What Every Startup Needs to Know about Knowledge Management

Captured knowledge lasts foreverOccasionally, I’ve been hanging out at the Tech Ranch in Austin, Texas. The Tech Ranch is an office space for startups and entrepreneurs to incubate their ideas and organizations. My focus is on Knowledge Management in medium to large organizations, or more descriptively, managing the flow of information and knowledge across an organization. For the most part, I don’t fit the mold at Tech Ranch, but it offers me a place to break out of my work-at-home routine.

In my observations and interactions at the Tech Ranch, managing knowledge in these small businesses and startups is more spontaneous, earthy, unstructured, and tribal. This is part of the allure of a startup or small organization. Ideas have potential to germinate into big things. Hope springs eternal — until the money runs out. In small organizations, most of the communication and knowledge sharing occurs naturally. Teams are well-connected.

At the end of the day, organizations will make it based on their competitive edge, which is typically defined as speed to market of their unique ideas, muscling forward with determination, and the way they manage their information and knowledge. An organization can have a ton of funding with the greatest, and smartest people; however, ineffectively managing their organizational knowledge will doom them.

As I look at their excitement, the gleam in their eyes, and their noses to the grindstone, I would like to offer a few suggestions to improve their chances of success, lay the foundation for strong Knowledge Management practices, bolster their competitive edge, increase their organizational effectiveness, and allow them to propel sooner to the next level of organizational maturity, growth and revenue.

Knowledge Assets are the value of your organization (KM Strategy)

People, resources, and funding may come and go, but the knowledge you capture stays with you.

Streamline and Centralize Knowledge Assets

Centralize the Organization’s Knowledge by identifying and communicating the official spaces or repositories for your Organization to use. The cloud makes it really easy these days. Employees (including you reading this) should not keep organizational information and knowledge in his or her personal repositories (ie: computers, personal email, phones, etc …). Granted, an organization will have Confidential, Restricted and Legal documents, those assets should be defined as such, and kept in their own restricted areas.

Avoid the Cool Tool Du Jour

Even though someone may have their favorite new-fangled, cutting-edge technology that all of the kids are using these days, a smart business will not allow the “cool tool du jour” to occur. One of the fasted ways to derail goals and objectives is to freely allow for splintered and silo’d knowledge to propagate, creating conflicts and redundancy – especially if most of the organization does not know it exists. This is a rampant issue in many large organization today. Nip it in the bud.

Communicate Your Organizational KM Strategy and Practices

If you are currently in a splintered environment with knowledge hoarders, schedule a short meeting to discuss the potential issues with the repository leads and owners. Appeal to their sense in regards to the mission of your organization. This is part of the maturity of an organization. In addition, communicate a KM Practice on a weekly basis.

Finding Answers

Studies show workers spend 20% (or more) of their time searching for answers.

Centralizing your Knowledge Assets will reduce some of these organizational inefficiencies, and administrative overhead.

Establish a Knowledge Structure beyond Functional Roles

You have different individuals in charge of Development, Marketing, Hiring, Sales, and Engineering (or someday you will). You hired them because they are experts in their field and can work autonomously for the greater cause of the organization. But don’t leave it to them to develop their own Departmental Knowledge Strategy without it being part of the overall Organizational KM Strategy.

Knowledge Training

Everyone in your organization needs to be familiar with your Central Repositories, and how they are structured at the top levels. Get in the habit of tagging, and storing your Knowledge Assets in their intended place. This will make it easier for someone in the DEV group to find the latest Logo created by the Marketing team. It will make it easier to onboard new employees quickly. It will make it easier for people to find answers. Everyone in your small organization needs to understand how to do this, as well as the benefits of doing this. Spend 30 minutes training them on your KM Practices, and remind them on a weekly basis. If needed, coach individuals to get their buy-in, and reduce rework.

Understand these two words: Tacit Knowledge and Explicit Knowledge

  • Tacit Knowledge: This is the information and knowledge you keep in your head, and you can spew at will. In other words, you don’t know what you know, until someone asks. (ie: What are the 3 restaurant you would tell people to avoid?)
  • Explicit Knowledge: This is the Tacit Knowledge that has been recorded, and structured into an Organizational Knowledge Asset. Others can find it, Reuse it, and collaborate on the knowledge. This is documents, code, manuals, websites, videos, presentations, procedures, etc …

This is the tip of the iceberg for effective Knowledge Management (Organizational Effectiveness). Many organizations will say they do not have time. Just remember, Knowledge is the value your organization provides, and is your competitive differentiator. If you don’t have a KM Strategy, set aside some time, and bring a bit more sanity to your organization. They will thank you for it.

No more heroes, no more silos: Get back to the 40 hour work-week with Knowledge Management

silo_superheroRecently, several articles were published reporting that we are working more than 40 hours a weekespecially in the United States. We are spending more time on our work and less time on ourselves. The 40 hour work week is a thing of the past. The reports call out the continuing pressure by management to push productivity, meet deadlines, and be a team-player – all in the spirit of profit, competition and survival.

In the early 20th century, workers faced similar pressures, which spawned the coveted 40-hour work week, and paid time-off. However, as the reports indicate, they are meaningless. Let’s face it, we are working more hours.

So how do we move forward?

  • How do we take-back time for ourselves and move our personal lives forward?
  • How do we move the organization forward?
  • How do we compete?

Moving forward

Buy New Technology: The organization can buy some new whiz-bang technologies, but it is only as good as the people who effectively use it. As well, there will be some new whiz-bang technology coming along in a few years promising to do more. If your competitors purchase the same technology, are you really creating a competitive differentiator? Are you really moving forward?

Better Talent: Hire smarter people for less money. This is easier said than done. After going through the outsourcing wave in the previous decade, the reports show our work week is still getting longer. Outsourcing does not necessarily reduce the amount of time spent, and it doesn’t really move the organization forward.

Organizational Effectiveness (a.k.a. Knowledge Management)

Every organization manages knowledge, but most organizations stumble and bumble along the way. They are caught in the hurry-scurry of the day, and move along by brute force and – more long hours. For the most part, managing knowledge is someone else’s job. However, a few organizations have established a strong Knowledge Management (KM) program, deliberately designed for the organization to work smarter, not harder. A strong KM program is the way back to the 40 hour work week.

A strong KM program and culture leverages the collective knowledge and experience across the organization. It removes the silos, stagnant projects and heroes-and-mavericks mentality. A strong KM program gets past the organizational static and clutter, and creates a collaborative culture, fostering efficiency, creativity, and profits, providing the organization with a competitive differentiator.

Keep in mind, there are several ways to approach a deliberate KM Program. Also, understand, Knowledge Management is not a project, rather it is a way of doing business. Here are several questions to ask yourself and your leadership:

  1. Does your organization have a Knowledge Management strategy?
  2. Does your organization have a Knowledge Management roadmap?
  3. Does your organization measure KM (… or the effectiveness of your organizations)?
  4. Is managing knowledge a core pillar of the communication plan?
  5. Is managing knowledge a part of your job?

Most organizations cannot answer ‘yes’ to these questions.

Perhaps its time you considered a deliberate Knowledge Management program. Work smarter, not harder, and take back your time!