Knowledge Retention: (4/7) Giving the employees the tools

Previously in this series of Knowledge Retention versus People Retention I’ve talked about Enabling the employees to become knowledge sources, How to find out where the knowledge is, and Encouraging the employees to share their knowledge.

Now I’m going to discuss how to give the employees the tools to enable Knowledge Retention to start happening, so that the organisation can capture and record their knowledge. This is the part I really like, and the part I’ve been struggling with getting into my current organisation.


Learners as Experts…

Having completed the analysis of knowledge and information transfer in the organisation it should now be clear where the Experts are, they are the ones who are sought by other employees for information. They will be shown on the Social Networks diagram as the larger circles with more than the average amount of connections from other

So the Experts have been identified and your learners happily have the time to informally learn, and through that process and their reviews more Experts are identified and rewarded appropriately. Excellent, but the Experts aren’t working for you yet, sure they are doing their contracted role but the knowledge they have as an expert isn’t being pulled back into the organisation for others to benefit from.

To do this you have to give the Experts a platform to speak from, or somewhere they can engage a group of interested individuals. There are a number of tools to do this, two of the most common and best placed are Discussion Groups and Blogs.

Blogs for Experts…

A Blog is tool to allow an individual or a small number of people to communicate with a much larger audience whereas a Discussion Group allows the entire audience to have a discussion with each other, storing the entire conversation in a single place for all to follow.

Experts might find that different tools work for them more than others and it depends much on their own personality which tool they find more appropriate and which will gather the most knowledge.

Experts who are more outgoing and are confident writers can be given their own blog to run based on their expert topic. In this they can write about anything related to their subject. This could comprise of daily updates on tasks or general stories that the Expert thinks might promote discussion. Each story posted is made available for other employees to read and/or comment on. This begins a discussion or a sharing of information relating to the posted story.

With Blogs come Feeds. These allow content to be pushed to people, applications and web pages as and when it is published in the Blog. So the content that the Expert posts to their Blog can be placed on the general news pages of the Intranet for all to read, or syndicated throughout the organisation.

This has the affect of growing the reader base and therefore those who comment on the Blog, this increases the circle of knowledge available to the group and, in turn, increases the amount of information being recorded within the Blog.

From the organisations point of view a blog allows for the gathering of information primarily from one knowledge source with refinements and updates coming from the rest of the organisation. If each post represents a specific piece of knowledge, the initial post represents the conception of the idea from one source, each comment shapes, expands, and adds to that piece of knowledge until it represents a more generally accepted view.

Discussion Groups for Experts…

However this might not suit all Expert employees. There are many who may not be confident in writing articles for others, or feel so confident as to voice their opinion and experience in such an open group. For these Experts giving them a discussion board to run is a strong alternative.

Using a discussion group allows the Expert to moderate the discussion and respond to other peoples comments. The key here is that other employees are engaging the Expert and initiating conversations. Typically you will find that any employee will post a question or issue on the board and ask for advice, from here the Expert will return with a suggestion or answer, or perhaps another employee will respond. This collates the knowledge into one area in the form of a collaborative and evolving Knowledge store.

A discussion board such as this has the benefit of allowing the less confident and outgoing Experts to sit on the fringes of the discussions and only engage when they feel confident of their response. What usually happens in groups such as these is that the less confident people sit on the fringes and observe – this practice is commonly called lurking. At some point in the discussion something will be said which the lurker will either think is incorrect and knows better, or sees an opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge in front of their peers, it’s at this point these people will come forward from the shadows and write something.

The organisations view of a discussion group is that it gathers knowledge from a large group of employees, without restrictions. So that there is not a reliance on the Sales team to only provide the knowledge for the sales methods, there may be other employees in the organisation with sales skills that can add to this discussion, and share new and innovative pointers and techniques.

Social Networks smoothed…

Not only that but this is helping to smooth the knowledge retention across the organisation. Looking back to the Social Networks map produced initially, it would have shown a map with a few large circles of knowledge connected by many large knowledge flows. These would be far less frequent than the small circles connected by a few small knowledge flows. The Experts are few and far between and are accessed a lot and often.

After these tools have been operating for some time and Experts have been in place, the map will show that these circles have reduced, and more of the smaller circles have expanded their knowledge. The knowledge flow throughout the organisation will also be much more spread out and less focussed on these previously large circles of knowledge.

Whichever it be, Blogs or Discussions Groups, either of these options is a good tool to give to an Expert and allows for the collation of knowledge in a single, permanent store. At some point it may be necessary to edit the information and prepare it for archive, and this simple task should be left until an Expert leaves or specifically requests the archiving as these areas can continue to grow and evolve as new employees discover them.

However the archiving system is setup it must remain browseable, searchable and able to be found easily by other employees. The retained knowledge must continually be shared. That said there is also an argument for never archiving the information, just thinning of it.

Instead of retaining every single part of the conversation the Expert may find that with topics that are no longer commented on and have been active for some time it may be wise to edit it down to succinct points.

Both these systems require little maintenance, as once an Expert is trained in using their system, they are responsible for the moderation.

Making Experts accessible…Learners becoming Experts…

there is something more important than just offering employees tools, and that is the concept of a Learner becoming an Expert and then becoming a Learning Item in their own right. Imagine the organisations Learning Management System offering search results grouped into categories, a search for the word “photography” may return the following grouped results:

e-learning: (2)

How a camera lens works…

Caring for your camera…

Books (2)

Digital Photography made easy…

The art of landscape photography…

CD Roms (1)

Free Photoshop plugins…

Experts (2)

* Richard Brunton

Steve Rayson

The list shows all the usual items which can be launched or booked, but at the bottom there are two nominated Experts for the topic, and one of them is indicated as being online now. Selecting the names would show a short profile which is fully editable by the Expert themselves. This gives contact details, times available for contact and the methods which to use, any blogs or discussion groups operated with links, reasons for being deemed an Expert, and a short biography.

Rating content…

If the organisation is really brave in allowing employees involvement, there may even be the ability to allow other employees to rate Experts using functionality available in such online systems as Reddit the social bookmarking site or Newsvine the collaborative news site where readers can create and rate items. Applying this functionality to an LMS would allow for employees to have a single vote on each item, either a single vote up or a single vote down. The ratings are applied instantly to the item listed and can also be used to dictate the order in which they are displayed, i.e. most up votes first.

Online presence…

Next to each of these Experts names, wherever they may appear, is a presence icon showing if they are both online right now and available to talk. Selecting the icon opens the preferred method of communication, which should primarily be a form of instant messaging, but equally could open an email, link to the discussion group or blog, or start an IP phone call.

Wikis…

An organisation shouldn’t rely on their Experts for knowledge though. They should look to all their employees and an ideal way to do this is that social network map. Simply find on the map the areas where large amounts of information are being taken from and the most popular places where employees are seeking their information from.

Once these areas are highlighted then some form of collaborative system can be implemented to encourage the gathering and retention of this knowledge. These could take the form of discussion groups and/or wikis. Both are ideal in this area, although the Wiki is by far the most useful and targeted system for knowledge retention. A Wiki enables the building of knowledge from all employees, not just the experts.

Wikis are often looked poorly on by organisations, especially those with a more formalised technology support, usually around areas such as security and control. However there are options that cater to these very needs, Wiki systems that follow the open source ideal and marry this with the need for corporate security and access controls. These can deliver the benefits of open collaboration within the control of the organisation.

Closing…

So those tools give the employees somewhere to put their knowledge on display, and as a result this allows the organisation to retain their knowledge and others to benefit from it. There is an interesting off shoot of all of these tools in making projects work and be managed more effectively, something I might talk about later, but here’s a quick run down.

Using blogs, wikis, discussion groups and instant messaging (which is talked about in a few articles time), projects can be tracked in a much more open manner. Endless project update meetings, reams of communications to stakeholders and customers, and the need for a specific role to handle collation and preparation of communications are gone. Using these systems allows for all the project team to directly update a blog for communication, update a wiki for the retention of knowledge gained on the project, and have time relevant discussions through discussion groups and instant messaging. Those internal and external to the project can keep updated on its progress using the blog, perhaps even the discussion group to keep abreast of the latest developments. By the end of the project there will be a store of knowledge that can be condensed and archived for future projects in one central place. Ideal.

Anyway, back to the topic in hand. Next up is Promoting Knowledge Exchange, how to push this idea forward, because no matter how many tools and how much time you give the employees, the knowledge won’t magically pour out of them.

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