Knowledge management is the process of purposefully organizing and sharing collective knowledge within an organization. Getting this process wrong can be costly. A 2018 Panopto study found that the average large US business loses $47 million in productivity each year due to inefficient knowledge sharing.
Knowledge management software tools have been developed in response as organizations seek to support and encourage knowledge sharing.
The integration of knowledge management software can make HR teams more efficient, reducing overall costs and enabling them to focus on other priorities. For example, they can save time on answering common employee questions by making self-service tools and a knowledge library available.
Crucial information such as benefits programs, compensation review guidelines, and absence policies can also be more easily shared and understood by everyone in the organization.
Types of Knowledge
There are three main categories of knowledge: explicit, tacit and cultural. The different categories each have different challenges for sharing and retaining the knowledge.
Explicit knowledge is formal knowledge that is recorded in clear writing. As a result, it is usually easy to share and retain. Employee policies are a form of explicit knowledge.
Tacit knowledge is personal knowledge that reflects what an employee has learned on their own and does not usually communicate to others. Tacit knowledge is often difficult to communicate because it is personal to the knowledge holder.
An example could be the workflow an employee uses to achieve their best results. This workflow could have hundreds of moving parts that they have perfected through years of practice.
It is also the most difficult type of knowledge to retain because documenting it is not often made a priority. Back to our workflow example, employees are rarely given time to document their workflow in detail.
Should an employee leave the organization, the next employee to take on the workflow will start from scratch when they might have benefited from seeing how the prior employee managed the workflow.
In this example, it can be helpful to gather this knowledge informally, perhaps conducting a thorough exit interview to understand the employee’s workflow as much as possible before they leave.
Cultural knowledge is made up of assumptions and beliefs. An example would be employee assumptions that an organization adheres to rigid organizational structure and discourages communication with employees above their pay grade.
Cultural knowledge is usually transmitted by word of mouth and informed by an employee’s experiences.
As with a company’s overall reputation, cultural knowledge can be shared easily, but damaging aspects can be difficult to change. If you need to enact change, you can do so through internal communications and deliberate actions.
For example, an organization seeking to change a culture that has only valued executive input can take a deliberate action to solicit and encourage input from more junior team members.
Knowledge Management Benefits for HR
With more organizations including remote workers or collaborating across multiple offices, it’s more important than ever to have a system for sharing HR knowledge. Here are some key examples of how knowledge management systems benefit HR functions.
Moving onboarding to an HR knowledge management platform such as Connecteam’s knowledge base allows HR to add or update information as needed. It also gives continuing access to this information to employees, who might otherwise struggle to find answers a few months in.
Better service for employees
In the age of web search, no one wants to wait for answers to simple questions. HR knowledge management systems provide 24/7 access to answers in the way people are used to finding information.
This enables employees to easily and quickly find the information they need without waiting for an email exchange.
Consistent answers with fewer mistakes
HR knowledge management systems provide a single source of truth, allowing employees to get answers which align with corporate expectations. This single source also limits the risk of mixed messages or incorrect information causing your employees confusion.
Avoids recreating work
The lack a knowledge management system can result in an HR employee recreating a document or policy simply because they don’t know it already exists. An organized knowledge management system makes it easy for HR teams to know exactly what’s there and what needs to be created.
This is particularly helpful for dispersed HR teams, as documents for one region may provide a helpful start when developing a similar document elsewhere.
Access controls get the right information to the right employees
Not all information is appropriate for all audiences. For instance, an employee’s health benefit selections may be part of the data HR reviews to judge the effectiveness of health benefit offerings.
However, there’s no reason for that employee’s coworker to have access to that information. Knowledge management systems offer access controls to ensure the availability of information isn’t ruined by unauthorized sharing. These should be set carefully to ensure the right people can access the right information.
How To Create Knowledge Management Systems
HR teams seeking to start a knowledge management system should focus on four key targets:
- Making information available to employees and HR: Sharing organization data and information is the most straightforward part of knowledge management. Systems that allow for quick access to employee policies, benefits information, and company news are a great start.
- Making it easy to connect with subject matter experts: Employees shouldn’t have to guess who in HR can help them or be stuck with a single generic HR mailbox that takes ages for a response. Knowledge management systems should support getting inquiries to the best expert. Typically these experts will be HR business partners or HR Centers of Excellence (COEs).
- Documenting solutions in knowledge base articles: Chances are, more than one employee will have the same question. When a new problem is solved, the knowledge management system should offer a way to categorize and store the solution so that it’s easy for other employees to find. These typically take the form of a knowledge base article library.
- Encouraging knowledge sharing: Make sure that HR team members working on the same project don’t need to be locked into the same room to get their job done. Collaboration tools such as web-based case management systems can allow HR teams to work more effectively, even across distance.
HR’s Role in Knowledge Management
HR can play a key role in driving knowledge management efforts within a business. HR should be a voice communicating the benefits of knowledge management to employees.
A number of HR functions, from onboarding to benefits to policy updates, are well suited to knowledge management systems that promote self-service information and collaboration.
Effective knowledge management will ultimately benefit organizations as a whole and free up HR time to focus on more strategic initiatives.