STC Summit – Using Knowledge Management to capture and share information by M. Allie Proff
Catherine Heath | May 10, 2019
This talk was about making the most of your internal communities to share knowledge within your organization. It was given by technical communicator M. Allie Proff, who is also a Knowledge Management consultant, and she runs an educational website called Technically Eclectic.
In this talk, we learned about the problems that arise when it comes to capturing knowledge, and how we can entice employees to form knowledge-sharing communities.
Why we need knowledge sharing
A lack of knowledge–sharing is a huge problem in companies, especially large ones like Boeing where Allie formerly worked as a Knowledge Manager, Content Strategist, Technical Writer, and Instructional Designer.
Companies like Boeing invest heavily in Knowledge Management because they often move their operations to different parts of the country. When employees don’t want to relocate, this means they have to be replaced.
The talk also focused on the current phenomenon of the Baby Boomers who are retiring from the workforce. This results in an organization with a “brain drain” – where older employees can be sensitive about being asked to share their expertise in KM efforts because they think it means they will be pushed out early to retire.
Other Subject Matter Experts in general can be prickly when you ask them to share information, because they feel like it devalues their contribution.
The solution to lost knowledge
Companies need a plan to capture this knowledge that is currently on the brink of being lost – a Knowledge Management program.
“Knowledge Management is like an elephant,” says Allie. It’s the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about. Elephants are also a suitable metaphor for Knowledge Management, because they never forget.
Knowledge Management initiatives can also be hard to implement because it means your employees have to take time away from their regular jobs. They are seen as a cost center, but they are also an investment for the future.
Don’t make your engineers or your senior people write your documentation – hire dedicated technical writers. But of course you need a way for your employees to share their knowledge. It’s easy to execute a Knowledge Management program while neglecting the people element – but this is the most important part.
Knowledge sharing communities
Allie has had success with creating communities around different divisions of the company, and these can be organized around things like excellence or practices. If you conduct a successful pilot first, then this is more effective than wasting money on a large program that ultimately fails.
“Just because you build it doesn’t mean they will come,” says Allie, and not everyone wants to join your knowledge sharing group. There are particular methods you can employ to encourage employees to join your knowledge sharing initiatives.
Firstly, once you get people to join your knowledge sharing community, then success builds on itself. Your knowledge sharers become the cool kids and other people want to join the group. People are positively incentivized to share knowledge, and this is known as the “carrot method”.
Alternatively, you can use the “stick method”, which involves penalizing people if they don’t share their knowledge. One way you can do this is by downgrading their pay level, because by not writing a certain number of articles they are not seen as an expert.
The importance of Knowledge Management programs
Allie mentioned that one study shows that you can save $40,000 in operational costs and a 10% reduction in labor costs by implementing a Knowledge Management program. Despite the potential benefits, all this knowledge is worth nothing unless you know what to do with it. “Information has no value until it is learned,” says Allie.
One of the most interesting parts of Allie’s talk was her explanation of the different types of knowledge:
|Type of knowledge||Defined as||Characteristics|
|Explicit knowledge||Knowing||No room for doubt|
|Tacit knowledge||Wisdom||Using the “force”|
A knowledge base works best for explicit knowledge, while communities of practice or collaborative workspaces work best for implicit knowledge.
Knowledge sharing is incredibly important for companies who differentiate themselves by provision of a service or development of technologies. It’s about taking the knowledge outside of your employees’ heads and storing it somewhere that it can later be easily accessed.
Check out this write-up by our community builder Catherine's overall experiences of STC Summit.