Knowledge sharing is essential for any company that wants to learn and improve. Think of it like this: if your employees aren’t sharing their insights and ideas, they can’t really improve.
Hearing what others think can help them improve their ideas and be more creative.
Since you’re here, you’re probably not an expert on knowledge sharing or are looking for an excellent way to start. Well, you’ve come to the right place!
We’ll explain some best practices to share knowledge within a company, improve productivity, and engage your team even more.
Create Knowledge Sharing Habits
The best way to get your team to participate in knowledge sharing is to encourage them to do it.
More specifically, the company should create and cultivate an insight-sharing culture. Instead of just telling employees to share ideas, show that you’re setting aside time for knowledge exchange yourself and lead by example.
In 1986, General Electric (GE) transformed its knowledge sharing and planning process.
After relying on annual goal-setting cycles for decades, Chairman and CEO Jack Welch decided to hold a two-day meeting with leaders of 14 departments.
Instead of asking them to bring a lot of documentation and reports, Welch asked each business leader to present a playbook.
The one-page document had to contain the critical strategic issues and how the business would handle them. Welch and his team then met with each leader and management to brainstorm solutions for their challenges.
The usefulness of this approach lies in the fact that time was set apart for the department heads to present the issues they were facing in free-form (the playbook).
Once the problems were presented, a discussion, or knowledge sharing session ensued in which each leader could benefit from the wisdom and experience of their peers.
GE has been promoting a culture of knowledge sharing for decades.
Do you do anything similar?
Another excellent way to tap into your team’s tribal knowledge, i.e., the insights that aren’t that easy to put into words, is to ask them to work with new hires.
The automotive manufacturer Toyota regularly pairs up new and experienced workers to maximize learning and ensure people learn the details you might not have recorded in the official documentation.
For example, new factory workers have to go through training and work with experienced employees for a couple of months.
After that, they are sent to a new factory alongside a couple of hundred more knowledgeable coworkers, who help them learn and share their expertise.
Additionally, the company immerses employees into knowledge-sharing methods from the first day of onboarding.
More specifically, the HR team explains the importance of teamwork at Toyota. The same values are repeated the next day, alongside mutual respect and communication.
On the third day, new Toyota hires go through communication and teamwork training and learn more about problem-solving methods. The entire four-day onboarding process stresses how vital communication and teamwork are, thus setting the ground for good knowledge sharing.
Can you implement any of these techniques into your company culture?
Incentivize the Knowledge Sharing Activities
One of the easiest ways to encourage people to participate in knowledge sharing is to give them a good reason to do it.
And, what better incentive is there than a reward?
You might think that offering rewards for idea sharing won’t work, but Deloitte’s survey found that it’s exactly what employees need.
In fact, 37% of them named the lack of incentive to share insight the biggest knowledge management barrier in their company.
This data might be scary for companies who simply don’t exactly have the funds to go all out, but don’t fret it. It turns out that employees like getting praise even more than physical gifts.
More precisely, 85% of them would like to receive a simple ‘thank you, whether written or verbal. A mere 7% of employees prefer physical gifts.
Therefore, you don’t have to go all out to have a happy, incentivized team. All you have to do is say thank you and say it often, especially when you notice knowledge-sharing behavior you want others to copy.
Here’s a nice example plucked from Growbot. This handy feedback app can be integrated with Slack, making shoutouts and kudos super easy to broadcast.
With such an app, you can quickly reward an especially helpful team member by giving them a public shoutout in a shared communication channel. Public recognition shows others what kind of behavior you encourage and support.
If you want to give an employee a bit more than a simple (though sweet) message, you can offer inexpensive rewards, such as tickets to a show, a meal subscription, or a “thanks video from the CEO,” as Disco suggests.
Here’s a great example of a thanks video created for the occasion of employee appreciation day.
As you can see, these kinds of messages can highlight and uplift your entire workforce, the work of one department, or just one employee who, for example, helped their colleagues by sharing their knowledge and expertise.
If you want to go further, think about offering app subscriptions.
Mental health and meditation apps are all the rage these days, which is no surprise considering that over 44% of remote workers experienced a mental health decline due to the pandemic.
The point is to recognize and commend your employees' efforts in knowledge sharing. Since even a simple ‘thanks’ means a lot, you can’t go wrong with your choice of incentive.
Ask For Feedback
Don’t diminish the importance of asking for feedback. After all, isn’t that the easiest way to figure out what employees need to participate in knowledge-sharing culture?
You may spend weeks wrapping your head around the best way to promote this culture and have your employees engage in it or what you can do to improve it. At the same time, asking them would get you even better results faster.
Just look at Matchcraft, a marketing company that prides itself on its engaging culture and employee happiness.
One of the pillars of their employee satisfaction is feedback. The company goes out of its way to offer easy ways for workers to submit their input to improve processes and make people happy.
For example, the best way to know what apps you can use to improve collaboration or which knowledge base articles to writeto help them out is to ask the people who will use them.
You can get this feedback during one-on-one meetings, team brainstorming sessions, or an anonymous questionnaire.
If you’re about to implement a change or wonder whether something would be well-received, you can ask the team to participate in an anonymous online poll that guarantees you’ll get their honest feedback.
When you constantly ask employees for their input and show them it’s valuable, they will find it easier to contribute and offer their insight to others, which could save you thousands of dollars.
For example, a ChevronTexaco engineer asked a question in the knowledge management system and received answers from different specialists.
With their input, he came up with a plan that helped him save a day of research and $100,000.
ChevronTexaco uses an internal knowledge management system to make this possible, while companies like SAK and Paulaner use apps to engage their employees in a similar way.
It lets you create a survey, add different question types, depending on what kind of answers you need from the team, and makes it easy for everyone to share their thoughts with you. It’s what your employees want, after all.
Sixty percent of them enjoy and always fully complete company surveys.
The reasoning behind completing surveys is simple—employees want their voices to be heard, share feedback with the management, and drive a positive change in the company.
Therefore, employees want to take part in surveys to improve processes. It’s up to you to create a questionnaire catered to your knowledge-sharing needs.
Build a Safe Space for Exchanging Knowledge
If you want your team to embrace an insight-sharing culture, show that it’s okay to ask questions and make mistakes. Otherwise, the team might be too afraid to speak up or ask a question.
As an employer, you are responsible for creating a psychologically safe working environment. The term sounds complicated, but it’s a relatively simple concept.
“where people are not full of fear, and not trying to cover their tracks to avoid being embarrassed or punished.”
Therefore, such a working environment encourages people to share ideas and even fail without being judged. At the same time, this type of environment supports respectful disagreement over ideas since it leads to growth.
So, for knowledge sharing to be possible, you should cultivate psychological safety. Edmondson recommends doing this by explaining why everyone’s contribution matters and is welcome.
In fact, your onboarding process should stress just how vital knowledge sharing is for your company and why everyone’s opinions matter. When you establish this culture early on, people will be more likely to participate.
Encouraging knowledge sharing also means actively inviting people to share feedback through one-on-one or team meetings and giving them different ways of sharing ideas with you and each other. If people are afraid of the consequences of being wrong, they might not even try, which is why you should have guidelines on how you will treat failure.
Once the worker writes their thoughts or proposals down, they can stick their card on the wall. By doing this, the company ensures idea meritocracy, i.e., giving the same value to all ideas.
The employees should then elaborate on the ideas they’ve written down freely, without fear of being judged.
Since Tuthill has been in business since 1892, they’re clearly doing something right!
Use Different Knowledge-Sharing Formats
Knowledge comes in all shapes and forms, and you must capture it and turn it into something easily shareable.
Many companies ask workers to break down their tasks into simple points and describe each one, giving extra tips or explaining why they did something the way they did.
Toyota does this too, asking the workers to write down:
- A description of actions taken
- The duration of each step
- A sequence of steps for each task
- How to check the work done
Anyone who gets these instructions can replicate the work seamlessly, proving how effective this knowledge-sharing method is.
But, if you stick solely to pen and paper, you’re missing out on all the possibilities digitalization offers.
You need to have the option of not just sharing these files with the team but quickly updating them and viewing the changes in real-time.
You thus remove the risk of someone having outdated instructions or not even seeing them in the first place. The main goal of knowledge sharing is to ensure everyone always has current information available.
An easy way to do this is to upload your internal documentation into software specializing in documentation sharing. If it’s specialized, you’ll get extra features that will help bring your insight sharing to the next level.
For example, Archbee allows you to add documentation, let specific users edit it, and allow others to review the updates before hitting “publish”, thus enabling you to undo a change.
You don’t have to limit yourself to just documentation, though. Create and embed videos, share gifs, post graphics with important information you want employees to learn, or hold training.
These formats will bring value to your company's knowledge and improve information retention.
For example, Buffer, a social media toolkit company, is known for incorporating different content formats into their communication with customers and employees alike.
The company uses GIFs to create short tutorials on using their product to schedule and post content.
They’ve even posted an article showing off some of their cute gifs and explaining what tools they use to create them.
Even if you’re not in their line of work, you can create tutorials for the tasks that might be easier to understand through images rather than words.
Use any format you think will make knowledge exchange easier, including internal documentation, training, videos, images, or graphics.
Monitor the Results
One of the vital things you have to do when focusing on knowledge sharing is measure how well you're doing.
You can use the best practices we’ve listed and add some of your ideas, but you won’t know what works if you don’t track your progress.
Experts think that “a measure of success for a system is the number of people who use it,” which means you must understand how helpful your knowledge-sharing devices are.
Your employees might hate video content if they work in customer service and can’t afford to watch videos with sound on to find the info they need.
On the other hand, if you’re in a more visual field of work, your employees might prefer watching videos to scrolling through endless pages of documentation.
If your knowledge-sharing methods have user reaction capabilities, some of the things that will help you track your results are:
- Post views
- Post likes
When you post an article, wait a while before checking how many people have seen it. If nobody’s reading the post weeks in, the topic might already be familiar.
People could be reading your post, but if they’re giving it dislikes or not liking it, it’s a clear sign there was an issue with writing it.
It’s similar to consumers' ability to rate user reviews on various websites.
Readers will show whether they found your post informative with a simple like. Furthermore, they can leave comments. Posts with comments filled with questions point to the information not being clear enough, which means you should rewrite the article.
On top of that, you should try to measure how much time your employees spend looking for information.
The Economist found that the ease of access to the kind of information that helps employees do their job is the biggest enabler of employee engagement and productivity.
If your team spends too much time even locating the data, they’ll be less productive and won’t be able to do their job properly.
So, measure how long it takes them to find what they need, how accurate your search options are, and figure out how you can shorten the duration of an average search.
The easiest way to understand how successful your insight-sharing methods are is to see how closer you are to your goal because of them.
If you want your company to be productive and successful, your employees must participate in knowledge sharing. But, you are the one who needs to make it possible.
For starters, create and encourage people to fall into insight-sharing habits and incentivize them, be it with a kind word or a symbolic reward.
If you want to go a step further, ask your team for feedback to promote idea-sharing. However, this can only be done in a safe working environment, where people feel encouraged to share and participate.
When choosing methods, you don’t have to limit yourself to one. Find more that work for you, and measure just how much closer they are getting you to your goal of an empowered, knowledgeable workforce.