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Knowledge management culture and the government workforce

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It’s been more than a year since the pandemic started impacting work life, and the federal government quickly adopted or refined policies to make large-scale, work-from-home successful. For many government organizations, the pandemic accelerated digital transformation efforts. It also provided a test bed for remote and distributed operations, paving the way for a new, hybrid workforce. 

How does the federal government adapt to a new workforce structure? By embracing a knowledge management culture. This nuance to an organization’s culture promotes staying connected through the adoption of new technologies and efficiencies. By continuously promoting information sharing and lessons learned, government workforces can collectively move forward, transformed and stronger, post-pandemic and into the future.

Hybrid questions. Knowledge management answers.

The biggest change for many organizations since the onset of the pandemic has been determining the policies and tech that make a digital workplace work, as well as strengthening department, team, and personal connections. Think of your workplace and the platforms, tools, and environments you use for work now compared to a year ago. Who would have thought so much could change in the course of a few months?

A critical piece aiding the success of any change management or transformation is knowledge management (KM). Organizations that already strengthened their KM practices are thriving in the new virtual workforce domain. From webinars, virtual face-to-face meetings, eLearning courses, and online information sharing platforms and databases, KM tools and technologies are making a major impact on remote work.

Furthermore, organizations that have adopted strategic KM processes to their business workflows have fared even better. Think of after-action reports or lessons learned documents. Making them available for wide consumption allows organization and its human capital to benefit from a continuous learning structure with potential for increased knowledge and insight at all levels. This kind of KM culture enhances organizational output and elevates organizational performance and success.   

Now that we’ve proven that remote situations work, particularly when tied to an ongoing strategic KM culture, it’s going to be very difficult for organizations to repeal the policy or force employees to return to the office. It’s also unlikely that organizations will give up their office space to become completely virtual. Navigating a hybrid workforce will require deep thinking about office space, productivity and costs, ongoing collaboration, interaction, and information sharing.

Bringing KM to the forefront

Anecdotally, organizations across all sectors have been successful using KM tools for their hybrid workforce. We’ve seen SharePoint sites allowing different people on marketing teams to collaborate on ads, and microlearning videos helping office managers troubleshoot the most common Zoom issues, as well as an RFP come together in record time using an expertise hub. It only makes sense that KM strategies will be more prevalent in organizations navigating hybrid workforce issues. There’s never been a better time to bring KM to the forefront. What can government organizations in particular expect from such efforts?

In the past, typical KM engagements for government entities focused on organizational objectives such as:

  • Improved collective performance
  • Recognizing and maximizing unique assets
  • Innovation and adoption of new technologies to improve performance
  • Sharing lessons learned
  • Integration and continuous improvement 

The addition of a hybrid workforce adds a new layer of complexity, changing the scope to include:

  • Shared content resources (databases and intranets)
  • Online communities of practice
  • Knowledge hubs and online information portals
  • Identifying expertise and providing access
  • Hybrid group/team dynamics

Many organizations have aspects of KM already, even if they have not identified them as such or leveraged the power of those efforts. Practitioners trained to assess KM needs and opportunities, and prescribe and implement KM solutions, know that discussing the operational aspects of KM with managers and other leadership in an organization can be eye-opening – and inspiring. Here are five examples of how KM strategies can be used to enhance a hybrid workforce.

  1. Content Management

Using dashboards, portals, internal document management systems, information systems, and databases; these tools provide access to the organization’s data to members throughout the organization. The challenges around content management for a hybrid workforce include knowing that information is available, making sure that everyone can access the information that they need regardless of location, and balancing access with security protocols. Content management’s focus is on individuals and making their job performance more efficient, thereby making the organization more efficient.

  1. Lessons Learned

These best practices, after-action reports, lessons learned and failures endured, and/or success stories are commonly found in government organizations in some form. The challenge? Consistently capturing knowledge, particularly step-by-step “how to do it” knowledge. In a hybrid workforce scenario, it’s important to capture the WHAT and HOW and the WHY something was successful or not successful so the next project manager or team won’t make the same mistakes. We’ve noted a huge gap in many organization’s KM last spring and summer when technology and processes were tried and abandoned quickly after one or two attempts. These efforts weren’t captured because they relied on the participants to make the reports. Instead, we saw many sweeping the failures aside but sharing “what worked.”

  1. Communities of Practice (CoP)

Communities of practice include knowledge hubs, electronically linked communities/networks, social channels, knowledge fairs/cafes, workshops, and conferences. Before the pandemic, organizations were well-versed in how CoPs could effectively come together in person to share and discuss problems and opportunities, best practices and lessons learned—but being less prepared for doing it virtually. We’ve had to skill up, get creative, and continually emphasize the social nature of employees. Some organizations have found that “water cooler” moments were more important than they realized and believe returning to the office is the only way to reestablish them. Realistically, the water cooler needs to become virtual.  

Similarly, organizations find that when workers work online—from home or on the road—the natural knowledge sharing that occurs in social spaces needs to be replicated virtually. In the context of KM, CoPs are generally understood to mean electronically linked groups or online networks operating like social media channels. In this way, hashtags can be used to identify and search for specific topics. Users can pose questions, asking other members of the community can respond with their perspective and feedback. The challenge is harvesting the information from these networks and sharing it is such a way that the same questions aren’t asked over and over.

  1. Training

KM activities around training include blended learning, eLearning, webinars, videos, and creating knowledge products. Fortunately, eLearning was already widely used before the pandemic, with organizations noting the value of self-paced learning through videos, PowerPoints, webinars, and online courses. The challenge for hybrid workforces will be capturing and sharing internal knowledge in virtual formats.

  1. Expertise Locator

Since knowledge resides in people, often the best way to acquire the expertise that you need is to talk with an expert. However, identifying and locating these people is a challenge. KM solutions in this area often use: (1) employee resumes, (2) employee self-identification of areas of expertise (typically by being requested to fill out a form online), and (3) algorithmic analysis of electronic communications from and to the employee (i.e., scanning social networking using an app to rank the degree of presumed expertise.) The need for expertise identification and location is huge in a hybrid workforce where “asking around” would be time-consuming and inefficient.

Preparing for future challenges

The pandemic has been the push government organizations needed to fully embrace a more digital and distributed workforce. While organizations continue to consider how they will “return to normal” with a mix of in-person and virtual employees, KM strategies and culture offer solutions that smooth over the challenging rough spots and pave the way forward with knowledge already available from within. By continuously promoting information sharing and lessons learned, government workforces find themselves better prepared to meet mission challenges and adapt to larger shifts in the sector and the world.

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