Knowledge is the way through this crisis

Knowledge sharing is particularly important now because very few, if any, people have ever experienced a global crisis of this magnitude in their lifetime.

Knowledge Management (KM) is having a moment. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced millions of people to work away from their offices, colleagues and connections.For knowledge-intensive businesses, this poses a fatal risk. Within businesses, collective knowledge sparks innovation and creates competitive advantage. Without the ability to connect, collaborate and share, companies risk decline.

Organisations already invested in Knowledge Management are seeing more tangible returns than ever.  A good Knowledge Management strategy ensures collaboration and knowledge sharing is embedded into the company culture. Learning, growth and innovation are part of the fabric of the organisation; and the tools to support this are available and well used. With these elements already present, the transition to remote working is smoother and far less disruptive.

Knowledge sharing is particularly important now because very few, if any, people have ever experienced a global crisis of this magnitude in their lifetime. This means that, on some level, everyone is incompetent to deal with the radical change it has brought. The ability to learn and innovate through this crisis will keep businesses afloat. 

Knowledge sharing is particularly important now because very few, if any, people have ever experienced a global crisis of this magnitude in their lifetime.

Companies with solid KM foundations will be best placed to do this. Here is how:

1. Find new ways to learn

Organisational learning and KM are inseparable. To learn is to acquire knowledge. Now is the time for businesses to be open to learning about new ways of working and foster a learning culture within the organisation.

With fewer opportunities for chance conversations, these moments should be facilitated. In part, social enterprise platforms such as Yammer can help. Conversational KM approaches, such as Knowledge Cafes and Peer Assists, are similarly effective. It is a time for openness and creativity. Encourage vulnerability and allow time for reflection at all levels of the organisation.

Learning and development programmes should continue, albeit in an altered format. This is an opportunity to learn about new ways of learning. Meta-learning if you like.

Those organisations with a solid KM foundation, linked to learning, will be in a good position to do this. Others may want to consider the following basics to steady their trajectory.

2. Identify immediate knowledge needs to stay focused

A ‘catch-all’ approach to Knowledge Management is a sure way to overwhelm your employees and undermine a KM programme.

In the absence of a considered approach to identifying knowledge assets, at the very least, KM can be applied on a ‘knowledge need’ basis.

Take the current situation, for example. Overnight thousands of businesses went remote. This created an immediate knowledge need: “how do we continue to operate as a remote business?” (or some variation of this).

Using KM approaches (e.g. Communities of Practice, where practitioners come together to solve a specific problem within a specified domain), the business can develop a body of knowledge related to this problem. By documenting, sharing and learning from this knowledge, the business will undoubtedly be far better prepared for the next pandemic (or crisis).

The same approach can be applied to any knowledge need. The key is that KM acts as a hub - responding to demand - as opposed to trying to capture every document created within the company.

3. Optimise your collaboration tool set to work smarter

An acquaintance, who works in the legal department of a large regional bank, recently shared that they are using a shared drive and collaborating via email. She related how difficult it is to keep track of versions and email threads and how much productivity has suffered as a result.

Any business that has not yet implemented a suite of modern collaboration tools will be in a similar position. Many organisations have access to Microsoft Office 365, which includes apps such as OneDrive, Teams, Planner and Yammer. If not, there are plenty of options in the cloud - including Slack, Dropbox, Zoom, Trello and more.

Companies should be rolling these tools out on a ‘needs basis’: first understand the need and then select an appropriate tool. That way, collaboration problems are solved with supportive tools, as and when they are needed.

Used well, such tools can promote knowledge sharing, innovation and foster a sense of connection.

4. Practice good content management to find what you need

Most Knowledge Managers will agree that a document repository or database does not constitute KM in its entirety (if at all). That said, practising good content management makes it easier to find what is needed.

To be sure, with the proliferation of information, manual tagging and codifying will be phased out, replaced by Artificial Intelligence and machine learning. Until then, managing information is still relevant in workplaces. It is good practice to delete old / irrelevant documents, ensure file names and document titles are consistent, and make use of real time collaboration to avoid version confusion.

A good search engine helps even more – as much as organising information is good practice; few employees have the time or inclination to do it well.

An organised system of documentation will reduce duplication of effort and time spent finding relevant documents and information, freeing up employees’ time for productive work.

Facilitating Knowledge Management will help businesses adapt to change

There is little we can be sure about right now. What is certain is this: to survive, businesses must adapt and respond to changing circumstances. Having a robust knowledge management foundation, together with a culture of learning, will be key to survival.

Image courtesy of Valeria Simantob photography -

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Ilana Botha Knowledge Manager