L&D: Is your company paying enough attention to knowledge creation and management?

My graduate program took a sharp meta turn this quarter.

In a class called Creating and Sharing Knowledge, I learned better ways to build, scale, measure and align knowledge management within an organization. I am also helping the department build a self-directed course to teach students how to develop a digital portfolio website. The goal is to help participants show their practitioner point of view, learn as part of a collaborative community and showcase their work professionally. It was beyond helpful to apply class concepts to this project, especially during the design stage. Both experiences provided with me with new tools to help organizations create and share knowledge that can scale.

Here are six principles I learned during the past three months that now inform my world view on digital L&D efforts:

1. Knowledge should be co-created in a memorable way: Decades of academic frameworks exist around how people learn how to learn and how they come to know knowledge. Here’s one big takeaway from that research: Knowledge creation should be a mix tacit and explicit – and never boring or lazy. Companies shouldn’t just dump best practice documents or videos into an internal shared drive in the hope that employees will learn the information. How many times has that happened in your company and the information was simply ignored? Organizations must get more creative. There’s no excuse anymore to force employees to sit through hours of in-person training as a PowerPoint presentation drones on. A process and technology should work together to allow employees to continually co-create knowledge. Employees should also be encouraged to incorporate their entire life experience into learning, bringing their full selves to the effort to build ideas off varied perspectives. Academics call this taking a social-practice perspective with a pragmatist lens. It gives employees a stake into how organizational knowledge is created. As a result, they will be more inspired and more invested to help guide the effort.

2. Knowledge should be shared in different forms: It’s obviously not enough to create the knowledge. What’s the distribution plan? Do your company’s learning platforms make it easy to share knowledge by considering how people relate to the knowledge they encounter? Is this process visible and easily accessible? That includes making sure that employees have access to information in its original form, as well as later versions of information that they can edit and view edits). Having both offerings make the learning process more robust because it provides additional context. Additionally, how are employees acquiring both direct knowledge and meta-knowledge?

3. What can be measured, matters: Digital L&D efforts should be measured – and not just by surveys. Getting creative with KPIs is key. Can you measure how often training materials are created or accessed? What about email sentiment around learning efforts? Maybe it’s important to develop personas around internal stakeholders who are co-creating and benefiting from knowledge. Don’t forget to look at participation and collaboration rates.

4. What can be aligned with larger organizational goals matters: Knowledge efforts should be aligned around strategic vision/goals, business results, critical capacities, operational metrics, learning/knowledge approach, solution metrics, learning/knowledge solutions and delivery status. Additionally, it is important to couch L&D strategy in the perspective of the stakeholder. A CEO, for example, isn’t going to care about learning theory as much as how much knowledge innovation efforts will speed new products to market. Quickly show him or her the path to accomplishing that goal.

5. Design is not about the designer: When designing a knowledge management system, leave your ego at the door. The process should focus on empathizing with internal stakeholders Does the system meet their needs at every stage? Learning new things can be confusing or even frightening. How might knowledge creation inspire and empower employees? During our team’s in-class design process of a knowledge management system, it was important that stakeholders described back to us how they understood our process. That highlighted gaps because of assumptions our team had made. We adjusted our design based on the focus-group feedback.

6. Use the latest technology (but don’t get caught up in the bells and whistles and forget about people): Want to find the organizational influencers who can help create and advance knowledge creation efforts? Great. You might try an organizational network analysis to determine pockets of knowledge across the enterprise. Want to use Slack or Yammer or Jive to have employees co-collaborate around best practices? Perfect. Want to implement a system that uses a mix of triggered attending, tagging, algorithmically personalized feeds to surface related knowledge topics? That’s great. But just make sure these systems are being used by most employees and not just the early adapters or tech enthusiasts. It’s important to establish feedback loops around knowledge enterprise technology and continue to iterate based on that feedback. Who are the people most resistant to using the knowledge-creation technology? What are their concerns? How are they helping develop the knowledge process and, in turn, becoming influencers in the effort? Holding a face-to-face listening session with this group can work wonders.

I hope that more companies are taking in-depth approaches to knowledge creation and management, especially in terms of making additional investment and aiming to capture the heads and hearts of employees and spark innovation. These efforts can be complex, but organizations must get serious about organizational knowledge. The flip side is costlier, in the long term. What happens, after all, if your employees aren’t collaborating to surface and share new knowledge across the enterprise? That’s a serious competitive disadvantage.