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How’s your company’s organizational knowledge holding up? In other words, if an employee were to leave, would they leave you with a gaping hole where there used to be key information?

Organizational knowledge — the treasure trove of knowledge creation amassed over time — sits at the heart of most modern business operations. Various types of knowledge, ranging from step-by-step documentation to broad conceptual material, are a resource that must be valued, collected, protected, and shared. This information can impact high-level decision making and help workers avoid costly mistakes, plus ensure that a company stays on track to meet its goals.

Let’s get together?

In a typical workplace, this knowledge base is a commodity that’s overlooked and undervalued, as there’s a misconception that simply bringing knowledgeable individuals together will suffice. In reality, it’s not enough for employees to get together and share individual knowledge and insights with colleagues or managers, such as in one-on-one meetings. The process of encapsulating new knowledge must go considerably deeper. 

Why is enterprise informational depth and employee-sharing competency so important? Because while companies may be around for decades, the same is not true for employees and other contributors. Over time, employees develop in-depth knowledge of company processes, specs, and client information. And when a senior-level player leaves, if sufficient organizational knowledge sharing methods aren’t in place, the intellectual property may evaporate from the company’s secret sauce along with them. These suddenly missing data ingredients can negatively impact the balance of organizational knowledge and seriously hamper progress.

So for valuable organizational knowledge to continue being utilized by current and future employees, it’s essential for businesses to preserve and share it. 

What “organizational knowledge” means

The phrase “organizational knowledge” sounds like something related to getting organized, but it isn’t about how good someone is at arranging books on a shelf or planning a product-development cycle.

The concept was coined by corporate-management guru Peter Drucker in the 1980s as the “coordination and exploitation of organizational knowledge resources, in order to create benefit and competitive advantage.” Or more simply, the sum of the recordable collective knowledge within an organization, which can be used to unlock opportunities.

Three ways of knowing

Management experts say the types of organizational knowledge fall into three categories:

Explicit knowledge

This is concrete, well documented knowledge: company information that’s been written down or otherwise formally recorded. It’s typically stored in company files (digital or on site) and can be made easily accessible to anyone who might need it.  

Implicit knowledge

This is applied explicit knowledge, such as skills that have been learned through being in a particular corporate role for some time. This information can be taught to new employees or anyone else who needs it.

Tacit knowledge

Tacit knowledge refers to information learned about a process but not necessarily documented anywhere. This type of information is often more difficult to record and relay to others because it may incorporate intuitive aspects.

Cause for concern

Despite the fact that effectively entering, safeguarding, and sharing organizational knowledge is thought to be imperative, a Deloitte survey found that deficient organizational knowledge is “one of the top three issues affecting company success.”

“If searching [for information] is difficult and the results are not highly valued, workers lose trust in the knowledge systems,” Deloitte found. “This, in turn, makes them less willing to share personal knowledge in those systems, which reduces the quality of the content.”

Making organizational knowledge accessible

If organizational knowledge was on Drucker’s radar way back when, it’s certainly more critical now, in our data-inundated world.

Organizing and categorizing that data is the only option. Ideally, companies need centralized organizational knowledge management to keep up. It’s documented: effective knowledge management increases productivity by roughly 20% in almost three quarters of companies, according to the Technology Services Industry Association.

So how can you make your organizational knowledge more accessible?

Here’s what experts recommend:

Scuttle the silos

Without a knowledge management system, knowledge can easily become siloed: sequestered within a certain team’s tech stack, rather than routinely made available to the wider company. This means access to the data is likely to be difficult — once outside employees are aware that it exists — and other teams can’t benefit from the wealth of information.

You can, of course, break knowledge free from silos by requiring that it be made readily available across teams. To make this type of knowledge retention a reality, inter-team sharing and centralized knowledge management storage are key.

Centralize for easy searching

This is perhaps the most important element of knowledge management. The good news is that you don’t need to develop an entire platform for uploading and housing different types of knowledge; you can achieve the goal of centralization with an enterprise search tool for quickly finding information across platforms. By creating access to companywide data through single searches, you effectively centralize past, present, and future information under one corporate roof.

Create a knowledge-sharing culture

Promoting the benefits of knowledge sharing is a good start. To roll out the real deal, however, business leaders must go further and create an entire organizational culture in which knowledge sharing is part of employees’ everyday drill, a baked-in process that just happens automatically.

Of course, this problem-solving solution won’t be achieved overnight; it requires a sustained commitment to knowledge sharing between employees and executives, as well as the fostering of trust among all teams. It also necessitates a dedicated platform for knowledge management. You can incentivize such knowledge sharing (e.g., by rewarding team members who publish helpful webinars), to encourage employees to take an active role in your organization’s knowledge management process.  

Organizational knowledge use cases

Managing organizational knowledge isn’t just about bringing valuable know-how out of its hiding places. It’s about then utilizing it to drive innovation and aid business-unit operations. Here are two fictional case studies: one for an ecommerce site and the other for a publishing platform.

Shoppit

Shoppit sells made-to-order furniture online. A growing disconnect between the product teams and sales and marketing organizations was leading to a breakdown in quality-management systems: mistakes made in product specs and pricing were damaging the company’s reputation.

Management responded by introducing a centralized organisational knowledge-management system to help streamline their order management and sales processes. The new system allowed the sales teams to quickly check inventory and product details while on sales calls with prospects, ensuring that the specs they were giving out were always up to date and accurate.

This left the teams more comfortable in executing their roles. A management review concluded that the result was an impressive improvement in the employee experience, an effect that rubbed off on customers and could be directly linked to helping maximize profit.

Awesome Articles

This article-sharing platform’s management wanted to promote new self-publishing features on its website and in its app, but the marketing team was still relying on written updates provided sporadically by the development team.

In particular, management wanted to make it easier for marketing folks to access details on new features and updates. By implementing central enterprise search functionality, the developers could continue filing their updates in the same way. But the change allowed the marketing teams to also access the information so they could get a head start on creating promotional materials and ads.

Search: the answer to knowledge access

The right enterprise search platform can efficiently solve knowledge-management woes by making  internal knowledge available to anyone who needs it. This solves a pressing problem, but it typically also has ripple effects far beyond happy employees and a winning customer experience.

Discover how the right enterprise search solution enhances internal knowledge sharing so you can improve your employees’ lives, engender their trust, and empower them to help you thrive. Start an Algolia free trial today!

About the author
Catherine Dee

Search and Discovery writer

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