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How KM enhances productivity and the employee experience

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When organizations consider investing in knowledge management, stakeholders often want to quantify the cost of not investing. What is the cost of knowledge loss and inaccessibility? These calculations are difficult to make and even more difficult to prove, since they are based on comparing the current state to a hypothetical alternative reality.

But the costs are real, even if they are dispersed in ways that make them hard to quantify. This became evident when member-based nonprofit APQC asked nearly 1,000 knowledge workers how they spend their time. Of a standard 40-hour work week, the median knowledge worker says that only 30 hours are spent on productive work (work aligned with their role that could not be eliminated through better processes and tools). This means that 25% of their time is wasted on unnecessary or unproductive tasks.

Knowledge management is not a panacea for wasted work time, but some of the biggest drains on personal productivity revolve around creating, sharing, accessing, and using knowledge. Every week, the median knowledge worker spends:

2.8 hours looking for or requesting needed information

1.7 hours seeking out the right person to answer questions or provide expertise

2.0 hours re-creating information or work that already exists elsewhere in the organization

1.7 hours providing duplicate information or repeating the same answers/updates

Altogether, these tasks add up to more than 8 hours per week per knowledge worker. See Chart.

Obviously, some of these hours are unavoidable: People must spend time finding the right information and expertise. But the amount feels excessive, and many of these activities could be simplified and streamlined by implementing better KM processes and tools.

KM interventions to drive productivity

If insufficient or poorly designed KM processes impede employee productivity, how can organizations fix the problem? Of course, the answer depends on the specific knowledge gaps, bottlenecks, and silos that are affecting employees. But APQC’ s research points to three interventions that would benefit almost all organizations:

Documenting critical knowledge

Implementing enterprise search

Using KM to facilitate peer mentoring and coaching around productivity

Documenting critical knowledge

If you want to help employees be more productive, the logical first step is to identify and document critical knowledge involved in their work. This ensures employees can jump into tasks without dithering around looking for information, asking colleagues how to proceed, answering questions about the work, or reinventing the wheel about what to do and how to do it. It also promotes standardization and the dissemination of best practices across the enterprise. 

The research demonstrates the importance of documenting critical knowledge. Only 37% of surveyed knowledge workers say their organizations have documented critical knowledge related to their work. Compared to those whose organizations have not documented critical knowledge, these employees are significantly less likely to say:

A lot of the knowledge they use to do their jobs is only in their heads

Many of the processes they use to do their jobs are only in their heads

If they left their jobs tomorrow, their organizations would lose a lot of valuable knowledge

Their productivity at work is hurt by challenges finding and accessing information

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