Do you hear that? It’s the sound of organizational silos crashing down. As more companies embrace the cloud, they’re pushing past the obvious productivity boost that comes from being able to access documents, data, calendars and contacts from any internet-connected device. And they’re leveraging more digital environments to promote knowledge sharing.
Sure, “institutional knowledge” is just about the least sleek and sexy phrase out there. But you’ve got to find a way to motivate employees to take the info that’s in their heads, and make it accessible to everyone else. If not, the next time Jack—your company’s one-person marketing department—is out on vacation or calls in sick, work will grind to a screeching halt. (And for poor Jack, that week at the beach to recharge will instead be spent fielding frantic, sorry-to-bother-you phone calls, because no one can find a client contact.)
Muddling through a vacation or sick day is bad enough, but when an employee jumps ship for another gig, lackluster knowledge sharing can mean months of scrambling to figure out exactly what he was doing and where all the info is kept.
The good news is that trends like streaming IT naturally lend itself to easier knowledge sharing. Employees don’t have to copy and paste from their desktop files to some shared server, because the infrastructure is set up as one and the same. But simply moving to the cloud won’t make great knowledge sharing happen. Here are six ways to stoke the fires in your employees to update, share and collaborate with information across silos—so your company can operate seamlessly, no matter who is out that day.
1. Make knowledge sharing easy
Empower employees to get engaged with knowledge sharing by making it as easy and effortless as possible. Start by looking at common documents that each department may have created on their own. Is there a way to create standard templates, so someone from accounting or sales would be able to pull data from a program doc with as little head-scratching as possible? Does it make sense to centralize client contacts or incidence reports, rather than having separate files for each team? The goal is to create a shared location and language, so that employees are empowered to collaborate across silos and not feel like they’re navigating a foreign land.
2. Appoint efficiency cheerleaders
If your company culture hasn’t prized knowledge sharing in the past, it’s going to take more than just templates to get people on board. Consider creating an all-star team of staff from different departments (and not just department heads!) to lay the foundation, follow-up with people about making contributions, and secure enough buy-in that employees can start to see the value in building collective intelligence. Have these change cheerleaders ask their project teams: “How can we share the info we’ve learned here?” and “Have we tapped the database to see how other teams handled similar issues?” When even a handful of people are consistently cheerleading for knowledge sharing, it’s more likely to stay on everyone’s radar.
3. Measure to motivate
Shared, cloud-based knowledge can reduce workflow time, speed up project timelines and bolster the company’s creativity and innovation. But it may be hard for individual employees to see all of those benefits from their vantage. Find ways to measure and celebrate that impact, perhaps by calling attention to it at the next company meeting. For example, if an employee’s updated customer service resolution helped you close out another customer’s problem in less time, translate that into a dollar and cents savings. When an employee is credited with saving the company money, time or even reputation, it’s a great mood booster—and can amplify excitement over sharing info across department silos.
4. Give it time
No, we don’t mean be patient with employees (though that’s a good idea, too). We mean that creating and updating a shared knowledgebase takes literal time, and—especially during the startup phase—if employees feel like this is just one more to-do heaped onto their plates, they’ll shirk rather than embrace it. So be clear that you understand it will take time, and be explicit about what else in their schedules will shift to accommodate this new project. Once the knowledge sharing is up and running, carve out training time during new-hire onboarding to make sure the momentum doesn’t lag as the team expands.
5. Gamify the knowledge sharing system
Gamification has been proven to be a powerful tool to inspire employees, change their behavior and develop new skills. No wonder 40 percent of major organizations use gamification as a primary mechanism to influence employee behavior. So why not apply the race for points, badges and top scores to knowledge sharing? Set up a competition between departments to see who can add the most resources or contribute the highest-quality content. Award points for how frequently teams tap knowledge from other departments or host collaboration sessions. Remember that the focus here is on rewarding, so applaud positive actions rather than punishing the losing or less-motivated teams.
6. Market to your staff
You might have memorized the 2,042 reasons that knowledge sharing is vital to your company’s success, but don’t assume your employees are mind readers. A new knowledge-sharing push will be met with more enthusiasm and participation if it’s paired with a bit of internal marketing: Have a launch party, where you explain the tangible benefits for both the company and individual employees. Promote the program, in those early weeks, by mentioning it during company meetings and including it in company emails. And consider celebrating the program’s one-month or first-quarter anniversary (break-room cake, anyone?) as an easy way to gauge progress, field questions and drive home the program’s importance.
Robust knowledge sharing doesn’t have to take a ton of time or effort—especially in a cloud-based environment. But cultivating a collaborative mindset doesn’t happen automatically. Give it attention now, and your employees—and your company’s bottom line—will thank you later.