3 Truths every knowledge manager knows

Knowledge managers are a widely varied bunch. We work in different industries. We may be nestled into an org chart under IT, Customer Service, or Marketing. We support an internal audience, external customers, or a mix of the two. We may have a great knowledge program, or know that ours can improve. We may manage a team of individual contributors, or we may be in the trenches, getting personally involved in content creation.

3_checkboxes (1)Over the years, I’ve worked with hundreds of people who manage knowledge programs of all shapes and sizes. No matter what differences divide us, if you asked a few dozen knowledge managers what “Doing KM Right” means to them personally, you’d hear the same things over and over. We execute on our strategies in different ways, but every knowledge management professional holds these three truths at the core of their beliefs:


Good KM needs a vision

To create a great knowledge program, you have to know what success looks like. You, your leadership, your direct  reports, and your business partners need to understand what you’re working on, and how your actions play into organizational goals. So often we get caught up in the day-to-day business of creating content to support products and services that we lose sight of the bigger picture. Getting lost in the details is the difference between striving for improvement and just keeping the lights on.

Good KM needs guiding principles

Having a clearly defined vision of the experience you want your customers (internal and/or external) to have is paramount. Defining clear guiding principles (around 10 or so) that are the highest level requirements that your system and process should never compromise. These give you and your team the ability to make future decisions in the context of the real intent of your knowledge base program. Knowledge programs fail to achieve their potential when they lose track of this vision and the principles that were to be upheld. Revisiting these regularly and socializing them, will drive long-term improvements to your program and ensure a solid user experience.

Good KM needs partnership

Once you know where you’re going and how you’ll get there, you need support – and a lot of it. You need a supportive ear in leadership to green-light your budget and resource allocations. The cross-functional relationships you’ve built with your business partners are an important asset as you develop a holistic knowledge strategy. Of course, your end users, the people who benefit the most from the knowledge you capture, need to be brought into the loop in a meaningful way. Teamwork is critical to KM success.

Operationalizing your beliefs

We can all agree that these three truths are the keys to reaching your knowledge management goals, no matter how you define success. How do you combine vision, principles, and partnership to unlock your organization’s potential? Easy answer: Systematically. Through our experience building and managing successful KM programs, Irrevo has developed the KM Path Methodology to operationalize these core truths that are at the heart of every great KM program.

Our KM Path methodology organizes these pillars into six phases:

  • During the KM Innovation phase, you’ll outline your vision and build a high-level plan to meet your goals.
  • The Architecture Design phase moves further into decision-making, defining the requirements and scope, creating an achievable timeline, and identifying the right technologies to support the plan.
  • Executive Support is the critical phase in which you obtain buy-in from an executive sponsor and communicate your vision, plan, and goals to stakeholders.
  • After you’ve secured buy-in, you’re ready for the Build and Test phase where you’ll create the structure that supports your knowledge program: Processes, governance models, metrics, and content standards.
  • In the Launch phase, your plans come to fruition as you leverage new processes, update or migrate content,
  • The Optimize phase is what marks the difference between a once-and-done project and a living program.

Want to know more about how the KM Path methodology encapsulates the concepts you already know to be true? Check out the detailed plan for a list of actions, decisions, and deliverables you’ll need for your KM program.

How hot is your knowledge management program? 3 ways to take its temperature

taking-temperatureYou’ve set your goals for the year, and you think you’re making progress. But, is it enough progress? As we enter Q2, now is a good time to take the temperature of your KM plan, and determine if the progress you’re making is sufficient or if additional changes need to come. Here are some signs to look out for that you still have work to do on your KM plan.

You don’t have a KM management plan in place.

This is the most obvious sign you’re in need of a change, of course. However, the importance of your company having a plan to not only capture knowledge, but also to eliminate less-useful content, cannot be overstated. As any company grows, it collects content in the knowledge base that needs an update or is no longer needed at all. It’s crucial for your customers’ satisfaction and that of your customer support agents to create a knowledge management plan to identify out-of-date content and how it is to be handled. If your company doesn’t have a KM plan in place already, mark this year as the time to start one and transform your knowledge management practices.

Your customer support reps don’t know how to handle certain customer issues, so they escalate them to their managers.

Do your customer service reps do this often? There may be a couple of reasons behind this practice. Perhaps your CSRs have insufficient information available to them in the knowledge base to instruct them on how to handle these customer issues, or perhaps the answer exists, but they simply don’t know how to find it in a rapid fashion. Either way, if your CSRs are defaulting to a state where they send issues with an unknown solution to their manager, it’s time to think about how to transform your KM plan. You need to have best practices in place for collecting undocumented solutions and adding the missing solution to the knowledge base, as well as procedures for communicating the location of those answers to your CSRs so that they can find the solutions they need on the fly.

Your customer support reps only discuss issue resolutions amongst themselves.

It’s all well and good for your customer support reps to discuss amongst themselves best practices for handling specific customer issues, but if there is no involvement in those discussions from the knowledge management team, you are losing valuable knowledge, simply by your team’s exclusion from the conversation. You need to add procedures into your KM plan for meeting with your CSRs and including them in the knowledge management process. The more they are included in your KM plan, the knowledge base, and the transformations you made to both, the more confident the CSRs become that they can turn to the knowledge base for whatever information they need. This makes your CS team advocates for your KM plan, and every voice in your corner counts when it comes to buy-in for future changes you want to make to the knowledge base and the KM plan.

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On April 28th, we are following up on our popular guidebook, How to Build a Knowledge Management Transformation Plan that Wins Executive Support with a webinar on The 5 Biggest KM Transformation Challenges You’ll Face.

Join us for proactive solutions and advice to overcome the obstacles that hold back your knowledge management program.

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.

Are you ignoring your most knowledgeable employees?

As call center leadership, you know that your biggest asset is your frontline employees. After all, they’re the ones who have the power to provide an exceptional experience that creates lifelong customers. Your agents put the Service in Customer Service.

A single Customer Service Representative (CSR) can only help one customer at a time. If he is assisting the team, maybe he can help two or three customers at a time. Of course, all of your customers deserve an exceptional experience, and using the know-how of your ace reps can be a big help in working towards this goal. What can you do to best utilize your superstar reps’ knowledge and experience? Here are some suggestions:

Knowledge Sharing CSRsUse CSR-created articles

Many knowledge bases have the capability for users to create new articles or provide feedback on existing ones. Employees who spend all day speaking with customers know which policies are difficult to manage, which how-to steps are tricky, and which procedures require additional explanation. Using software that gives CSRs the opportunity to chime in and provide feedback on these type of situations helps bring your content creators closer to the customer experience. It also allows agents to help peers in your call centers around the world, instead of only building the expertise of the peers fortunate enough to sit within earshot.

Offer a simple survey

CSRs spend almost a third of their day trying to find the answers to the questions their customers ask. Setting up a simple survey to ask your agents what questions they can’t answer is a great way to leverage their experiences. This can give you useful insight into how to give your customers the best possible service experience.

Listen to recorded calls

Listen to calls. Your QA team is already recording calls, sometimes with screen shots. Take some time to review these calls in detail. Are your reps spending a lot of time filling dead air with small talk while they click around, struggling to find the answers for the customers’ queries? Look for specific articles on your support site that can be improved and be wary of trends that are having a negative impact on your customer’s experience.

Create a mentorship

A more direct step is to open up lines of communications between content teams who likely don’t interact one-on-one with customers and frontline reps who are fully engaged in the customer experience. A mentorship program that partners CSRs with content creators gives agents a peek behind the curtain and perspective on how the sausage is made, and gives support teams access to very detailed knowledge about customer roadblocks.

By listening to your agents as well as your customers, you’re positioning your organization for success with a truly exceptional customer experience while helping your most knowledgeable reps feel like valued members of the team.

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!

Implementing KCS is like eating an elephant. Small bites are much easier to digest!

Getting started with a KCS implementation doesn’t have to feel like you are getting ready to eat an elephant.  To help get you off on the right foot, here are some helpful hints to review as you start on this incredible journey.

The 8 practices of KCS

The 8 practices of KCS.

Hint #1: Identify KCS impacts

Take a moment to sit back and reflect on why your business needs KCS and why it needs it right now. KCS implementers gain tremendous confidence when they truly understand how KCS practices impact the critical business operations. You might find it helpful to:

– Review your operational measures to see precisely where there are opportunities and help others connect the KCS implementation to these improvements.

– Survey the target audience to baseline their experiences with knowledge today so you can see impacts of the KCS implementation for them.

Hint #2: Focus on the priorities

Carefully reflect on the KCS practices and let them lead you and your team to a personalized implementation roadmap for KCS. Keeping in mind that KCS is a journey, select the highest priorities to focus on first. These initial focus areas will appear within the short-term component of the roadmap.

– The short-term component of your roadmap will be very detailed and help your team visualize the deliverables with precision. It will also have a very specific timeline illustrating when key deliverables are expected.

– Keep the initial phases of the implementation small and short. It is probable that your initial drafts of the roadmap will be too aggressive. Don’t try to eat the whole elephant. Instead, sanity-check the deliverables and timelines in your roadmap to confirm with certainty that you will be able to deliver on it. Don’t hesitate to scale back initial deliverables to avoid being too aggressive and missing deadlines.

– Engage the help of a small group of supportive stakeholders and team members when crafting the roadmap. Allow enough time to get input from them before communicating it outside the planning team. Rushing through the roadmap preparations means you risk missing opportunities or communicating aggressive timelines that cannot be met.

– Fail fast! As soon as possible, identify a couple representative teams willing to test (pilot) your KCS implementation. Specifically, they should help you test the communication messages, training sessions and KCS processes before rolling it out to a larger audience. Take some time to identify these special team(s) looking for those who can cope with ambiguity the best and are representative of your target audience.

Hint #3: Personalize your communication plan

It has been said a thousand different ways; don’t underestimate the importance of communication to a successful KSC implementation.

– Take extra care to develop comprehensive communication and training plans personalized to your organization.

– One size does not fit all when talking about communication messages. As often as necessary, develop personalized stories for each of your target audiences.

– Look forward to serving as the full-time (or more) communication lead during the KCS implementation. This function needs someone dedicated to it and the implementation lead is the one everyone will look to for this. The more preparation you do in advance, the more smoothly it will go.

– Expect bumps in the road. Be vigilant and proactively address issues as they emerge to avoid impacts to the project plan. Use the eyes and ears of your team to help you identify concerns very early so you can communicate proactively.

These three bites of the KCS implementation elephant will help get you off to the right start.  Begin with the knowledge of why KCS is right for your organization. Then build a comprehensive roadmap that allows for future requirements but is something you can complete on time. Finally, prepare to communicate with personalized messages to all your stakeholders. It will be an amazing journey and we wish you the best of luck!!

I think we’re onto something! Irrevo ranks #5 in the 2014 Fastest-Growing Private Companies in Washington

There was an amazing energy in the air last night at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Seattle. The Puget Sound Business Journal hosted an awards dinner for the 100 Fastest-Growing Private Companies in Washington. Nearly 500 people attended this on-the-edge-of-your-seat countdown from #100 to #1. The recognition and event is all about celebrating Washington-based businesses that fuel the state’s economy and rapid growth. These 100 companies alone recorded more than $2.08 billion in revenue in 2013 and employ more than 8,805 people.

100 Fastest Growing Private Companies 2014

“And ranking at #5 is…”

We felt honored just to be attending the event, but I have to be honest. It felt really good when they got to #10 and we still hadn’t heard our name called. “Now this is very cool!” I thought to myself. They asked each winner to give an acceptance speech of sorts in 10 words or less. Jason Kaufman, our President & CEO, walked up to the microphone and said, “We trust our people, work hard, work from home, and wear Snuggies.” Well said, Jason!

The last few years have been a very exciting time of growth for our company and we sincerely feel fortunate to have worked with many great clients and partners. We appreciate all the support, trust, and friendship and look forward to attending the event again next year. :)