In these challenging times, the implementation and maintenance of knowledge management systems is more important than ever.
Over 40 million Americans and 8 Million Canadians have been laid off in the past few months. Some of these layoffs will be permanent and many will be long lasting. While many layoffs impact line workers in the hospitality and transportation industry, many white collar workers are also affected. With these layoffs companies are losing thousands of years of knowledge and experience that will be difficult to recover when the economy comes back.
To ensure you are prepared for staff turnover you need to validate your knowledge management systems, documentation and procedures.
Clear information in a Clear Place
We recently blogged about some of the key elements of effective documentation, but this week I wanted to discuss the broader topic of knowledge management. Transferring information from people’s brains into a knowledge management system is much more challenging than you would think. In addition to creating the documentation in a clear, concise and manageable way you also need to convince people the effort is worthwhile and select the systems you are going to use.
At the end of the day, the task is to take information out of people’s brains and put into a system. To do that, you need their cooperation and their enthusiasm. Much information is scattered in emails, documents and other places and then there is a tremendous amount of information in their own knowledge and experience. The steps to get people onboard is to first take the time to explain why you are doing the transfer (layoffs is not a great motivator) and demonstrate the long term value of the effort. Be sure to take the time to highlight errors and waste at your company that are due to people not having the correct information.
If you can then go on to show how this system will help you operate more efficiently and more safely going forward, your case will be much stronger. And thirdly, try to address why this system is better than the current mix of tools and how it is easier to use. At this point in time, the main competition for a knowledge management system is pen, paper, word and excel. You need to demonstrate that you can beat that mix. Sometimes a good first step is to use a tool such as a Wiki that can be setup quickly and with little no cost. Wiki’s and documents can show the value of sharing data across silos, without having the overhead of complex software systems.
Selecting the Systems to Use
Way back in 2015, we spoke about how to select an EHS software for your organization. To be honest, very little has changed. You need to take the time to determine your users, your organization, your purpose and the cost of purchasing a system. I would say that the biggest challenge more organizations face is the dilemma between selecting a platform, platforms or point solutions. To be perfectly honest, there is no platform that can handle all the information your business needs to handle. SAP may make the claim that it can handle nearly everything, but when push comes to shove SAP falls short in many areas. In addition, systems like SAP are very expensive and only the largest businesses can truly afford them. Learn more about What SAP is (and isn’t) here.
Another common option is to select a platform for a specific use – say EHS, HR or Finance. Very often this can work quite well and drive benefits for your company. You still have challenges of pulling data together and that is where you can leverage business intelligence tools to try and link various systems together and extract meaningful data. When selecting a platform for a specific part of your business, you need to take into careful consideration the cost of buying the platform, installing it, using it and maintaining it. Another critical cost is the exit cost. How much time, effort and money will it take you to leave the platform if the functionality no longer meets your needs or the pricing changes. The costs of platforms can climb rather quickly, especially when it is a subscription based platform that you want many people to use.
The last option is to aim for more systems that you can swap in and out of your business and aggregate the data in a business intelligence tool. In this case, the key to reducing headaches is to ensure that your point solutions have single sign-on and that they rely heavily on URLs that can help users jump from one point to another. At the end of the day, the internet is just a series of billions of point solutions connected through links. I would argue the internet works pretty darn well. The main advantage of point solutions that are easy to access is that you can change parts on a need by need basis, select the best solution for a specific need and you are not overly dependent on any one vendor. The downside is of course that you need to pull data together to get a global picture.
Moving information into a system requires you to select and implement a knowledge management system and motivate the people to embark on this project. The two are interlinked as a poor system that is difficult to use or not properly set up will quickly frustrate your team and lead to a stalled project. The right system is not enough as people need to participate and load their knowledge into it. Taking the time to make the business case to your team and selecting the right system (or systems) is absolutely essential to creating institutional knowledge that will outlive any single member of your team.