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Investing in your employees through knowledge sharing

Effective knowledge sharing drives business value for large organizations while building a strong culture for employees.

Over the past few years, businesses have experienced change and disruption like never before. As hybrid work environments, remote teams, and asynchronous collaboration become the norm for most knowledge industries, strategies for collaborating and working more effectively are changing.

Investing in your employees through knowledge sharing

Organizations that have adapted well to these changes are now prioritizing investment in building a foundation for a knowledge sharing culture.

In this article, we’ll discuss:

  • Why you need effective knowledge sharing in your organization
  • The business value that comes from a knowledge sharing culture
  • How to structure/plan for an investment in knowledge sharing

Content Summary

Introduction
Knowledge Sharing vs Knowledge Management
Maps & Knowledge Sharing
Part 1: Why knowledge sharing is critical now
Legacy knowledge management approaches have failed to solve today’s challenges
Part 2: How organizations that invest in knowledge sharing see real, tangible value
Part 3: How to structure/plan for 
 an investment in knowledge sharing
Conclusion

Introduction

Over the past few years, businesses have experienced change and disruption like never before. Distributed and hybrid work environments have become the norm, attracting and retaining talent continue to be a challenge, and industries across the board are being strained from influences outside their control. All of this comes at a time when innovation and speed-to-market are critical for organizational growth.

Employees, shaken by the events of the last 18 months, are also rethinking their priorities, their relationship to work, and their expectations around remote and distributed work. As hybrid work environments, remote teams, and asynchronous collaboration become the norm for most knowledge industries, strategies for collaborating and working more effectively are changing.

Organizations that have adapted well to these changes are now prioritizing investment in building a foundation for a knowledge sharing culture.

In this article, we’ll discuss:

  • Why you need effective knowledge sharing in your organization
  • The business value that comes from a knowledge sharing culture
  • How to structure/plan for an investment in knowledge sharing

Knowledge Sharing vs Knowledge Management

You may be familiar with the term “knowledge management.” Knowledge sharing is the evolution of knowledge management. Knowledge management systems are a rigid, structured legacy model of organizing knowledge that’s centered on the technology. Knowledge sharing platforms are different as they’re built to be centered on people first: they’re built to be flexible, transparent, and organic.

Knowledge Management

Knowledge Sharing

Maps & Knowledge Sharing

We’ll start with an analogy.

Maps make it easier and faster for people to move from Point A to Point B. Maps layout the roads, obstacles, and points of interest along the way.

Maps are expanded and revised over time. As communities grow, the network of ways to get from Point A to Point B gets more complex. Roads are blocked or closed for construction, new routes open, and people need a more current map to keep up with all of the changes.

Using a map doesn’t mean that people can’t still discover new paths; it just means that the basics are taken care of, allowing them to spend their time on bigger things.

You can imagine that if everyone drew their own map from scratch each time they left the house, the world would be a highly inefficient place.

Knowledge sharing increases efficiency & velocity

Effective knowledge sharing is very similar to a map. 
 It’s about getting people to their end destination, faster. 
 The end destination can be anything from onboarding a new technology stack, to fixing a challenging problem, to wanting to learn something new. People build on the knowledge gained and shared by those who have been down these paths before. This makes everyone more efficient because they aren’t starting from scratch.

Knowledge sharing within an organization creates a flexible, organic, and transparent network of maps. It also reveals the subject matter experts, the people who know the terrain best, and makes them accessible to anyone in the organization.

Part 1: Why knowledge sharing is critical now

Doing nothing or sticking with the status quo isn’t an option any longer.

“While your organization does need a long-term strategy, the need for retention of knowledge is immediate and requires an agile approach that you can execute now. Retention strategies need to be agile, immediate, focus less on structured knowledge, and utilize unstructured knowledge approaches…If your knowledge management practice failed to retain strategic knowledge assets during the great resignation, then it is time to innovate and build something that works.”

Gartner found that 43% of people reported occasionally or frequently failing to notice important information because it’s distributed in too many places. Gartner also found that 44% of people occasionally or frequently made a wrong decision because they did not have the information they needed (source: Gartner’s User Influence on Software Decisions Survey).

Not only is your business at risk when knowledge is siloed, but so is your ability to attract and retain employees.

Why? Because 53% of developers and technologists want the company, they work for to make their developer experience a priority. And 40% want opportunities to learn from people outside of their team. This is something that employees are looking for. In this competitive recruiting environment, you need to stand out by giving candidates what they want.

Organizational knowledge sharing isn’t a new concept. But knowledge sharing does face some new obstacles: remote work, employee mobility, rapid changes in technology, and development frameworks like DevOps that compress time to market. These new phenomena have drastically changed how knowledge is shared and the systems that support it.

Employees aren’t all in the same location with easy, reliable (face-to-face) access to their managers, peers, and subject matter experts. Communication happens asynchronously; you can’t tap someone on the shoulder or call across the conference room. People are also leaving companies at record levels. Without an effective knowledge sharing culture, they can take decades of experience and institutional knowledge with them, leaving a huge gap for their replacements to fill.

According to Gartner, “Now that ‘work from anywhere’ is the new normal, that access is no longer a given. Further, employee churn is at record levels. When key people leave the organization, their expertise goes with them. Both of these trends will continue and accelerate in 2022, putting both business productivity and continuity at risk. Internal knowledge management focused on capturing knowledge and connecting subject matter experts will be essential to mitigating this risk.”

With hybrid work environments, remote teams, and asynchronous communications, Gartner says, “Email is slowly dying as the preferred method of communication and collaboration. Staff members and the teams they associate with are rapidly shifting to workstream and social channels to interact. This transition dramatically accelerated with the recent shift to ‘work from anywhere.’”

Legacy knowledge management approaches have failed to solve today’s challenges

The fundamental flaw in most legacy approaches to knowledge management is that they put the technology first and the human second. Legacy solutions can be rigid and overly structured, rather than in line with employees’ organic way of seeking and sharing knowledge. For a system to work with today’s communication and collaboration needs, people need to be able to capture, discover, or request knowledge naturally—without interrupting their existing workflows. Gartner specifically recommends that “developers should be able to document an insight or solution with the collaboration platform used by their team.”

Legacy approaches/systems might rely on file-based structures (such as SharePoint) or on nested, page-based structures (such wikis).

Organizations that rely on legacy knowledge management solutions will face even bigger problems as they bring on younger employees. As The Verge points out, “the concept of file folders and directories, essential to previous generations’ understanding of computers, is gibberish to many modern students.” When these employees are stumped, their instinct is to find an answer themselves, usually by searching in a browser or going to a forum.

File-based structures and directories don’t support our natural ways of seeking and providing information. The ideal solution is a knowledge-sharing process that’s frictionless, intuitive, and—most importantly—self-sustaining.

Part 2: How organizations that invest in knowledge sharing see real, tangible value

Organizations that have invested in modern knowledge sharing platforms and cultures have seen real, tangible value that fuels growth and accelerates org-wide initiatives. 
 It’s done by building a truly transparent internal community that embraces knowledge sharing and eliminates 
 knowledge hoarding.

Business value stems from a foundational component of knowledge sharing referred to as knowledge reuse. Knowledge reuse is persistent, discoverable knowledge. 
 It’s when an individual or group reuses the knowledge gained and shared by someone else.

Knowledge reuse is a natural outcome of knowledge sharing and collaboration. When someone can reuse knowledge that another has gained, it has a positive effect. It minimizes risk by making standardized information available to everyone and increases effectiveness by reducing repeat work and reducing interruptions.

This increases the flow, or focus, time of your employees. The more flow time, the more “aha” moments are possible. More “aha” moments mean more problems or challenges being solved. More problems or challenges being solved increases innovation, productivity, and revenue. Ultimately, that process drives more knowledge that can be reused by others within the organization.

A knowledge sharing platform and culture drives business value in three ways:

  1. Boosts team productivity and engagement
  2. Drives organizational efficiency
  3. Higher job satisfaction and employee retention

Just-in-time institutional knowledge boosts team productivity and engagement

Team members don’t always know what knowledge they need in advance, and it’s not something that can be solved simply with “good documentation.”

When they encounter a new-to-them error or switch technologies or projects, they need to tap into the organization’s knowledge to learn a new skill, find best practices, get up to speed quickly on a new system, or resolve the error. The most natural way this happens is in a “quick question” request rather than spending time going through pages of documentation.

Existing applications may require specific familiarity to locate relevant knowledge. That means knowing what key term to search for, which channels to access, or what the name of a repository or project is.

According to Dynamic Signal, 36% of employees said they don’t know where to find the information they need to do their work.

Your knowledge sharing platform needs to help users find resolution fast and instill confidence that the knowledge they find is the latest and best. It should also have a robust search feature and many ways to interact with content to ensure it’s up-to-date, including comments, upvotes, and an indicator of content health to instill confidence in the accuracy of knowledge.

An internal community that embraces knowledge sharing and drives organizational efficiency

By building a community that embraces knowledge sharing through technology and shifts in the culture, knowledge seekers can easily connect with both peers and experts throughout the organization.

We know a knowledge-sharing culture drives organizational efficiency, as less time is spent on blockers, rework is reduced, and innovation is achievable.

It’s not always obvious to employees who they should ask for help when they have questions, and experts may not realize where they can help or mentor newcomers and junior staff.

Focusing on a knowledge sharing vs knowledge hoarding culture means your solution should reward SMEs, lifelong learners, and those who take the time to assist their colleagues and share expertise.

People who are directly asked a question are motivated to share their knowledge with the questioner. If you asked those same people to provide detailed documentation in a Wiki, they might resist, but they’ll happily answer a coworker’s question in a chat or comment thread. Answering a question is an easier task than writing blank-slate documentation because the audience, the starting point, and the scope are clear from the beginning.

Where connections are made and knowledge is shared openly, knowledge reuse is a result and a big benefit of the platform. As we defined earlier, knowledge reuse is persistent, discoverable knowledge. It’s when an individual or group reuses the knowledge gained and shared by someone else.

Unlike what we saw in some of the traditional knowledgesharing models through ad-hoc pings and messages, the transfer of knowledge is visible. It’s repeatable and it benefits future answer-seekers.

So how should a knowledge sharing platform and a customer success team help organizations build this type of internal community? One way is with Slack and Microsoft Teams integrations, to encourage sharing knowledge within the platform even when the question first surfaces in a chat application.

Bring in gamification, including reputation points, badges, and bounties for sharing knowledge. Encourage technical experts and lifelong learners to participate in the community.

Provide personalized notifications tailored to each user’s activity. Customizable digests help to keep everyone informed.

Additionally, look for a customer success team of internal community-building experts that has proven success with rapid adoption. They can provide best practices ranging from change management to community growth to the ongoing measurement of community health and help the majority of customers see full adoption in the first eight weeks.

Create a continual learning culture for higher job satisfaction and employee retention

The above-discussed features and a thriving internal community support continuous on-the-job learning.

Developers and technologists love to solve complex problems. They don’t want to be weighed down by repetitive or hard-tofind details. Through knowledge reuse and visible knowledge, your team is always learning, finding the solutions they need without disrupting teammates, and sharing their own learnings with others.

If it becomes a trusted source, teams will use a knowledge sharing platform before “shoulder tapping” their colleagues— freeing up time and reducing interruptions.

We know that developers and technologists want their organizations to make the developer experience a priority, and 40% want opportunities to learn from people outside of their team. These employees highly value “opportunities to learn” and it’s in the top three reasons they stay within a company or move on, according to a recent Pulse Survey we conducted.

A knowledge sharing platform should enable developers and technologists to have daily micro-learning moments. Finding solutions to problems, async learning from SMEs, and building their skill sets are all considered “micro-learning.”

A learning culture yields higher job satisfaction. The retention of in-demand technical talent helps with overall organizational effectiveness.

The net result is increased productivity and a more 
 engaged workforce

When it comes to technical team challenges, it doesn’t matter how large an organization is or where it is located. One thing unites technical teams across the board: they have too many tools and rely on institutional/organizational knowledge to get work done.

It’s already common knowledge that developers need “flow state” to produce their best work. Uninterrupted time to focus on the task at hand becomes harder to achieve when key information they need to do their jobs is spread across multiple apps and tools—and sometimes locked away with a subject matter expert.

Part 3: How to structure/plan for 
 an investment in knowledge sharing

Build your case for why knowledge sharing is important

Read and compile advice from third party analysts to help create urgency internally.

Calculate your potential return on investment

Knowledge sharing produces proven ROI through cost and time savings.

To implement your knowledge sharing plan, first determine which benefits you hope to achieve from it. Many companies have more than one goal they hope to accomplish.

From our customers, we’ve collected the top reasons they brought in a knowledge sharing platform:

  • 69% wanted to improve organizational effectiveness
  • 68% wanted to capture institutional knowledge
  • 67% wanted to improve operational efficiencies
  • 54% wanted to reduce the time to onboard new hire
  • 46% wanted to remove roadblock or barriers for 
 their employees
  • 44% wanted to break down silos between teams

In terms of the business benefits they’ve seen, speed, knowledge capture, and creating a culture of continuous learning are at the top of the list:

  • 87% have enabled employees to solve problems faster
  • 83% have captured knowledge for the future
  • 83% have created a continuous learning culture
  • 61% have increased the discoverability of documentation and expertise
  • 55% have increased the collaboration between and 
 among teams
  • 48% have prevented knowledge loss when a teammate 
 left the organization
  • 47% have increased the transparency of knowledge 
 and information

You can also hear from organizations that have already done this.

You should expect an ROI from your knowledge sharing platform. Depending on your goal, you have options available for evaluating different scenarios and determining potential ROI.

Build your foundation for a knowledge sharing culture

The best knowledge sharing centers around people and their connections within organizations. Applications and code aren’t created in a vacuum, and developers and technologists rely on each other to work through problems. There is a persistent need for context and institutional knowledge as your team changes—whether through positive changes like promotions or transfers or negative changes like resignations. Knowledge is constantly being built, sought, and lost within an organization.

These hits to productivity and efficiency bring risk to your organization. If knowledge is unevenly dispersed, it leads to operational inefficiencies, unhappy developers that leave for more supportive or effective cultures, and less innovation because too much time is spent trying to find solutions or people who can help.

Learn how to you can create a culture of knowledge sharing from companies like Intuit and Expensify.

Find the right knowledge sharing solution

While the idea of knowledge sharing centers around people, it’s important to have the right solution to enable knowledge to be shared naturally and stored in a way that’s easily discoverable, so it can be used again and again.

Here is a high-level process you can use as you evaluate which knowledge sharing solution is best for your needs.

Step 1: Determine what types of knowledge your organization needs to share

Talk to executive stakeholders and team members within your organization to get their feedback on what’s most important to them. Use these feedback sessions to determine what’s non-negotiable in a knowledge sharing solution, whether that applies to security measures, integrations, or other features.

Successful knowledge sharing requires widespread adoption throughout the organization, so it’s important to take time on the decision and make sure all viewpoints are considered.

Step 2: Do you need it to integrate with other systems?

If your team regularly uses Slack and Jira, for instance, 
 can the tool integrate with those platforms so that team members aren’t constantly moving from one app or browser tab to the next?

Step 3: Capturing and sharing knowledge

An effective knowledge sharing platform makes it easy for users to develop content themselves and disseminate proprietary knowledge. It also makes it easy for all team members to easily discover knowledge via a self-organizing format and human friendly robust search and tagging functionality.

These people-first types of knowledge sharing structures make it simple and intuitive for users to discover or request the knowledge they need, and for others to respond and add additional context and insight.

Step 4: Evaluate your options

Start by researching the best-in-class solutions with your company’s unique use case in mind. For instance, if you need a tool to improve internal team productivity, you’ll want to focus on a tool that’s designed for teams, rather than for customer self-service. To get started, you can look for knowledge management tools in G2 or other peer-review sites.

Conclusion

When your developers are stuck, they are forced out of their flow state searching for answers across scattered systems and channels. Most organizations have knowledge scattered across several disparate systems.

And when a developer finally finds the answers they need, but that knowledge isn’t captured and made available for reuse, the same problem or solution seeking pattern gets repeated over and over. 
 Repeating the cycle introduces risk and inefficiencies.

This can be resolved faster with a platform that scales knowledge and provides access to persistent just-intime institutional knowledge throughout the organization. Ideally it will also foster continuous learning and growth while enabling an internal community that connects knowledge seekers and technical experts across departments.

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