The ability to capture and manage knowledge has been proven; the ability for a company or law firm to leverage its accumulated knowledge can be elusive.
The road to business failure is littered with companies that became rigid and stuck, unable to adapt to new circumstances or take advantage of new opportunities. In order to grow and thrive, companies must be willing to take these three steps to establish a learning culture:
1. Set knowledge-sharing expectations and standards
The first and foremost expectation involves good answers to this a basic one-word question: Why?
- Why do you want a learning culture? What will it give you?
- Why do you want your people to share and contribute their knowledge? What will it give them?
You must establish specific goals and objectives and then communicate them if your KM initiatives are to be successful. Many knowledge projects start yet never get past the goal of creating an organizational memory or base of knowledge. It’s better to break that down to something more practical and immediately useful:
- Immediate answers to everyday questions and how best to handle common situations.
- Support for strategy and planning decisions and actions.
These are examples of worthwhile KM goals that require different tools and easier approaches—the former could be a comprehensive FAQ collection; the latter could involve consolidated reporting systems and dashboards.
Once you know your why’s, you can better determine the right how’s by creating a solid plan, pinpointing what information to include, creating a supportive culture, identifying your key subject matter experts and training users, both on how to find help and how to contribute their own expertise and learnings.
KM standards and rules
Without some guiding practices and principles, KM systems can quickly devolve into useless collections of random information. These practices and principles include:
- Rules for information formats and preserving information of value.
- Breaking down silos and nurturing networks and communities of practice.
- Creating taxonomies and tagging solutions and make sure they are known and used appropriately and consistently.
- Responding to problems while anticipating emerging needs.
2. Encourage participation
If you build it, they will come. That worked in the movie about US baseball called Field of Dreams; however it doesn’t apply to many information-sharing systems.
The only systems that people will use without fail are those that are absolutely required for getting their work done. Anything else depends on human behavior and motivation. That’s why it’s imperative to promote a knowledge-sharing culture:
- Reward employees who share what they know and seek to learn more about your business, customers, markets and industry.
- Foster a culture that recognizes individual learning and collaboration.
- Identify and involve stakeholders for coaching, teaching and mentoring others, whether top-down or peer-to-peer.
Don’t rely solely on technology. Encourage people to take advantage of other people’s knowledge by letting them connect with subject matter experts, both offline as well as online.
Consider how your organization handles mistakes. Learning organizations embrace innovation and responsible risk-taking for continuous improvement, conditions that inevitably result in occasional setbacks and mistakes. The best KM systems capture not only things that worked well, but things that didn’t work well.
3. Make information easily discoverable
Everyone is feeling a bit overwhelmed by the sheer proliferation of information, coming at them from all sides and sources. It’s crucial to configure your knowledge systems appropriately and establish standards of use so that specific information can be discovered, including:
- Forethought and planning based on sound KM practices.
- Easy user interfaces and navigation.
- Variety of search options, from basic keyword queries to advanced search parameters to taxonomy-driven interfaces.
- Tools like spell checking to prevent or reduce typing errors.
- Use of metadata to tie information to relevant topics.
- Ongoing upkeep and changes based on needs and actual use.
Finally, it’s important to consider the life cycle of information, which is becoming increasingly shorter. Information that is outdated simply clogs up the working of any learning organization and makes it difficult to find what is relevant now, leading to potential risks and unwanted consequences.
Why does any law firm or corporation want to have a learning culture? Perhaps the universal answer is this:
To empower decisions and actions for long-term success.