Five Tips for Creating Effective Knowledge-Sharing Documents That People Will Actually Use
A smart discipline and workplace culture around knowledge-sharing documents will help generate resources that employees will feel comfortable turning to, an expert on knowledge management says.
With workers shifting roles more frequently than ever these days—and, of course, simply going on vacation—being able to transfer knowledge between team members is an essential task for many organizations.
The reason? Not having that knowledge handy can create major headaches for your team. One IDC study found that data professionals often struggled to find information, with nearly a third of workers spending their weeks looking for hard-to-find information buried somewhere in the cloud. It’s an issue even in stable organizations, but as the workforce at large uses the return to the office as an opportunity to take their careers in a different direction, this problem could increase in the coming months.
“You want to avoid someone leaving an organization who has only ever stored documents on their desktop, and no one else has access to get to them,” says Jennifer Pflaumer, a knowledge management expert and the immediate past president of the Association of Independent Information Professionals.
Organizations need a consistent approach to knowledge-sharing so that information survives even when the people who generated that information move on. And it’s just as important that the information be organized in a way that people will actually find useful when they need it.
Pflaumer, who runs information management consultancy Paroo, offered these tips for association pros to consider when developing a knowledge-sharing protocol:
Use a centralized information-sharing resource. Pflaumer recommends tools that lend themselves to the hive mind, such as internal wikis and collaboration software. Wikis can help to organize resources communally and collect useful links, and collaboration tools such as SharePoint help collect key documentation and resources relevant to the entire organization so that someone new to the organization can hit the ground running. And these aren’t limited to the mechanics of doing a job, either. She also recommends making room for elements such as org charts, missions, values, and objectives, along with the organization’s strategic plan. “All those kinds of things that give you a sense of what the organization values, what the key projects or objectives are of the organization to know where you fit into that,” she says.
Build your documents around roles, not people. Even if leaders have been in their roles for two decades, that doesn’t guarantee they’ll stay there forever, and it can be hard to capture their institutional knowledge. While longtime employees’ personal relationships come in handy, Pflaumer recommends not building knowledge-sharing documents around people, warning that it can create challenges in keeping the information evergreen. One strategy she recommends for capturing more practical information tied to institutional roles that might not fit into other forms: building a frequently asked questions (FAQ) document that can offer answers to common questions employees have.
Aim for consistency across departments. While the IT department and the marketing team may have different concerns, if their approaches don’t match, it can create headaches for those stepping in who need to find information. Pflaumer admits it can be challenging, but if done correctly, manageable. “I think it’s extremely important, and easier said than done—obviously you have different people and different ways of organizing things,” she says. “But I would say as much as possible, it’s important to have the same types of structures or organizational systems available for the different departments to move through.” This means a consistency in file formats, folder layouts, naming conventions, and template designs. The information should feel like a single piece—after all, if the knowledge-sharing documents are confusing, people won’t use them, making their benefits null.
Bake knowledge-sharing into your culture. Pflaumer says that association pros are far less likely to run into headaches down the line if there are organization-wide expectations of consistent documentation and knowledge-sharing. “I think it’s really important to build knowledge management into the culture of the organization so it’s a part of your daily work, not as an afterthought,” she says. By doing it this way, organizations can avoid the need for a “brain dump” when someone leaves an organization.
Consider consistency within the cloud. In the past, even poorly organized files might have lived in one consolidated filing cabinet. In the digital era, files can be stored anywhere, making it even easier to organize poorly—and inconsistent sorting can ensure things are easily lost. “It’s important to have the right systems in place to manage all this documentation that’s being created and everything else—photos, videos, audio files, or whatever the organization is creating,” she says. “You need to have a map to those systems—what system does what, which system is used to store which types of assets—and then really make sure that your infrastructure is able to support and maintain your digital knowledge base.”