As executives seek to scale their business, there are dozens of critical systems, processes, and organizational structures that need to be evaluated in advance of significant growth. A critical piece often overlooked is the organization’s long-term strategy for process and procedure standardization, documentation, and storage, as well as the identification and distribution of best practices, commonly referred to as a Knowledge Management (KM) Strategy.
In a previous blog, I covered the definition and value of a KM strategy. To summarize, a KM strategy allows companies to more effectively onboard new employees, handle role successions, and create consistent practices across an organization. These critical capabilities are essential to achieving a company identity that spans across generations and enables long-term success and sustainability through workforce and leadership transitions.
The unfortunate reality is that investment in these areas lacks immediate and tracible ties to the bottom-line, and companies often don’t realize the benefits until the program reaches full maturity – a process which may take several quarters. Beyond this, documentation in any form demands significant time investment on the part of front-line employees. Not every company is ready to make this type of investment, but every large company, at some point, will need to.
This blog offers four guiding questions to help executives determine if it’s time to invest in a mature KM strategy.
Are we big enough?
Large or small, every company needs to have some type of documentation strategy in place; it’s the only way to avoid the ‘critical employee wins the lottery’ scenario. The difference between small company documentation and big company KM strategy is the format, accessibility, and type of content being stored. Knowing if your company is at scale is largely dependent on your industry, but good benchmarks are where you stack up against your competition and the overall size of your workforce. If you consider yourself one of the larger players in your market and you’ve past the point where the CEO knows everyone’s name, there’s a good chance you’re big enough for a formal KM strategy.
Is the culture ready and willing to accept a new standard of documentation practices?
This can be a challenging question for companies that have longstanding processes and systems in place. Convincing front-line employees to develop documentation can be a significant undertaking, so making sure that you have organizational buy-in is critical. If leadership and front-line employees are voicing concerns about R&D, internal communications, access to information, process standardization, organizational know-how, mentorship programs, or succession and leadership planning, they’ll likely be willing to accept a new KM culture and support institutionalizing the company’s knowledge.
Is the organization already going through a period of change and transition?
There’s no better time to make this investment than when your company is already investing in significant change to processes or the supporting toolkit. Implementing a new cornerstone software like an ERP is a perfect opportunity to put a KM strategy in motion. A company in a period of transition can profit from this change and involve the entire workforce at a time when they’re open to developing new materials. Having a creation, storage, and distribution strategy in place prior to implementing these foundational systems will save significant time and motions when contrasted with a delayed KM role-out and will ensure that effort spent on documentation during implementation isn’t wasted.
Do we anticipate the need to onboard a significant number of employees in the next decade?
With 25% of the American workforce set to retire within a decade, this is something every company should already be considering, but if your company has aspirational goals that will require a significant scaling up of its workforce either organically or via acquisition, the time to invest in a KM strategy is now. The only way to connect the knowledge of your current workforce with your workforce of the future is to collect and catalogue your institutional knowledge today.
It’s easy to kick the KM can down the road, but it’s important that a strategy be an integral part of your long-term strategy. When the time makes sense, and you find your organization in line with a few or all of these guiding questions, it’s time to take a hard look at this investment and how it fits in to your five, 10, and even 20-year plan. Stay tuned for my next blog which will provide the ins and outs of implementing a grassroots KM solution.