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Knowledge Management
How To Overcome Knowledge Gaps (and Build Stronger Teams)

How To Overcome Knowledge Gaps (and Build Stronger Teams)

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💡 What are knowledge gaps?

A knowledge gap is the difference in what people know and what they need to know, in order to do their best work.

Whether you’re an individual contributor finding your footing in a new role or a people manager watching your workweek fill up with 1-on-1s, knowledge gaps are probably already on your radar.

They’re top of mind for companies, too. According to McKinsey, a whopping 87% of businesses admit they’re either already facing knowledge gaps or will be soon. 

What’s sure to fall short, as a strategy? To borrow a phrase from the UK's underground: “minding the gap” and hoping for the best.  ⚠️

In this article, we’ll help you:

Common causes of knowledge gaps at work

In an ideal world, we’d nip knowledge gaps in the bud and avoid the negative impacts to:

  • Customer experience 
  • Reputation
  • Productivity
  • Morale
  • Profits
  • Decision-making
  • Compliance
  • Innovation

…to name a few. 😅

Clearly it’s worth figuring out what drives knowledge deficits in a work context. And ID’ing the factors that might turn an information gap into an information gulf.

A graphic summarizing 10 common causes of knowledge gaps at work.
  1. High turnover. 👋 It’s hard to keep valuable intel from walking out the door when people change jobs—which is why preserving institutional knowledge is key. If a couple of top performers move on in quick succession, they may leave knowledge gaps in their wake.
  2. Less communication and more misalignment. 🤨 If cross-functional collaboration WAS working well but isn’t anymore, put your head together with other problem solvers in your org. Knowledge gaps (and a ton of avoidable friction) can sometimes stem from a lack of visibility.
  3. A surge in new software (and evolving processes). 🌊 If you’re introducing new solutions to increase efficiency pretty consistently, learning curves may vary. And lead to a flood of frequently asked questions.
  4. Low adoption of said tools. 👀 Some people may not want to ask for help while learning their way around a new tool. They may just…not use it, instead. (We call them ambivalent adopters, at Tango! Read more about them here.) 
  5. Lack of access to [accurate and engaging] information. 🧐 If resources are scattered across departments, tools, and teams, it can be tough for people to find the knowledge they need. If what’s available isn’t up to date or interesting, that can also limit effective on the job learning.
  6. Irregular or absent training. 🔮 It doesn’t matter if you’re all about formal training or if microlearning is more your speed. Sharing some procedural knowledge is usually a prerequisite to help employees do good work.
  7. Poor performance. 📊 Is a third of your organization suddenly not meeting expectations? If you notice a big uptick in missed milestones, targets, and customer complaints, it may be a sign that knowledge gaps may be more widespread.
  8. Dusty documentation. 📃 If you have SOPs and how-to guides that are being circulated but aren’t being used, you may notice knowledge gaps beginning to compound.  
  9. Language or cultural barriers. 😕 Very few people have identical approaches to work, problem solving, and decision-making—or the same communication preferences and proficiency. This is especially true if you work in a global company, with global customers!  
  10. Multiple mentions of imposter syndrome. 👂Watercooler talk may be a little harder to come by in a post-COVID world. But perk up your ears if you hear the words “imposter syndrome” permeating casual conversations—which may signal that people don’t think they have the skills they need to succeed.

How to identify—and normalize—knowledge gaps

Speaking of success…

You know the study. The one that says men will apply for a job/promotion when they meet 60% of the requirements, but women will only apply if they meet 100% of them.

The reality is, we all have knowledge gaps. We may not be chomping at the bit to say so in a job interview, but it’s 1000% true.

If you’re leading a team, part of your job is to surface and address those gaps. But what’s equally important? Normalizing them. Here are a few tips to do both. 👇

1. Understand the differences between the three types of gaps. 

Spoiler alert: Knowledge gaps aren’t the only kind of gap you may spot. Here’s a grid to help keep your definitions straight:

Type of Gap How To ID It
Knowledge gap The person doesn’t know what information they’d need to complete a task.
Skill gap The person doesn’t have the skill set they’d need to do the job.
Performance gap The person doesn’t meet the expectations for how they’re expected to perform.

2. Ask employees to self-assess.

What’s a great way to figure out where knowledge gaps exist on your team? Go straight to the source.

You could roll this step into your performance review process, if it isn’t already included. Or you could issue an anonymous survey a few times a year, to help people be more forthcoming and less afraid to point out weaknesses. If you’re hiring, you could also bring everyone together to brainstorm what skills they’d love to add to the team.  

3. Talk about your own areas for growth.

A little vulnerability goes a long way, especially from leadership. 

💡 Tango Tip

If you're a manager, share the results of your own performance review with your team.

Include your areas for improvement, and—if you're comfortable—open up about a knowledge gap you're wrestling with.

4. Dig into customer feedback.

Customers can be some of the best people to help you see where you can learn more and do better. 

If you have customer data to help you figure out where you’re falling short—collectively or individually—great. If you don’t, look for opportunities to ask for qualitative feedback. 

  • If you’re in Customer Support → You may find there’s a recurring issue that you can solve with more readily available knowledge. (And—shameless plug—step-by-step, on-screen guidance, without screen sharing!)
  • If you’re in Sales → You may find one of your reps didn’t know enough about your software’s security measures to win an enterprise deal, and people can/should tap your Head of IT to help inspire confidence in the future.
  • If you’re in Product → You may learn that customers really want the ability to do X, Y, Z—and you can take that into consideration when you hire your next engineer.

5. Look at your company’s goals and objectives.

Take a look at your organization’s goals. Do you and your team have all of the knowledge you need to achieve them? 

💡 Tango Tip

If the answer is “no” or “not yet”—that’s perfectly okay.

Acknowledging that fact will help create a culture where transparency/open communication is the norm, not the exception.

6. Review industry benchmarks.

Staying ahead of the curve is Job #1 for most companies, regardless of industry. 

Reviewing industry benchmarks can help you and your team identify where your organization may be falling behind, and what kind of subject matter experts you could bring in to remain competitive. 

7. Audit your documentation.

Enlist your team to help you go through your policies and procedures and pinpoint places that could be easier to understand. 

You may find there’s a critical step in a process that everyone’s skipping (and contributing to a lack of collective know-how). Or there’s an outdated how-to guide that’s actually exacerbating a gap in knowledge and negatively impacting learning outcomes.

8 strategies to overcome knowledge gaps

Now that we’ve covered what knowledge gaps are, what causes them, how to identify them, and how you can normalize them—let’s talk about how to overcome them.

A graphic summarizing 8 strategies to overcome knowledge gaps at work.

1. Hire new talent to meet new needs.

If you have the budget to bring in more talent to address evolving business needs, that’s worth taking a minute to celebrate.  🎉.

Ready to fill your most urgent and important knowledge gaps? Determine your nice-to-haves and need-to-haves for educational background, work experience, hard skills, soft skills, specialities, etc.

2. Double down on reskilling and/or upskilling.

Even if you can make a new hire, it’s a good idea to put systems in place to help people reskill and/or upskill. 

Creating a pathway for reskilling and upskilling isn’t just a smart way to fill knowledge gaps. It can also drive employee engagement, as people expand their skill sets and pursue areas of interest. 

3. Offer multiple ways to learn (where work happens).

As you may have experienced firsthand, people have different learning styles. And all learning styles aren’t necessarily created equal.

In today’s world, more and more people prefer:

  • Learning in short bursts, in the flow of work
  • Contextualized insights on demand 
  • Training materials without any extra fluff 
  • More screenshots 
  • Less text
  • Fewer long videos

4. Offer better ways to teach—and learn.

Technology has come a *long* way. If you’re still hoping your SMEs will show some more enthusiasm for making how-to guides in Microsoft Word and your new hires will get excited over a static PDF, it may be time for an upgrade. 

5. Encourage—and incentivize—knowledge sharing.

Give employees a reason to share their knowledge and expertise with each other by recognizing a “rising tide lifts all boats” mentality (and associated behavior!) when you see it.

You might praise and promote: 

  • Proactive documentation
  • Knowledge management as a practice, not a project
  • Offers to cross-train
  • Mentoring
  • Post-project retrospectives
  • Volunteer-led lunch and learns
  • Solutions to help people learn in the flow of work (👋, Real-Time Guidance!)

6. Take the pain out of documentation.

If you want knowledge to start spreading like wildfire, remove the obstacles standing in the way. 

What’s at the top of that list? How long it takes to create documentation, and how hard it can be to enable other people to get stuff done on their own. Without the proper tools, capturing and learning a single process isn’t just time-consuming—it’s also pretty tedious/frustrating.

7. Implement a formal knowledge transfer pipeline.

Knowledge gaps create knowledge debt. If you find yourself swimming in the second, take a leaf out of Uber’s book and set up a knowledge transfer pipeline to keep up with business change.

8. Promote your learning and development benefits, if applicable.

How many of your employees know you have a stipend to sign up for a Reforge program, pursue a Masterclass, and/or attend an industry event? 

How Tango makes closing knowledge gaps easier 

Tango is a (free!) Chrome extension that helps:

  • Learners work with greater confidence and efficiency.
  • Teachers enable better job performance and productivity.

When you blend procedural and performance knowledge, you can help your team find answers fast, leverage SME-level insights on the spot, make fewer mistakes, and plow through priorities. 

What’s the impact, in the longer run?

  • More knowledge applied.
  • More people who are masters of their craft.
  • More goals achieved—or exceeded.
  • More meaningful impacts on customer experience and the bottom line.

The bottom line

There’s a lot here. Looking for the top three takeaways?

  1. Knowledge gaps are a hurdle—not an insurmountable obstacle. 💪🏿
  2. Taking steps to surface and solve them should happen sooner rather than later. ⏳
  3. Using a Real-Time Guidance learning tool might be the difference between a steadily growing and a quickly closing knowledge gap. 🤙


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