No matter how many platforms you use or how many audiences you have, your company only has one voice. Maintaining consistency with that voice determines whether people view your company as reliable and honest or disorganized and suspect.
How do you ensure customer service representatives maintain a unified front? Does your sales team know how to fulfill the promises made by your marketers? Do the messages of your executives resonate throughout company policy, or do they fall on deaf ears and go unpracticed?
The best way to answer these questions is to practice proper knowledge management. When your teams all follow a single source of truth, you don’t have to question whether everyone is on the same page. Clear communications within company walls lead to clear communications beyond them. Manage your knowledge, and you also manage your reputation, relationships, and engagement.
Small startups typically begin their knowledge management journeys by sticking best practices in ever-evolving shared documents. That may work for the smallest of small teams, but the moment someone leaves the company, all that tacit knowledge heads out the door. You can’t leave knowledge management to chance and expect to maintain continuity of positioning and messaging across channels and audiences.
If you want your outward appearance to reflect your inner cohesiveness — or to create that cohesiveness in the first place — start with knowledge management.
Manage Knowledge with Deliberate Pathways
Well-documented knowledge helps no one if it dies on arrival. Without pathways to inform and distribute information, your knowledge management strategy can’t fulfill its purpose to maintain unity within your organization.
Instead of sticking knowledge in a dusty document no one will read, turn knowledge management into an ongoing affair. Ask team members to contribute their thoughts to evolving pieces. Schedule meetings with departments to review and correct existing sources of knowledge. Build knowledge management into every job description to ensure your documents never sit idle for long.
Boost the dependability of managed knowledge by putting everything into searchable, shareable formats. Your marketers spend hours building great content, but if your salespeople can’t find that content when they need it, they won’t use it. The same goes for frontline reps, managers, and anyone else who deals with common issues.
Solicit Input from Your Savviest Workers
The people who need knowledge management the least are the people who should contribute the most.
Many companies have go-to people who just know how to make things work. What would happen if you lost your brilliant administrative assistant who keeps the office running smoothly? How would you fare if your best customer support rep quit a few weeks before his 20th work anniversary? If situations like these scare you, you probably have tons of unwritten knowledge stored in the brains of your best workers. Ask those workers to spend a few days helping you create documentation that clarifies all the good work they do behind the scenes.
When you go to your best employees for help, make it clear that you value them and the work they do. Some people could see a request to document their daily work as a sign that they’ll soon be asked to leave. Consider preceding a request for knowledge contribution with a small gift or reward to demonstrate your appreciation.
Never Stop Revising
Documents evolve on their own. No matter how good you may believe your policies and practices to be, things will change over the years. A document that tells your frontline support team how to handle customer issues may not remain relevant for long, and if you insist that your teams use it, anyway, they’ll simply create their own alternatives.
IT professionals call it “shadow IT” when users create their own technologies and pathways to circumvent official company channels. Shadow knowledge management usually leads to miscommunications, inconsistent messaging, and frustration for both workers and customers. Continually review and revise your sources of knowledge to avoid the development of shadow knowledge beneath the surface.
Optimize for Real-World Needs
In theory, your core values and mission statement should provide all the direction your employees need. That’s not how real life works, though. People interpret messages in different ways. To avoid miscommunications and maintain a consistent voice, create and disseminate pieces of knowledge that help teams navigate specific situations.
Style guides help marketers maintain the right tone of voice when writing copy for social media, sales collateral, and other content. For knowledge management, consult with employees about the types of documentation and data that would benefit them most. Customer service managers, for example, might need clarification on how their teams should handle certain types of conflict. IT managers may find a guide on how to communicate intranet changes helpful.
Establish Measurable Benchmarks
To avoid turning knowledge management into a never-ending slog, establish benchmarks for contributions and revisions. By transforming your knowledge management strategy into a series of achievable goals, you can help your teams feel a sense of accomplishment instead of a constant hum of frustration.
If you use sprints, incorporate a low-value knowledge contribution task to each contributor’s workload during each sprint. Not everyone needs to develop a new guide every month.
For teams and organizations that don’t follow an agile framework, simple monthly goals should be fine. Add knowledge management tasks to project management and productivity tools to quantify the work of team members who contribute. As long as someone checks the validity of existing documentation and updates old best practices with new information, your knowledge inventory will remain relevant.
Knowledge management should benefit your organization, not add more work to everyone’s plates. As you develop your knowledge management strategy, departments and team members should find themselves leaning more on existing knowledge to save time and improve productivity. Best of all, when you have a robust knowledge system in place, everyone learns how to communicate with everyone else — the necessary foundation of every highly successful team.
Never let previous struggles with knowledge management prevent you from getting a fresh start. Companies without existing strategies always struggle at the beginning of a new initiative. Take knowledge management one step at a time, and lean on the expertise of your team to develop a system that can grow with your business over time.