The concept of implementing internal knowledge management solutions is often met with the lackadaisical response of “Oh, that’s easy” or “That’s the least of our concerns” and maybe even “Everyone knows the way we do things; we don’t need to write knowledge base articles.” WRONG.
With what is being coined as “the great resignation,” companies have found that they not only lose employees, but they take that knowledge with them when they go. These companies now need to replace that person and somehow recoup that lost knowledge. This is a glowing example of where knowledge management is vital.
Below I have outlined some of the basics of knowledge management that any company, organization, or business should consider as they plan their way into the world of KM.
You need a knowledge base. I won’t sit here and lie to you on the internet; you need one. Having a single central knowledge base for all your staff is essential. Your knowledge base should be something that staff from the entry-level all the way to President/CEO have access to and the ability to contribute to in some way. You want to have a knowledge base that is easy to access, easy to navigate, and even easier to search in.
When designing a knowledge base, you want it designed with urgency in mind. Put yourself in the shoes of a staff member dealing with an irate customer, and that staff member is desperately trying to solve the customer’s problem. Make articles easy to find, limit the number of clicks it takes to get to the core content, and arrange the content in a way that makes sense.
There are so many ways to design a knowledge base and even more tools to help build your knowledge base.
Knowledge Base Articles
You have a knowledge base now. Excellent … now what? Time to establish how your content will be organized. Again, this step is often overlooked and seen as a time waster. LET ME TELL YOU from experience – it IS NOT. You could design a beautiful knowledge base with outstanding detailed materials that shine like beautiful diamonds … but if your staff (your END USERS) can’t read or follow the material, your knowledge base is useless. Often another response to this is something along the lines of “Well, if they can’t understand it, that isn’t my problem” WRONG. Staff who cannot trust their knowledge base will take the knowledge that they have and silo it into private documents or files. And we come back around to the issue of good staff leaving taking their knowledge with them.
When designing your knowledge base article, keep things clean, avoid using slang or jargon, and always write to the applicable reader/user level. You never want to assume that the person reading this knowledge article is an expert. Your articles will be accessed by people lost in a process, new to the process, or looking for a refresher.
Knowledge base? Check. Standard template/knowledge article style? Check. Now we get to the fun part. This is the time you scour your business, departments, and teams to find your “experts”. What is an expert? In this context, these are the people who know the process the best. Sometimes this is a mix of people across the organization, and this is okay. You want to gather these experts and have them document the process as clearly as possible. Using the template designed in our previous step, have your knowledge managers document the process from start to finish. Work alongside them to provide guidance and help them format the material so that the information is clear and consistent.
The role of these knowledge managers doesn’t end after the process has been documented. They will need to maintain these articles going forward as well. Processes can change from once a year to every day, and these will need to be reflected in the corresponding knowledge article.
This is one of the most important features of your knowledge base, if not the most. Your knowledge base/knowledge atmosphere needs to be a safe space for staff to ask questions, make suggestions and challenge existing processes. The most powerful cog in a business is the staff member that interacts directly with your customers. They deal with the ins-outs of your business and usually, they handle the most complex processes with your customers. As they do these processes, they will find issues with it, they will find workarounds and they will find the areas for improvement.
Under no circumstances should you limit who can contribute feedback on your knowledge base articles. Limiting your staff will again lead to them creating their own knowledge silos, and when they leave, they take those improvements with them.
Internal knowledge management solutions are somehow both so simple and extremely complex at the same time. The secret to a good knowledge base, heck, to a good knowledge management practice at all, is to be flexible and fluid. Knowledge management and change management go hand in hand. One does not exist without the other. As things change in your organization, the processes that are documented and their knowledge base articles need to be changed and updated too.