What is knowledge management? Including examples and use cases

Cydnie Smith
Smiling woman with long dark hair in a black shirt.
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My co-workers and I accidentally lost our clients almost $100,000 in revenue.

I’m not kidding.  

I was a struggling college student, just trying to make ends meet. So, I got a part-time freelance gig writing emails for a marketing agency. I was one of three writers hired a few weeks before Black Friday – one of the year's biggest online retail sales events.

And let’s just say, in all of the pre-sales havoc, our supervisor opted for a more “learn as you go” approach instead of providing us with formal training.

Now, this informal approach to training was okay at first… that is, until Black Friday weekend. 

Our account manager got sick and took a few days off. No big deal, right? We completed our writing assignments and submitted them.

Of course, we didn’t know the unwritten company policy requiring copywriters to schedule their own emails when their account manager was unavailable.

I wish I could tell you we easily remedied this small lapse in communication. But the truth is, this lack of knowledge sharing meant none of our clients’ Black Friday emails went out.

And they collectively lost about $100,000 in revenue as a result.

Now imagine if this information was available during an employee onboarding course or as performance support.

It could’ve saved clients’ money, a company their reputation, and three bright-eyed teenagers their jobs. 

If you’ve read any of my articles, you already know this isn’t just an amusing walk down memory lane. But instead, it’s a real example of why organizational knowledge management is critical.

Your introduction to knowledge management

Effective knowledge management strategies can help your organization identify, capture, share, and leverage your knowledge assets to achieve your business and learning goals. So, in this article, we’ll take a closer look at knowledge management and explore topics like

However, before exploring how knowledge management can impact your organization, we must first discuss what knowledge management means.

What is our definition of knowledge management?

In simple terms, knowledge management is the process of gathering, organizing, storing, sharing, and updating knowledge within an organization. It includes identifying the knowledge and skills that your employees need to acquire, developing instructional materials and resources, and creating effective learning experiences that facilitate knowledge acquisition and retention.

Effective knowledge management requires a focus on both content and process:

  • Content: Involves creating and organizing training materials and learning resources, such as online courses, tutorials, and other learning resources. 
  • Process: Involves developing compelling learning experiences that encourage active participation, support knowledge retention and transfer, and, ultimately, engages your learners.

Knowledge management typically involves leveraging technology to support learning and development, like online courses, virtual classrooms, and digital resources. It can also include strategies for evaluating and improving the effectiveness of knowledge-sharing, such as collecting and analyzing data on learner performance and engagement.

Overall, knowledge management is an ongoing process that requires a holistic approach to information management and a commitment to continuous learning and improvement. Organizations can improve productivity, retain critical information, and gain a competitive edge in their industry by effectively capturing, managing, and utilizing their workforce's collective knowledge and expertise.

Of course, to implement a knowledge management strategy, you need to understand the different kinds of knowledge. So let’s break them down! 

Types of knowledge management: Content - creating and organizing online training materials and learning resources; Process - developing compelling learning experiences for knowledge retention and transfer; Explicit - easily documented and transmitted; Implicit - gained through personal experience; Tacit - possessed through individual skill.

What are the types of knowledge management?

We can categorize organizational knowledge into three categories: explicit, implicit, and tacit.

Explicit Knowledge

Explicit knowledge is formal and codified knowledge that can be easily documented, transmitted, and communicated through various channels, company policies, standard operating procedures, work instructions, best practices, manuals, and online training courses. It is objective, easily articulated, and can be quantified, measured, and analyzed. 

Explicit knowledge management is particularly useful in industries such as manufacturing, where standard procedures and quality control are critical.

Implicit Knowledge

Implicit knowledge, on the other hand, is not easily expressed or codified but is gained through personal experience, intuition, and reflection. This knowledge is often rooted in the culture, beliefs, values, and attitudes of an organization and its employees. 

Some examples of implicit knowledge include problem-solving skills, judgment, decision-making abilities, individual expertise, and emotional intelligence. 

Organizations typically acquire this knowledge through observation, trial and error, and fostering an environment that focuses on informal communication and collaboration among employees.

Think about it like this:

Let’s say you work in the healthcare industry. Your team of doctors and nurses have knowledge that is critical for patient care, and yet it isn’t something you can’t capture or duplicate in a training course because it’s gained through their individual experiences. So how do you pass that valuable information along to other employees? 

You can compile formal medical documentation, case studies, research papers, and journal articles that capture implied experiential knowledge and translate this scientific data into valuable textbook training. In addition, you can encourage more informal knowledge sharing through social networking and collaboration within the workplace.

Tacit Knowledge

Tacit knowledge management refers to knowledge deeply ingrained in an individual's skills, experience, and intuition. This type of knowledge is difficult to formalize, codify, and transfer because it is often based on personal experiences, insights, and emotions. Your learners can acquire tacit knowledge through observation, practice, and reflection.

Examples of tacit knowledge include creativity, innovation, leadership, and expertise. Tacit knowledge management creates an environment that encourages employees to share their tacit knowledge through storytelling, mentoring, and knowledge-sharing events. 

While I admit tacit knowledge can be challenging to capture and codify, this type of knowledge management can be highly effective, particularly in industries like technology, where innovation and creativity are essential for success. 

Why is knowledge management necessary for your organization?

Now that you know what knowledge management is, the real question is: “Why does it matter to my organization?”

Before I answer your question, let me first ask you one:

Have you ever had an employee retire or leave your organization – only to find yourself scrambling because they took their knowledge and expertise with them? 

Employees come and go; without a system for capturing and sharing knowledge, the organization risks losing valuable information and experience. Even if your employee churn for new hires is low, there are still an estimated 10,000 baby boomers who are still retiring every day across the U.S. alone. But with proper knowledge management, that information is captured, stored, and shared with others, ensuring that the organization can thrive even after key players depart.

Of course, you don’t just want your organization to survive - you want it to thrive. Knowledge management can assist in this endeavor by improving your workplace's quality and consistency. When everyone is working from the same playbook, following the same processes, and using the same best practices, you can ensure that outputs meet or exceed expectations. 

Additionally,  implementing effective knowledge management processes can reduce duplication of effort and avoid errors and misunderstandings – saving your organization time and money and improving overall employee performance. 

When your employees have access to the right information, tools, and resources, they can make informed decisions, solve problems faster, collaborate more efficiently with their colleagues, and do their jobs more effectively.

Ultimately, better-performing employees lead to higher staff retention and even higher ROI.

What are some other benefits of knowledge management?

The thing is, knowledge management is more than just beneficial for your team members. Its impact can extend to your organization as a whole. Effective knowledge management can help organizations:

Increase employee efficiency

A study by the McKinsey Global Institute found that employees spend nearly 20% of their time searching for information they need to do their jobs. By centralizing knowledge and making it easily accessible, employees can spend less time searching for information and more time completing tasks.

Improve decision-making

Access to knowledge like past successes and mistakes can help decision-makers make informed decisions based on facts rather than assumptions.

Avoid reinventing the wheel

Let's face it – nothing is more frustrating than spending hours working on a project only to discover that someone in the organization has already done something similar. By managing your organization's knowledge effectively, you can avoid this kind of duplication of effort. Instead, you can leverage the knowledge and expertise that already exists within your organization to work more efficiently and effectively.

Identify knowledge gaps

Effective knowledge management is about more than just storing and sharing information. It's also about identifying areas where your organization or employees need more knowledge or expertise. By analyzing your organization’s existing knowledge and identifying the information gaps, you can focus your learning and development efforts on filling those gaps. Better learning programs can help you build a more well-rounded and capable workforce.

Drive innovation

Capturing and sharing knowledge about best practices, emerging trends, and new technologies can inspire your workforce to think creatively and push the boundaries of what's possible – helping you stay ahead of the competition and drive real business value.

Reduce risk and increase agility

Remember what happened when my manager didn’t share important information with my co-workers or me? Catastrophe ensued. Organizations identify, manage, and reduce risk by effectively capturing and sharing critical knowledge. Effective knowledge management can also help organizations to become more agile, enabling them to respond quickly to changes in their environment.

What are some of the potential challenges with knowledge management at your organization?

Despite the benefits of knowledge management, it can come with some potential challenges, mainly when gathering, implementing, and updating knowledge. 

  • Gathering knowledge: One of the biggest challenges is simply collecting the necessary information and resources. This process can be time-consuming and labor-intensive, especially if your organization starts from scratch. However, you can overcome this challenge with a knowledge management program for collecting and organizing information.
  • Implementing knowledge: Once you gather the necessary knowledge, your next step is implementing a knowledge management system.  However, challenges may arise if your workforce or leadership team resists change. The good news is you can mitigate these issues by ensuring your knowledge management system is accessible, intuitive, and easy to use. Your system should seamlessly integrate with the tools that employees are currently utilizing. You want to avoid adding complexity to their workflow or causing confusion regarding which system they should use.
  • Updating knowledge: Knowledge management is not a one-time task but an ongoing process. Organizations must continually update and refresh their knowledge base to ensure it remains relevant and valuable. Your maintenance process should include regularly reviewing and editing processes, procedures, and content to reflect changes in the industry and new knowledge.

Sure, it may feel like knowledge management requires significant time and energy. But with the right approach, your organization can overcome these challenges and create a continuous learning and improvement culture. 

What steps should you include in your knowledge management process?

Speaking of the right approach to knowledge management…

To optimize your chances for knowledge management success, I’ve compiled this list of recommended steps you should include in your knowledge management process.

Simple flowchart of the knowledge management process: 1. Identify knowledge sources; 2. Capture & document knowledge; 3. Organize & categorize knowledge; 4. Share knowledge; 5. Evaluate knowledge.

Step one: Identify knowledge sources

The first step in any knowledge management process is to identify the sources of knowledge within your organization. Your knowledge sources could include everything from existing documents and databases to the expertise of your team members.

Step two: Capture and document knowledge

Once you have identified the knowledge sources, your next step is capturing and documenting the knowledge. This process involves creating a system for collecting and storing information, such as a database or knowledge repository. You also need to establish procedures for updating and maintaining this information.

Step three: Organize and categorize knowledge

To make the knowledge easily accessible for your team, you must organize and categorize it. You can create a taxonomy or classification system that allows users to find the information they need quickly and easily. (Remember, accessibility and ease of use are critical to knowledge management success!)

Step four: Share knowledge

The next step is to share the knowledge with your workforce. Implementing eLearning programs and conducting regular corporate training sessions is one of the best ways to standardize learning and ensure your team has the information they need to succeed.

Step five: Evaluate knowledge

Finally, you must continuously evaluate and improve your approach to ensure your knowledge management efforts are effective and practical. This process could involve soliciting feedback from team members, tracking metrics like training completion rates, and making adjustments as needed.

Of course, behind every great knowledge management process is an even greater collection of tools working together to help create the most significant learning impact.

What assets should you plan to include in your knowledge management strategy?

In addition to following the steps listed above, a comprehensive knowledge management strategy should include a variety of assets that can help capture, store, and share knowledge within an organization. Some examples of these assets are:

  • Documentation: Create documents that outline best practices, guidelines, and standard operating procedures. Your documentation could be as simple as a Word document or as complex as a wiki or knowledge base.
  • Collaboration tools: Use tools like Microsoft Teams, Slack, or Zoom to facilitate communication and collaboration among team members. These tools can help capture discussions, ideas, and decisions in real time.
  • eLearning programs: Develop interactive training programs to teach employees new skills and keep them up-to-date with industry developments.
  • Performance support tools: Digital tools like chatbots or interactive decision trees can provide on-demand information and guidance to users as they navigate through training – reducing the time they spend seeking help or looking for context during eLearning courses.
  • Expert networks: Create a network of experts within your organization who can guide and support others. Examples of expert networks range from email lists to formal mentorship programs.
  • Knowledge-sharing events: Workshops, conferences, or hackathons are a great way to bring people together to share knowledge and foster collaboration and creativity.
  • Knowledge management software: Use tools like knowledge bases, wikis, or content management systems to store and organize information. These tools can make searching for accessing information when needed.
  • Data analytics: Collecting and analyzing data about your organization's operations can help identify areas for improvement and inform decision-making.
  • Incentives: Offer incentives for employees who contribute to knowledge management efforts like bonuses, recognition, or opportunities for career advancement. (You can even integrate incentives into your eLearning program through gamification.)

What are some practical applications of knowledge management you can apply at your workplace?

Now that we've covered what knowledge management is, why it’s essential, and some best practices for your strategy, let’s dive into some practical uses of knowledge management you may encounter in your organization! 

Leadership training

Effective leadership can inspire and motivate employees to achieve their goals and objectives. But great leaders aren’t born; they’re made – through consistent training and development. Knowledge management can help you build a strong leadership team by capturing and sharing employee feedback, case studies, success stories, and best practices of leaders within your organization.

Now onto the practical application.

You can interview successful leaders to capture their insights, experiences, and advice. Then use this knowledge to develop a leadership training program focusing on the critical competencies required for success. Informed and strategic learning will help leaders in your organization learn from each other and leverage their collective knowledge to lead effectively and improve performance across your organization. 

Employee onboarding

New hires are a valuable asset to any organization but can also be a liability without proper onboarding. Knowledge management can help you streamline the onboarding process by providing new employees with the information they need to hit the ground running.

Creating an onboarding portal with training materials, company policies, and key contacts can help new hires feel more connected to the organization, understand what you expect of them, and ensure they have everything they need to succeed.

Frontline training

Frontline employees are the backbone of any organization. They’re the ones who interact with customers, manage operations, and deliver products and services. But they also face unique challenges, such as high turnover rates and a lack of consistent training. Knowledge management can help you overcome these challenges by providing frontline employees with the information they need to perform their jobs effectively. 

Whether you work in the retail or healthcare industry, information requirements constantly change, and missing crucial information could have dire consequences. In some cases, errors can literally mean life or death.

Knowledge management ensures that your frontline team is always up-to-date on new policies, products, and procedures — keeping them prepared to meet customer needs.

Customer service training

In today’s highly competitive market, customer service can make or break your business. But providing consistent, high-quality service can be challenging, especially when dealing with a diverse customer base. 

Knowledge management can help you provide exceptional customer service by capturing and sharing customer feedback, customer profiles, and industry trends.

Say you manage a team of call center representatives. You can provide them with a centralized repository of FAQs, troubleshooting guides, and customer service scripts, which makes it easy to access the information they need to deliver exceptional service.

Listen – I completely get it: implementing a knowledge management process can seem like it requires a lot of time and effort. But if my first job faux pas is any indication, knowledge management is critical to organizational success. By implementing effective knowledge management practices, organizations can enhance their overall performance, improve decision-making, foster innovation, and boost productivity – saving you time and money in the long run! 

So, how important is knowledge management?

Across Fortune 500 companies, it’s estimated that 31.5 billion dollars a year are lost by failing to properly gather, document, and disperse their employees' knowledge related to their jobs. But through effective knowledge management practices and strategies, the majority of organizations estimate that productivity can be increased by 10-40 percent. The bottom line is knowledge management can help protect your organization from aging employees or a high turnover rate.

Infographic of stats: Employees spend nearly 20% of their time searching for info they need to do their jobs. (Icon of a magnifiying class with a pie chart in the glass) It’s estimated that 31.5 billion dollars a year are lost, across Fortune 500 companies, by failing to properly gather, document, and disperse their employees' knowledge related to their jobs. (A row of dollar sign icons that are circled with dotted lines) But the majority of organizations estimate productivity can be increased by 10% to 40% with effective knowledge management practices/strategies. The bottom line? Knowledge management can help protect organizations from aging employees or a high turnover rate. (icon of a person holding a shield with a checkmark) (Sources: https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/technology-media-and-telecommunications/our-insights/the-social-economy & https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-magazine/Pages/0504covstory.aspx)

What are the next steps in your knowledge management journey?

Well, your next step is to conduct an audit of your existing corporate training program! Using your new database of knowledge, you can pinpoint information gaps, update training material, and curate a more relevant and effective eLearning experience for your employees.

If you’d like to do a little more exploration first, you can always head back to our Learning Hub. It is full of free resources and articles about custom online training concepts and techniques to help you meet your business objectives and training performance goals!

Smiling woman with long dark hair in a black shirt.
Cydnie Smith

Cydnie is an experienced writer, editor, and blogger who believes that accessibility plus a dash of creative storytelling is essential to cultivating a memorable learning experience.

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