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Putting knowledge in the flow of everyday work

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Knowledge management is rarely successful when people see it as something “extra” they have to do on top of everything else they’re responsible for. When an organization cites time as a major reason that employees don’t share and use knowledge, the problem is usually a combination of design flaws in the underlying KM processes and systems, a lack of support from the organizational culture, and perception bias. Rightly or wrongly, overloaded employees often feel they can’t fit KM into their busy schedules, or that KM activities are inefficient and time-consuming.

To overcome this challenge, smart KM programs try to integrate knowledge sharing and reuse into the flow of people’s daily work as much as possible. Admittedly, certain KM activities—such as transferring a retiring expert’s deep tacit know-how to her successor—require the individuals involved to set aside blocks of dedicated time. But many forms of knowledge exchange actually work better when they happen in the context of someone’s core job role. In these situations, people don’t think of what they’re doing as KM: They are simply getting their work done, and that happens to involve finding or imparting relevant knowledge.

Make it easy and intuitive to find and share knowledge

When embedding KM in the workflow, the first step is to make it as easy as possible to contribute, access, and use enterprise knowledge. Most employees are laser-focused on completing work tasks and meeting their personal and team objectives—after all, that’s what they’re paid to do! They may see value in contributing a document to a shared repository or looking up how others have solved a particular problem in the past, but if the process takes too long or pulls them too far afield, they will quickly give up and move on.

Recent research from APQC identified time as the second-biggest barrier impeding KM adoption inside organizations (see graph below).

Top Barriers to Knowledge Sharing

Position KM as an enabler

Employees are more likely to engage in KM if it’s among the fastest, easiest ways to get the answers they need. A great example of this comes from Canadian ecommerce software company Shopify, which builds KM into people’s work by integrating its enterprise knowledgebase with the tools that employees already use to communicate and get things done.

Given the rapidly changing nature of ecommerce, Shopify’s product teams are constantly launching new products and features. One of the KM team’s key objectives is ensuring the latest product and technical information flows to the customer support staff who work directly with users of the company’s platform. Most of Shopify’s customer support team is remote, working from home offices throughout the world, and the agents communicate primarily through Slack. Thus, when selecting a knowledgebase tool, the KM team explicitly looked for software that would integrate seamlessly with Slack.

This tight integration allows employees to search for, add, and share knowledgebase content directly through Slack. When an agent posts a knowledgebase link in a Slack conversation, key metadata goes along with the link, including how many minutes it will take to read the recommended article and whether it is a trusted document. Long-tenured support staff encourage their peers to leverage the knowledgebase/Slack integration. For example, if a new hire asks a question in Slack, colleagues often respond by linking to relevant content in the knowledgebase. This helps reinforce the utility of the knowledgebase and the importance of searching for existing guidance before reaching out to colleagues.

Shopify also leverages a feature of its knowledgebase that analyzes the webpage elements an employee is looking at and recommends relevant content in a sidebar. For example, if an employee is browsing one of Shopify’s themes for ecommerce sites, the knowledgebase might push articles related to internal pricing and plan information for that theme, as well as any recent updates or troubleshooting tips.

Building on the success of these integrations, the KM organization is working on an email integration that will suggest content from the knowledgebase to employees based on the support emails they are currently responding to. “The best way to make sure knowledge is a part of employees’ work is by having this knowledgebase that’s deeply integrated with the tools where people are doing their work,” said Dana Tessier, Shopify’s director of knowledge management.

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