain phrases doesn’t quite click with customers but possibly without verbalising why – it’s something built through repetition and experience.
Tacit knowledge sums up the things learnt informally over time by people who’ve been around for a long time. And losing that is often the biggest risk to retain knowledge and plug your leaky bucket.
Not all knowledge can be codified and put in a tin can!
When we spoke with Professor Eric Tsui, he flagged a flawed assumption that we all tend to make:
“People automatically assume that knowledge can be codified, quoted and put in a tin can. But knowledge is very much vested in the human brain, in connections and the trust among people. That is intangible and not something that you can capture and put into a tin can.”
People aren’t tin cans, but what they’re storing in their brains is as precious as that silver, shiny metal! And accepting you can’t codify all of its contents might shift your focus to recognition and retention.
“If you can’t capture the knowledge, at least you can capture the people and the environment so that they stay loyal to the organisation.”
Read most articles on this topic, and you’d be forgiven for thinking knowledge only comes from one individual at a time. Our email superstar is the tone of voice expert, and therefore what they say is gospel, but that’s not necessarily true…
Your subject matter expert’s wisdom can often act as the foundation for others to share their tacit knowledge – it can and should become a collaborative process.
Let’s say someone in our UK headquarters has a wealth of tacit knowledge to share when it comes to company content, but we’ve got experts in regional and global offices. They’re best placed to explain what works on a local level and how the sage advice from our UK SME can be tweaked to hit the right note with different audiences.
Before we drop another absolute knowledge bomb from Eric Tsui, here’s your opportunity to go follow him for yourself! Trust us, you won’t regret it.
So, without further ado, let’s bust another assumption: all the knowledge your company needs exists in or can be created by your company – false!
“No one company, no matter how powerful, or how knowledgeable you are, will have all the collective knowledge. So we must maintain a trusted network of people, because knowledge resides in the network, my best advice for companies is to build these networks dynamically with trust and also provide the necessary virtual collaboration tools.”
Extending that beyond the idea of just people, what are your trusted content sources: podcasts, blogs, YouTube channels, industry publications and so on? How do you build a learning ecosystem where people can find those, alongside the wisdom from the company’s subject matter experts?
How to do knowledge sharing well in your forward-thinking, fast-growing company
Before we dive into this, it’s important that we understand how knowledge sharing has evolved over time, as Eric Tsui puts it:
“The efforts in knowledge management have gradually changed from managing the knowledge assets, to managing the environment, to managing the culture of a conducive environment that lends people to share more freely.”
It’s not just about creating the best resources, this is an outdated view of how to approach knowledge sharing. Culture, environment, leadership, relationships and trust all play a part!
Alongside Eric, we also interviewed Stephanie Barnes, expert and author in knowledge management, and we’ll use insights from both throughout this section.
Here’s how you can get knowledge sharing right in today’s world.
Speak to people
We’re resistant to change, it’s in our nature! And your people will probably be more resistant if you’re forcing this new culture and way of learning upon them without a chat first.
And maybe they have a point…
What if they’re doing things that work well, they can prove it, and you’re asking them to stop!
If you can tap into existing behaviours, you’re working with people’s organic habits instead of forcing them to adopt new ones. That’s why speaking with, observing and listening to people has to be your first step.
Here are a few starter questions:
- Where do you currently go when you’re looking for knowledge?
- Who do you turn to when you encounter a challenge?
- Where are you finding and sharing resources with colleagues?
- Which barriers do you face when it comes to finding and sharing knowledge?
- What would encourage you to share wisdom and information with teammates?
Build the right mindset
Education has drilled bad habits and ideas into us all! For some, it’s the idea that memorising and recalling responses is the definition of knowledge, for others, it’s that teachers are our single source of it.
We have to unlearn both if knowledge sharing is going to flourish in our business today! As Stepanie explains:
“It’s not about remembering the things, but knowing where to look them up.”
In many ways, we’re encouraged to ignore our curiosity as we progress through education, but it can be our biggest weapon in learning and sharing new things when we enter the workplace.
The more we ask questions and pull on threads as we search for knowledge, the more we’ll find.
According to Eric Tsui, empowering people with the skills to search for knowledge brings the theory of connectivism to the table; new technologies allowing us to search in more organic and less-teacher driven ways.
“We believe there is much, much more knowledge outside in the external networks. So we are helping people, equipping them to look outside and hunt for those relationships and those resources from outside quality sources.”
Establish the impact of knowledge sharing
If you don’t know where you’re going, it doesn’t really matter if you get there or not! And when it comes to knowledge sharing, we need to ask questions more often. Why are we doing this? What impact do we want it to have? How can we measure if we’ve achieved that?
If you can’t answer those, good luck getting people to buy in. Can you really make a compelling argument to the employees you want to spend time sharing knowledge and the C-Suite who you need buy-in from without those answers?
As Stephanie explained to us:
“You can’t just do knowledge management to do knowledge management. There’s got to be a business case. There’s got to be a reason… it’s about change management, which isn’t just a one-time thing.
“It’s ongoing, it’s weekly messages. It’s someplace where people can go and get updates. It’s ongoing communication about what it is we’re doing and why we’re doing it.”
Detach yourself from the input/output over outcomes mindset
“Impact is not about input! You can spend 20 hours reading something, but that’s not impact. You have to demonstrate impact with success.”
Eric hits the nail firmly on the head! Time spent learning and sharing knowledge doesn’t necessarily mean people are becoming more knowledgeable and better at their roles.
This is a hangover from the bad old days, where we’d view success through the prism of output rather than outcomes.
Let’s dial into an imaginary call centre. 30 years ago, we might have recognised our best rep as the person who’d closed the most calls or tickets – their output was higher than everyone else. Now, how many of those customers felt they’d had a good experience? Maybe they felt rushed because that employee was more interested in ‘resolving’ the ticket than solving the problem.
Today, we should be looking into data around customer feedback scores and satisfaction to determine our most knowledgeable and valuable employees! As we’ll get to shortly, it’ll help – trust us.
Impact means evidenced change over time
If we’ve established the reason why we’re doing it and have accepted outcomes are better than outputs, we can start driving impact at scale. We can align knowledge sharing better to the company goals and start leveraging things that we know work with more people to greater effect.
Deliver learning in context, when people need it
Sharing is an interesting word in itself. Sometimes we ask someone a question, and they overshare, to the point where you forget the question you asked.
Some people are great at sharing the outcome but leave out a whole lot of context that would be really beneficial.
Other people are bad at opening up when we need them to, and the moment where sharing would be useful passes.
And these conversation pitfalls rear their head in the world of learning and development too!
When it comes to learning content, we have to consider where it’s going to be applied and who’s going to be applying it. For example, advice for customer support teams in times of crisis will work better as specific, microlearning resources, rather than text-book style PDFs.
But what about when context changes? That’s the often forgotten part of all of this. Our companies grow quickly, our industries change, where we work evolves – and the knowledge we share has to reflect this.
Do we update those support documents when the product changes drastically, or when we launch in new markets? Can people add to the resource or leave comments based on how they applied it in real-time? And are you giving people the tools to do so easily?
Tackling oversharing: Find the balance between push and pull learning
Rather than build this culture where we’re sharing knowledge gradually over time, some companies put their foot down and start sending out resources at 100 miles per hour! Faster than anyone knows what to do with them. Stephanie Barnes explains how you can avoid this temptation:
“20 years ago… it was a case that we’ve got to push all this information out to people, all these documents, all these systems, all this stuff, so that people have it.
“But what’s important is that people have it when they need it. Not that you randomly push it to them constantly. And then they have to remember that you’ve pushed it to them and find it.”
It’s much more a case of making things available to people or easy to search for when their moments of need do arise, rather than relying on their supposedly superhuman powers of recall!
Create a culture that busts knowledge out of silos
Knowledge sharing is collaborative. When it’s collaborative, it moves us away from this idea that knowledge transfers from just one person to another – which is a good thing! Eric explains how this old-school mindset “creates people who are hoarding information because they’re using that as a protective measure or as a measure of supremacy.”
It’s a hangover in companies that are still wedded rigidly to a top-down hierarchy. Holding onto knowledge is a way to safeguard your progress up that food chain.
Knowledge sharing can give everyone a voice and a role in collective goals if the culture encourages them to do so!
Your role is to provide that platform. Give people the psychological safety to try new things and share the results, ensure upwards feedback is seen as a positive thing that won’t have disastrous consequences, and make it clear that progress is linked to how well people collaborate and help teammates.
Find subject matter experts in your teams
We touched on this in our types of knowledge, but there are people in your teams with years of experience on the job, knowledge that’s specific to your company and deserves to be shared!
But if you don’t know who they are, you’ll struggle to harness their wisdom. One solution is to measure people’s skills and proficiency, so that you know who the expert is when it comes to certain challenges and topics. But there are other routes you can take!
“Draw up a knowledge map and identify knowledge centres, the people that other people constantly or commonly go to when they need information. Half of the names are typically surprising to senior management, they never know of these people but they are walking knowledge centres in the organisation.”
As Eric explains, if you speak with people, you can understand who they turn to when they need to solve a problem! Essentially they’re signposting your subject matter experts.
And by encouraging them to share knowledge, you can recognise their value and nurture them, improving relationships and retaining your best, most-informed people.
Asking for input and searching for advocates
Now, what we’ve discussed so far hinges on the idea that most people won’t readily nominate themselves as subject matter experts or knowledgeable souls within the team.
Sometimes, we make that assumption and overcomplicate the process. Instead, we could be going to the channels where employees are engaged and putting it out there – who’d like to share their experiences on topic X?
“I think sometimes we like to make this more difficult than it is. Ask and people will volunteer. And sometimes, you get people that aren’t confident in their abilities and that’s why you need to broaden the ask and say: ‘if you are someone that would like to contribute, or if you know someone who would like to…’ and then you get the peer saying: ‘Oh, well, Stephanie is the expert, even if she’s not going to tell you that she is, she is, and you need her.”
The other option is to go to the places where people are already sharing knowledge and look who the leading lights are! Whether it’s a Slack channel or a shared drive, frequent contributors could be willing advocates for your knowledge sharing strategy.
And if those people are sharing knowledge or volunteer to do so, reward them! Think about an on-brand way to incentivise and thank people for adopting the culture and being a beacon for it in the business.
Ensure that knowledge travels in all directions
Knowledge is not a waterfall! It doesn’t cascade majestically from the people at the top and suddenly make everyone else better at their job. Even a ‘junior’ employee who’s been in the role five minutes will have a nugget of wisdom to share.
Removing the hierarchy from learning and instead focusing on subject matter experts allows knowledge to travel in both directions. Like everything in life, balance is key – striking it between the top and bottom in this case. As Stephanie puts it:
“The top should be setting some vision and some goals and some objectives and helping you maintain alignment, but it should also be asking for information, asking for knowledge to come up and supporting people to surface and share things.”
The top’s role is to create an environment where people feel confident to share, and then give them nudges to do it! If we remain stuck in the top-down theory, then the goals and mindset of senior people will simply be pushed onto those below. Fortunately, today’s managers often have the right tools and skills to communicate more frequently!
Get buy-in from the right people
We’ve alluded to it already, but we have to pitch knowledge sharing in terms of the benefits and impact it’ll bring. Especially if we’re going to win over the right stakeholders!
When we talk about people at the top, that’s not limited to the C-Suite. Department managers and team leaders can make or break whether their charges are charged up and excited about the prospect of knowledge sharing.
Find the right technology to drive knowledge sharing
Our top-down and impact issues normally rear their head when companies look for learning tech. They fall victim to something called the buyer-user dilemma, where the person purchasing the tool isn’t the end user!
As Eric Tsui puts it:
“When organisations acquire a corporate system. Typically, it’s top down. Where the senior management go out and evaluate the needs of the system, come back to write a business case and get the budget – then start rolling that out and start training people and asking people to use it.
“And they expect people to use it, right? But the requirements were only collected by a small group of people and that may or may not reflect – probably more likely it may not reflect – the needs of all the people.”
Don’t go to market without working out the requirements! The real requirements based on the first step of this process: speaking with people.
At the same time, ditch your assumptions about the type of tool you need. If you go looking for one solution with tunnel vision, it’s all you’ll see. If you ditch the blinkers and cast a wide net for tech that can simply solve your problems, you’re far more likely to find the right tool.
Using technology to drive your knowledge sharing culture
When times get tough, we turn to tech! But do we always find the right solution? And are we rushing in too often?
When it comes to knowledge sharing, tech is most useful if it helps us build that culture rather than solve individual problems. For example, you identify that the most pressing issue is content creation and give people a tool to do it. Resources are through the roof, but you then realise that tool is disconnected from the place you bought to store knowledge. And so there’s a clear divide between where content is created and where it’s found.
By this point, we’ve got a clear understanding of what knowledge sharing is today, why it matters and how to do it effectively. All that’s left to do is channel that into our search for the right technology!
Create one single place for knowledge
Your people could be wasting as much as 25% of their time searching for information! That statistic is sometimes considered a bit shaky, but the principle is very much a solid one – time gets wasted when resources are scattered.
And it kills our productivity! When we encounter a challenge, a moment where learning can be applied, we destroy momentum by being passed from pillar to post. We search in one place, no luck! We ask Peter, and he sends us to Paul. He replies hours later just to say Patrick probably has the answer. And the moment has gone!
This is normally where companies turn to knowledge bases and storage tools. Finally! One place we can force everyone to use and beat the scatter. That’s not necessarily true.
What about the course libraries you’ve subscribed to? Are you going to upload all of those there? And how about the nuances between how different teams work? Each department might have its own folders in a shared drive like Google. There might be other tools they already use that are integral to their performance. Are we going to ask them to change their behaviour AND move thousands of files over…
Find a central tool that connects with the other places knowledge is stored so that people can find what they need at the end of one single search.
That’s how we like to do it at HowNow anyway! All the resources you’ve created in our modern LXP, alongside those from your course libraries, online storage and a bunch of different places.
Find a tool that lets people create content easily
One of the biggest L&D bottlenecks and barriers to sharing knowledge is when a few people are responsible for capturing and sharing information. It stops people from finding knowledge when they need it.
Imagine you have an appointment in 15 minutes and can’t find the place. Someone offers to write down the directions on a napkin in about 30 seconds, while a more talented stranger offers to draw you up a map but it’ll take 10 minutes. Which one are you picking? The napkin, right!? Because it’s the content that matters, not how it looks.
Don’t mind another quick and shameless plug, but our Nugget feature breaks down this barrier! Create a resource in quite literally a matter of clicks and then share it with the right people…
Sharing knowledge as Nuggets using HowNow
Give everyone access to that tool!
Remember our top-down/bottom-up dilemma? This is where that cascading approach can cause the most damage! In the knowledge sharing world, it can be a huge cause for the L&D bottleneck.
But, as we know, subject matter experts exist at every level of our business, and that knowledge should be for the many, by the many! That’s why we need to give everyone access to that tool, so that they can capture and share knowledge when they come across it. Why? Because it’ll stop people from asking repeat questions or making the mistakes others have already learnt from.
Offer templates, guidelines and structure
Ever watched one of those series where the writers and directors change halfway through? There’s often continuity issues and a painfully glaring lack of consistency accompanying the glare from the screen.
That’s what happens if you give free rein around your learning platform or knowledge base without offering guidance on how to use it consistently. From naming rules that help people find what they need to templates on how to build resources in the same formats – it’s your role to provide those guardrails that drive consistency.
Keep on top of your content! What’s still valid?
Pricing. New pricing. Pricing 2022. Updated Pricing. Latest pricing: use this. Pricing A… if we don’t keep on top of our resources, we just end up swapping one needle and haystack for another!
But if the tools we use don’t help us keep on track, it’ll end up being a manual process that wastes more time. New needle and haystack, new productivity drain!
Good news, we’ve thought of that already! Every time a HowNow user creates a resource, they’ll be prompted to set a verification date, a reminder further down the line to check whether content is still valid. When we’re creating more content and giving more people freedom to do so, this accountability and nudge helps us keep on top of it all.
Remove barriers and friction to sharing knowledge through integration
Remember our leaky bucket? The idea that some of our most valuable knowledge is lost in the flow of conversation every single day?
That often happens because where knowledge is shared is separate from where it’s stored. We’re chatting with a colleague in Slack or Teams, they drop a serious knowledge bomb, and we think we’ll save that later.
And then the next notification pops up, and we forget! But if we can find tools that integrate and capture knowledge where it’s shared, we’re onto a winner.
Case in point, Slack and Teams! At HowNow, we help fast-growing teams with fast-flowing conversations capture and share knowledge in the flow of work. Save a message as a Nugget right there in the app. Send a resource back to a question asker in the same friction-free way. Here’s what we mean…
Meet HowNow, the modern LXP built for knowledge sharing in a hybrid world
The way people learn, work and collaborate has changed, and that means we need learning solutions that cater to the modern learner! How do we know? Because we built the learning experience platform that helps fast-growing and forward-thinking companies solve the world’s biggest problems.
How? By helping them create one central place for knowledge and build cultures that drive engaged learners to share their wisdom with others. Book a demo today and say goodbye to your leaky bucket…
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Lessons from fast-growing companies and how they share knowledge effectively
Expensify: Build a hive mind and the right mindset for knowledge sharing
Sceptical about how much difference knowledge sharing can really make? Well, Expensify have less than 150 employees and generate millions of dollars in revenue for each one! And their Founder, David Barrett, believes knowledge sharing plays a crucial role in that success.
Speaking on Inc.’s Founders Project podcast with Alexa von Tobel, Barrett explained that their small team approach has been about finding the right people and maximising the connectivity between them to drive creativity and productivity. As opposed to simply hiring more and more staff.
“We’re like a hive mind, where everyone is trying to capture information, distill it down and share it with the rest of the hive.”
So, how exactly are they building such an effective hive mind through knowledge sharing?
Expensify are building the right mindset and approach
Speaking of the asynchronous culture they built to work in distributed teams, Barrett explained that:
“Your job isn’t to talk with people in real time, it’s to consolidate your knowledge, into a standalone package and put it on someone’s desk.”
And he explained that two things really influence how well this is done:
1) Expensify’s people are encouraged to capture their thoughts concisely, in a way that they can be interpreted by someone else independently.
2) And they’re encouraged to anticipate potential follow-up questions, so the resource is as comprehensive as possible – especially with people working around the clock and world.
Large conventional meetings rarely happen, instead they host day-long Slack discussions
Given their global presence, they’ve swapped those traditional hour-long meetings for what they call Slack Meetings. Days where one person adopts the role of moderator and asks questions via a Slack channel.
They’ll leave it open for a day, so that people can contribute wherever they are and have the space to give thoughtful answers. The responses are then collated, summarised and shared with everyone else.
Keyrus: Use peer-to-peer discussions and share the outcomes
It’s no surprise that a company consulting other companies on developing data and providing solutions for performance management has considered how they optimise their people’s performance. And they settled on knowledge sharing in the form of peer-to-peer learning.
In a blog post explaining how they’ve implemented this more social and collaborative style, one employee revealed that their peer learning sessions have been “a great forum for junior and tenured team members to share knowledge and collaborate.” and a way for their best minds to share expertise with everybody else and learn new skills.
According to Olfa, Digital Consultant at Keyrus, these sessions serve two purposes.
- They inspire people to undertake self-directed learning based on their conversations in these sessions.
- Second, and most importantly, the insights are captured and made available on-demand for everyone to find following the sessions.
“We document all our learning from those sessions in a knowledge base and it is super helpful to find a solution to a problem or a piece of code while working on a real customer case, it was a life savior for me on several occasions.”
Clarity HQ: Create one central place for knowledge
For a unique perspective, we spoke with Matt Fox, Head of Community at Clarity HQ. In his role, he’s responsible for sharing knowledge and resources with the accounting software’s users, but having joined the company less than three months ago, he’s also in that sweet spot for teammates sharing knowledge with him.
And Matt dropped three brilliant knowledge bombs for anyone building out a knowledge sharing culture.
Lunch & Learns: Creating safe spaces for organic conversations to flourish
The power of good conversation cannot be underestimated. Clarity HQ hold regular Lunch & Learn sessions with customers, bringing them together for, what are normally, structured discussions in which they’ll aim to tackle five points.
However, some of their greatest sessions have been those where organic conversation takes over! You know those chats where you just get into sharing problems and using others as a sounding board for solving them? Those! The ones that start with open-ended questions and really progress into honest conversations.
And natural advocates or passionate people are always going to drive that, so it’s important to tap into those. As Matt found, it meant he could sit back and enjoy the discussion, with the need to mediate at a minimum.
“I led with one of our experienced users, because I know he’s a great talker, drops two or three other products, tactics or successes that he’s had, and it just opened up questions from other members who, fantastically, weren’t afraid to ask because it’s a very safe space that we built up to be a real community, where whatever you say in this room stays in this room.”
“It’s good to hear success stories from bigger businesses, who have been there and done that.”
Build one central knowledge base, in the most common place, based on feedback
Although he’s still quite new to the role, Matt is already having great success building out the support centre and knowledge base! And a big part is because he hasn’t skipped one of the most-commonly cut corners…
Matt spoke with every member of the Clarity HQ community before building it out, asking them around 15 questions and watching people as they navigated the platform to truly understand how they use it.
At the same time, he has the task of consolidating information into one place, and tackling that common problem we’ve discussed so far – scattered knowledge!
“We had 4 or 5 different spots where we were saving documents, there were double ups, the knowledge base was on Zendesk but we were also using SharePoint, Dropbox and OneDrive. So we dropped Dropbox, moved the knowledge base from Zendesk onto Intercom, where we manage tickets and it’s linked to HubSpot, and then everything is centralised.”
As a growing company, this process also needs to be scalable, so they’re creating a support system that can grow with them. Asking questions like, if we were 10 times the size we are now, could someone come in and pick it up within a week?
Build out your own network: Gathering knowledge from those in similar roles.
“In this industry, I know so many people from roles, clients, customers, members, community, other products. So I can call on so many people with different specialities within the space, so I’m lucky in that regard.”
If you’re working in a niche role or find yourself a one-person department within a business, you’ll often have to look externally for guidance and advice. And that’s why it’s so crucial to build connections and community with those in similar roles. In many ways, it neatly sums up this idea that knowledge sharing is fundamentally about building and managing relationships.
Google: Create a sharing-first culture and tap into your advocates
For a look at how one of the biggest in the business does it, we’ll take a detour to Google. Surprisingly, 80% of their tracked learning happens through employee-to-employee interactions, driven by their Googler-to-Googler network.
Driving home the importance of finding advocates and passionate knowledge sharers, more than 6,000 employees have signed up to the initiative and been transformed into volunteer teachers. From workshops to one-to-one sessions and creating job aids that help colleagues learn on the job, they are given the space and backing to turn their subject matter expertise into learning for teammates.
Squarespace: Flat structures can really build subject matter experts
In between helping people build amazing websites, Squarespace probably spend a good amount of time blushing – because they’re forever popping up on best places to work lists!
Sure, their excellent perks and benefits help, but their inclusion is largely driven by culture, and knowledge sharing seems to play a big part in that. In particular, their flat organisational structure seems integral to building specialists and subject matter experts who can share wisdom with others.
How do we know this? Enter Danni and Billy, part of the Squarespace design team who opened up on this subject through the company blog. They explained how the flat structure helps people “work on the things we’re passionate about.”
But there’s also transparency around how people are working and opportunities for them to teach each other, starting with their design weekly sync:
“It’s loosely formatted, lasting 1-2 hours, but each sync starts with high-level company updates and then dives into an opportunity for each designer to share his or her work and thoughts on the creative process.
“We aren’t timeboxed and it doesn’t matter what work is presented—the most important aspect is that each team member has the opportunity to share something. At the very least it’s a chance to work on presentation and communication skills.
“Collectively, we offer critiques and ideas to help teammates think through a particular problem they may be stuck on. The transparency that comes with sharing our work and thought process is key.”
Group sessions can be really helpful, but knowledge is sometimes best shared one-on-one, hence why they introduced weekly 30 minute hangouts with teammates. A time for people to share the nuances of their role and the skills they’ve built on the job.
“Each project at Squarespace runs deep, and each designer becomes a ‘specialist’ in his or her respective area, so the goal is to share that knowledge. Again, these hangouts are not to find solutions, but for both parties to ask lots and lots of questions.”
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Check out our other knowledge sharing resources
- 7 reasons why knowledge sharing is important
- How to improve your knowledge base? Make it collaborative
- How to identify knowledge gaps: Answered in 5 minutes
- How sharing best practices can supercharge your company culture
- Plugging your leaky bucket: Stop losing valuable knowledge today
- 5 Steps To Becoming A Knowledge Sharing Organisation