Knowledge management has been around for more than 20 years, yet many organisations have had mixed success in trying to systematically capture and organise knowledge, while also persuading employees to share knowledge in the first place. However, some organisations have made better progress than others.
There are lots of different approaches to managing knowledge and what works well for one organisation may not work for another. A successful outcome depends on many factors, such as:
- the types of employees and their roles
- individual employee needs
- the level of resourcing available to support knowledge management
- the technology deployed
- organisational culture
- and any associated change management efforts.
With the growth of social networking platforms, communities of practice continue to be one of the most successful models for sharing and organising knowledge over the past two decades. Likewise, the growth of community management, as a practice and a profession in its own right, has helped to ensure communities work more effectively.
But there are also a number of other approaches which have proved successful, including:
- curating knowledge items, sometimes throughout the organisation or within specific communities
- gathering ideas from staff on specific topics which can then be put into practice
- introducing a formal process for experts to answer questions from employees using social tools
- social bookmarking, allowing employees to share useful links to valuable sources
- creating specific, highly structured collections of knowledge, which provide significant value to employees
- introducing tools and approaches that help organise data into meaningful knowledge assets.
Of course, there are other approaches, such as organising formal reviews which capture lessons learnt. Let’s look at examples of each of the above, which have worked for different organisations.
Curating the knowledge within communities at ANZ
Communities of practice (CoP) have long been part of the KM landscape, and they still provide one of the best ways to facilitate knowledge sharing and capture. Global financial services company ANZ has a strong enterprise social network which is used by different groups and companies throughout the bank, including frontline staff who work in branches.
One approach to help knowledge capture is a ‘knowledge base’ feature which is available within each community. Here key discussion threads, documents, FAQs and other reference information from within the community can be stored and then searched for – providing a simple way to curate items which are of value to others.
Gathering ideas to improve processes at ANZ
Ideation is another way of gathering knowledge and ideas. It usually involves employees submitting ideas based around a particular challenge or topic. These can be either broad or something far more specific. The ideas submitted by employees are then commented and voted on by other employees, with some of the most popular ideas then actioned.
ANZ carried out a successful ideation initiative with their branch staff, asking for ideas on how to improve frontline processes. This successfully tapped the knowledge of the staff who deal with customers every day and who have a unique insight into the bank’s services.
To submit an idea, staff had to complete a simple form which was then displayed for others to vote and comment on. The most popular ideas were always shown on the right of the screen, but ideas could also be filtered by type, such as people, technology, policy and so on.
ANZ’s ideation tool was also used to gather ideas on how to transform the bank’s risk systems. The 160 ideas submitted received 6,000 votes to identify the top 10 ideas which were then presented to a judging panel at a “pitch night” event. Three ideas were then selected to be taken forward, but the panel is also considering how they can use some of the other ideas too.
Building up organisational knowledge at Swisscom
One of the most popular use cases in social networks is connecting people with experts who can answer questions from colleagues on their chosen subject area. Sometimes this is just done via communities or via a general activity stream, but a “Social Q&A” tool can add some structure to this process and actually help build up a searchable bank of organisational knowledge built from questions and their answers.
Swiss telecommunications company Swisscom integrated an excellent social Q&A capability into the intranet and branded it “Ask The Brain”. A web part (widget) on the “Work” landing page of the intranet displays the latest questions asked by employees and provides a link to the full service. Any employee can ask a question (anonymously if they wish) and Ask The Brain will then use an internal algorithm to identify potential experts, who are notified. Questions are also visible for all to see and may attract answers this way.
The service has been very well used, building up a knowledge bank of 10,000 questions which generates 4,000 views daily, impressive in a company with just under 20,000 employees.
Social bookmarking through pinboards at Accenture
Social bookmarking allows users to curate collections of useful web links to articles and web pages on different topics and share them with peers. In the world of external social media, social bookmarking has evolved to the ‘pinboard’ style of Pinterest and other similar sites.
Global consulting company Accenture created a custom-built internal social bookmarking service called Collections, using a Pinterest-style interface. Employees can create their own attractive pinboards on different topics which link to both internal and external sources. In turn, widgets that link to a pinboard can be embedded into the Accenture intranet and collaboration platform. There is an unusual depth of features on Collections pinboard, including the ability to restrict access, filter links, add links directly from the browser with one click and view metrics.
The pinboards have been used extensively for a variety of different use cases, including to help teams manage bids, collect credentials, replace email newsletters, share best practices, stay up to date on different topics and disseminate post-workshop materials.
Creating a product catalogue at STIHL Australia
Sometimes knowledge is best organised and disseminated in highly structured collections which can then be searched and filtered using different criteria. This often works best where a collection of knowledge items needs to be authoritative and closely managed, and also has controlled terms (keywords or metadata) which describe each item.
STIHL Australia is a small subsidiary of global tool manufacturer STIHL. When the company launched its first-ever intranet, it also created an online product catalogue which could be used by staff, particularly those who are customer-facing, as a critical reference point. Previously, product information was scattered across several different sources and the information was not necessarily up to date.
The catalogue contains a standard set of information about each product, including model number, photo, technical specification, the recommended retail price and so on. The catalogue can be filtered on different criteria. The team also included information on what comes in the box with the product, often a key question for customer service staff who are responding to questions from dealerships. By consolidating knowledge from different sources and organising it into a standard format, the intranet has saved employees time and improved customer service.
Turning data into knowledge at MITRE
The ability to make sense out of the huge amount of data which exists within organisations can be a source of competitive advantage. Combining data from different sources and presenting it in imaginative ways can also increase its value, creating knowledge assets which deliver actionable insight for decision-makers. However, it is rare that organisations do this well.
The MITRE Corporation, a publicly funded independent research organisation based in the US, has a track record of carrying out advanced knowledge management. One of its latest initiatives is the launch of the Reporting, Analytics and Visualization (RAV) service which help internal teams produce advanced graphs and dashboards using Tableau data visualisation software.
Although local analysts own their own data and build their own dashboards, the central RAV service helps them to follow best practices and a standard process to create new dashboards using an enterprise-wide tool. Getting the balance right between local ownership and central support has been key to the success of the service.
There is now widespread use of real-time or near real-time dashboards and advanced data reporting throughout the organisation. Numerous examples provide better operational and strategic insight for teams, covering everything from an overview of search terms used across digital environments, to tracking data centre temperature and humidity, to staff resource planning. Overall, the RAV service is anchoring an additional distribution and flow of knowledge throughout the organisation.
Which approach works for you?
There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to gathering, storing and distributing knowledge. Perhaps in your organisation one or more of the above approaches is already working for you? Perhaps one initiative has been more successful than another? If your success has been patchy to date, use the examples above as inspiration to consider how you might kick start knowledge management in your organisation. Good luck!