Have you ever completed a complex task or process successfully, and had a work colleague ask you how you did it several months later? It can be worse if you don’t remember every step that helped you complete it. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if your organization had some form of process so people could learn from others’ successes (and mistakes)?
By documenting key processes, you can ensure that knowledge sharing becomes a reality. Think of them as a ‘how to’ guide that other staff can access and use. Sometimes, they may even add to those guides if they discover better ways to do any part of the process. As the old saying goes, ‘caring is sharing’, but it goes beyond that, and it can help make your business more efficient and streamlined.
What is knowledge sharing?
Knowledge sharing is a system or process used by organizations to share useful information with the staff. By implementing a knowledge sharing strategy and creating a centralized repository that anyone can access easily you are helping your staff and your business.
Creating a culture of efficient knowledge sharing, you not only encourage people to share new ways of doing things, you make it easier for them to do their jobs. The knowledge that can be shared usually falls into one of two broad categories:
- Tacit knowledge: This is the knowledge that comes from experiential learning. For example, if you have a team that focuses on e-commerce website development, they may learn how to improve aspects of that development as time goes on.
- Explicit knowledge. With this, people learn from documents or procedures. For example, you may be using new technology that comes with manuals that explain how to best use it.
Of course, there is a crossover between tacit and explicit knowledge. This can happen when people learn from their own experiences – a sort of trial and error – but then document how they completed a task or process so that others can learn from their experiences.
The benefits of knowledge sharing
It is obvious that sharing knowledge is a good thing for your business. After all, people learning how to do things better and more efficiently is a bit of a no-brainer, right? However, knowing the main benefits may help when it comes to implementing it across your organization.
1. Higher levels of employee engagement
It doesn’t matter whether an employee has been with you for 20 years or six months. Offering them opportunities to do their jobs or complete tasks easier means they will want to engage and learn. While documenting key processes may not be formal learning per se, it is still a way for them to learn.
2. Better learning and development
Although much of the knowledge that will be shared is not part of any formal learning structure, it can still contribute to employee learning and development. Social learning can be very effective.
3. Helps build a learning culture
You want your staff to continually develop their skills and knowledge. This is because your business isn’t and never will be a static entity. From trying to figure out how to adopt an agile workflow to implementing new websites and generating ideas on WordPress development, every improvement you make necessitates a new learning process.
By encouraging knowledge sharing, you are helping to develop a continuous learning culture within your organization. New ideas can be shared amongst different teams and this, in turn, will help to spark new ideas and improvements.
Different types of documentation processes that can aid knowledge sharing
Do you remember Bob? Let’s go back to when he discovered a better way to do a particular task or process. How can he document what he has learned so it can be added to your system? There are several options he can choose from.
- Flowcharts. A step-by-step visual guide as to how he worked through the process.
- Organizational charts. These can help to identify the responsibilities of different team members and make clear who should be working on what, improving collaborative work.
- Process maps. Although similar to flowcharts, these contain more detail and can be especially helpful with complex processes. Utilizing process mapping tools enhances clarity and precision in understanding and optimizing intricate processes.
- Reference guides. With so many new processes and tech, employees can often be left confused. Reference guides can help employees understand the tasks at hand.
- Onboarding guides. These can help when you have new employees and aid with remote or hybrid workers. While there would be a certain amount of in-person training, an onboarding guide can give wider views of your processes.
- Video tutorials. Videos can be a very effective way of sharing knowledge. You can use them for everything from a how-to-use particular machinery guide to more in-depth videos on company practices.
- Checklists. Some tasks and processes may be repetitive and prone to human error. Checklists can act as a fail-safe to ensure that all component tasks of a process are successfully completed.
There are two important things to note to make your knowledge sharing successful:
- Standardized templates. While you may want to utilize several different types of documentation processes, standardized templates within each category can be very helpful. This can mean that any information is accessible and understandable by everyone who wants to learn from it.
- Centralized library/database. There is little point in having a wealth of information available unless it is easily accessible. Create a library/database that is well-organized but that all your employees can access. This could be via a company intranet if you have one or on a server with access granted to all.
How to implement knowledge sharing of your document processes
You can see that documenting your processes and sharing that knowledge across your workforce is a good thing. But how do you go about documenting those processes?
1. Pick a process
The first thing to do is to choose the process you want to document. These can range from simple processes to extremely complex ones. The point is that any initial document acts as a guide that can be added to and improved on in the future. Your documented process can be a reference for other employees, especially new hires.
2. Define boundaries carefully
There is a good chance that any processes involve different teams and different skill sets. This means that when you document a process, it is essential that you identify the boundaries involved in that process.
Your process scope should cover due dates, the ideal length to complete the process, stakeholders and responsibilities, and what metrics you will use to measure success. By defining boundaries, your documentation can focus on goals.
3. Resources and results
Any documentation you create should lay out the resources needed to complete a process. These can be both human resources (the staff involved) as well as any materials and technology needed, such as internal communication tools to aid with collaboration.
Again, this is something that may change in the future but your first document should act as a form of template. It should also highlight what results you expect from the process and how long it should take.
4. Discuss the different steps in the process
Once you have identified the start point, your ideal endpoint, and what may be involved in getting from A to B, then you need input on the different steps involved. Get input from the actual people involved in any process as they can best identify steps and potential pain points.
5. Sequence the steps
As you gather relevant information, things begin to take shape. Now it’s a case of identifying what sequence any steps take place in. Ensuring you have the correct sequence ensures you avoid any logjams.
For example, certain tasks may not be able to be undertaken until others have been completed so having the correct process flow in place is crucial. By having a chronological flow, you not only make it easier for your teams but also easier to automate tasks.
6. Who does what?
As well as clearly defining what needs to be done, you also need to define who will do the different tasks. If you were developing a flipbook as an alternative to a website, then you would need to say who was responsible, who was responsible for written content, and so on. This is where an organizational chart could be useful as it shows who takes what role in the process.
As part of the documentation of processes, some form of visual representation can be very useful. The type of visualization tool you choose can depend on the type of process and its complexity.
You could opt for a flow chart for fairly simple processes or a process map when the process is more complicated. You could even decide on an online whiteboard that offers more collaborative options where ideas and changes can be added.
Additionally, you could consider allowing users to upload and share PDFs, diagrams, or other supplementary materials that enhance the understanding of complex processes. Tweak as you go forward to accommodate various documentation needs.
8. Tweak as you go forward
There is a good chance that your initial process documentation will be far from perfect. Any document should be flexible and changeable as users actually try it out. While you may have a set measure of success, the process itself could be improved upon. Constantly monitor the process, listen to feedback from the people involved, and make changes as needed.
To facilitate this process, it’s essential to build a master schedule that outlines the timeline and milestones for documenting and sharing knowledge.
9. Finalize and share
Although there will come a point in the knowledge-sharing process where you have a document that staff access and use, you need to remember that nothing is set in stone. New technology or new ways of doing things can mean that your current process becomes outdated. Your ultimate goal is to have more informed staff and to achieve better efficiency and productivity.
Knowledge sharing challenges
As with anything new, you may face certain challenges along the way. Knowing what those might be can better enable you to be prepared and to be proactive in overcoming them.
- Company culture. Although a learning culture can be beneficial to all concerned, you may find that you need to face some barriers in your current company culture. Explaining the benefits as well as individuals’ place in knowledge sharing can help transform your company culture.
- Complicated updates. As has been mentioned, your documentation needs to be flexible. However, the more complex a process – or an organization – the more complicated updating documents can be. Ensure obsolete documents are removed from your system and replaced with the most recent version.
- Avoid replication. Your processes may be team-specific or they may apply across departments. When a document applies to more than one department, make sure that there is no replication and that different versions exist. This is why centralization and standardization are so important.
- Inconsistency. If different teams and individuals are creating or adding to your documents, then there is a good chance that inconsistencies arise. This is another reason that standardization is important. For larger organizations, it may be beneficial to have some oversight on your documentation library.
- No collaboration. There will be many processes that you want to document that will require input from different teams and/or departments. Unless collaboration is encouraged and nurtured, then you will immediately face issues. For example, if you are working on a process for data security, then it will be incomplete without interprofessional collaboration by all relevant parties.
Knowledge sharing is essential for workflows
Knowledge sharing has many benefits if implemented properly. It can help you streamline workflows and improve overall efficiency. By enabling your staff to learn new and improved ways of carrying out different tasks, it makes their jobs easier and also helps them with learning and career development.
How complicated creating a system will be can depend on the size of your organization and how complex the processes you use are. However, by planning communication and strategy carefully and being prepared to listen to the users involved, you can create a system that benefits both your workforce and your business.