―Benjamin Franklin, “The Way to Wealth”
“Knowledge which is created in the mind of individuals is of little value to an enterprise unless it is shared.”
-Cynthia T. Small and Andrew P. Sage “Knowledge Management and Knowledge Sharing: A Review” (2005/6)
Knowledge is one of the most critical assets in an enterprise. It exists from the highest level to the most granular. It encompasses such questions as “How do I excel at my position?” to “How do I use Dropbox?” Yet companies often do not identify the location of relevant knowledge throughout the organization and facilitate it being shared to the proper individuals.
Back in 1999, David Gurteen, a knowledge management consultant, defined knowledge in the organization as “know-how” and “know-why.” He cited the example of a cake. Its molecular constituents are data; its ingredients are information; its recipe is knowledge. You can know the molecular constituents and the ingredients but without the recipe you can’t make it.
So how does the organization gather all of this know-how? How do they identify, capture, evaluate, retrieve and share all that they need? How do they create a knowledge-sharing community in their organization?
Over the past decade, I’ve held learning positions with various companies. Most recently, I’ve been building online knowledge sharing communities for a variety of initiatives for organizations (e.g., Military Personnel transitioning into Civilian Life). In my opinion, there are three key questions, which can be remembered by the acronym APS, that an organization needs to ask, answer and adapt throughout the employee life cycle to unlock and share as much knowledge as possible.
1) Acquire: What knowledge has this individual acquired in his career?
2) Procure: What does each individual need to procure for himself?
3) Share: How can we share the knowledge he has and get him the knowledge he needs?
The answers to these questions at critical stages of the Employee Life Cycle build an individual’s Knowledge Inventory. Together multiple employee Knowledge Inventories can build a true knowledge-sharing organization.
Recruiting Stage: What does the candidate know that is relevant to the position?
The APS Knowledge Inventory at this stage can be used to assess the individual’s existing knowledge base in terms of suitability for the position.
1) Acquire: Has the candidate acquired the overall knowledge to do this job? Beyond his skill set, does he possess the overall “know-how” and “know-why?” An individual may have a series of disparate skills but he may lack the “know-how” to coordinate them to achieve the desired results.
2) Procure: What knowledge does the candidate still need to acquire for the position? Does he need to acquire more knowledge than what he possesses, which could indicate a poor fit? Or does he need to acquire little additional in the way of knowledge, which could hint at an overqualified candidate.
3) Share: How can we (i.e., the organization) facilitate the sharing of this knowledge? Does the individual possess the capabilities to not just share the knowledge but also use the existing tools and platforms? A candidate may be absolutely brilliant at something yet completely unable to articulate how he does it.
Onboarding & Orientation: What else does he know or need to know?
At this point, the organization most likely has a strong sense of the individual’s skills and experiences (or at least it should have)! But individuals also walk in with all sorts of knowledge outside the core competencies of their positions. Most likely, you wouldn’t ask a sales candidate the HR benefits systems that he has used in the past. But that information could be quite useful in the future if you plan on rolling a new one out and looking for internal evangelists.
1) Acquire: What tools, systems and platforms is he familiar with? What types of training has he had in multiple areas (e.g., public speaking, meeting management)? What software has he been trained in?
2) Procure: Which of your systems, processes and platforms has he not used or mastered? According to a Harris Poll for Entrepreneur magazine, one in three workers say they are not proficient in the technology tools for their jobs, which is costing the US economy $1 trillion a year in lost productivity. Determine his knowledge gaps at this stage.
3) Share: A simple questionnaire can be filled out during onboarding to determine his familiarity or lack thereof of all types of systems, processes and platforms. Then, the organization can capture as much information as it wants at a time convenient to both. (Provided of course that he has been trained on the tools to capture information!) It can also set a schedule to ensure knowledge sharing in his “needs-to-know-more” areas.
Career Planning & Development: Ensuring that old and new knowledge is captured and shared
A recent Gallup Survey showed that companies with engaged employees outperform the competition by as much as 202%. And one-third of all employees, according to Workforce 2020, say that career training and education increases engagement. So how can a Knowledge Sharing Inventory help here?
1) Acquire: An organization needs to continually take inventory of, recognize and value an employee’s existing knowledge base. Throughout the career planning and development process, design ways and strategies for him to demonstrate and share his knowledge. How can he share it at the start? How can he be recognized as an SME in various areas? How can the organization keep doing this throughout his career as he acquires new knowledge?
2) Procure: In a 2012 study of 1200 young managers published in the Harvard Business Review, the authors identified a career-development knowledge sharing gap. On a scale of 1-5 (5 most important), young managers assigned a 4 to mentoring/coaching in importance to them, yet felt the organization’s value in this area was just below a 3. In terms of training, while they assigned a 4.5 in importance to them, they ranked the organization’s value here at just above 3.
Throughout an individual’s career planning and development, inventory should be taken of what he knows, what he needs to know and what he wants to know. In a recent survey by Udemy, 54% of workers said that they do not know everything that they need to for their position. Find each individual’s missing pieces of knowledge. Then in career planning, identify the path to knowledge procurement in a way that he considers of value (e.g., formal, informal, coaching, mentoring, self education)
3) Share: Do the proper processes, tools, systems and platforms exist for sharing to commence? What is the proper mix for him to both share and receive the knowledge (e.g., formal learning, informal learning, coaching, mentoring, wikis, meetings)? Does the individual know how to use or excel in the identified channels for sharing – or is this one of his “need to learn areas”? What has worked best for the individual in the past? What has not? Most likely, different employees share and receive knowledge best in different ways.
Transitioning out of the Company: Ensuring that the Knowledge Acquired has Been Captured
SHRM estimates that the departure of a salaried employee costs the organization an additional six to nine months of his salary, a large part of it due to training a new individual in that position.
There are, of course, all types of transitions out of a company. In some cases, it may be impossible to capture the knowledge leaving with an individual. And if an organization has a strong knowledge sharing community infrastructure, then there’s a less pressing need. Still, try to download (and upload) as much as you can!
1) Acquire:What knowledge has he acquired during his tenure at the company? What particular area is he a specialist in or possesses particular expertise in?
2) Procure: What knowledge does he need prior to departing the company (e.g., non-competes, benefit programs)? How can it be shared to him in the remaining time? How can it be shared with him after if it needs to be?
3) Share: How can what he knows be captured as much as possible in the remaining time? What triage can be done, so that the most critical knowledge to the organization (e.g., areas where he is an SME) is gathered first? Who are the key individuals who should receive it?
In conclusion, we all would be in a better place both personally and professionally if we began each day with these questions:
What did I learn yesterday?
What do I still need to learn?
How can I share what I know and have need-to-know information shared with me?
By taking Knowledge Sharing inventories throughout an employee’s life cycle, the organization can facilitate the answering of these questions for the individual professionally. And as Ben Franklin would say, it’s an investment that will pay the individual and the organization a healthy amount of interest.
Jean McCormick is VP of Content at BraveNewTalent.