Hannah is a semi-recovered perfectionist and longtime subscriber to the squiggly model of success. She spent 11 years learning from the best at brands like HubSpot and Food52 and loves running, cooking, and helping people feel A++ at work. 🤗
If you knew 90% of your team wanted to do something invaluable, would you think hard about how to make it happen?
According to a 2022 Forrester study, 90% percent of employees want the opportunity to share knowledge.
It sounds like a no-brainer of a green light. You’re bought in, in principle. The pros outweigh the cons. The impact potential is high. And yet—this is a big mountain to move. While Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends Study says knowledge management is one of the top three issues influencing company success, only 9% of companies feel ready to take it on.
If you’re part of that 9%, we see you. 👏🏽 👏🏾 👏🏻 If you’re part of the 91% still figuring it out, we’ve got you.
In this post, we’ll give you a quick primer on knowledge sharing before 1) explaining what’s doomed about the dominant approach, 2) introducing eight steps to encourage more knowledge sharing, and 3) reframing how we think about modern knowledge management.
What is knowledge sharing?
In a nutshell, knowledge sharing is an exchange of information between people.
The word “exchange” implies there’s an element of mutual gratification, and that is the ideal.
In an ideal ideal world, Person A and Person B would enhance their expertise—and then turn around and enhance an existing process.
You see where we’re going with this, don’t you? The more people that use the improved process, the more knowledge spreads. The more knowledge spreads, the easier it is for everyone in the general vicinity to teach, learn, and do their best work. 🥳
💡 Key Takeaway:
The old way of sharing knowledge—manually, sporadically, and thanklessly—is broken.
There's a better way to:
Teach and learn on the job
Document way more, in way less time
Turn a dreaded task into a routine delight
Eight steps to encourage more knowledge sharing
If you want to make knowledge sharing a high priority, there are a few steps you can take.
Step one: Introduce a better way to document processes. ✅
What’s been so painful about knowledge sharing, historically? Documentation.
To get people on board, you need a solution that makes documenting processes everything it wasn’t before. A tool that can automate what feels tedious. Accelerate what feels slow. And add joy and gratification instead of frustration and friction.
There are a lot of options on the market. Your use case will help you decide what’s best for you and your team.
🙋 Do you teach people how to use software?
Finish those how-to guides you've been putting off with Tango—the Chrome extension that automatically turns any process you can click through into a how-to guide. In seconds. With screenshots. And multiple sharing options. 🎉
Step two: Figure out how your people like to learn most. 🕵️♀️
To make sure your new documentation gets used, figure out how your team likes to absorb information—and how they don’t.
We took a quick poll of what people disliked most about training guides in 2023, and here’s what we found:
“No screenshot annotations” is the top training guide dislike by a statistically significant margin.
People said “long videos” were—surprise!—too long. A majority also said that video format makes it tricky to skip straight to a specific step.
People like screenshots, and don’t love dense walls of text.
Perfectly cropped and annotated screenshots > standard screenshots.
Step three: Make your institutional knowledge easy to find.
Once you have documentation that’s easy to create and consume, the next step is to make it easy to find.
Centralizing everything that answers the question, “How do I…” in a company knowledge base may take some effort up front, but will save you hours in the long run. Set up a knowledge base in five steps.
Step four: Address any other reasons why people might not be sharing knowledge. 🤔
What else prevents people on your team from sharing what they know with others?
Circulate an anonymous survey to get the crux of the problem. You might find that people:
Don’t think they have enough time for documentation
Think something else is more important
See knowledge sharing as outside of their job scope
Don’t believe leadership values knowledge sharing
Anticipate a negative consequence for doing it
Don’t see any incentives to document their work
Don’t see any negative consequences to NOT doing it
Worry about becoming replaceable
Believe non-technical teammates won’t appreciate or understand their ideas
Care about helping people do their best work, but think they need special skills to share what they know
Don’t think they have the experience to participate in a transfer of information
Think they’re already doing it
Information is power. Once you know what the major deterrents are, you can work on shifting any widespread misconceptions.
Step five: Lead by example. 👣
Want everyone to make a habit of knowledge sharing? Ask upper management to go first.
Make knowledge sharing part of your company values.
Share your successes and failures openly as a leadership team, and regularly revisit the importance of having a learning culture.
Incorporate knowledge sharing into your performance review process.
Host regular retrospectives after big projects, where everyone can talk about what went well and what could have gone better.
Kick off a team meeting with a round robin of lessons learned.
Give people multiple ways to share their knowledge. Your most extroverted teammate may love to host a lunch and learn. Your more introverted direct report may want to circulate a monthly learnings round-up over Slack.
Create a recurring, company-wide virtual event to encourage knowledge exchange on a variety of topics. Make it voluntary, with a title as open-ended as “Teach Me Something.”
Allocate part of your budget to ensure your tech stack includes a tool that can capture employee skills and expertise quickly, accurately, and in real-time.
“I made 25 Tangos in the time it used to take me to make one how-to guide.”
Sales Operations Manager at Better Agency
Step six: Co-create knowledge sharing goals. 👯♀️
Put hierarchy aside and take a collaborative approach to setting knowledge sharing goals.
Here are some questions you might ask:
What have we documented well, to date?
Where do we face the most potential knowledge loss?
Who are the “go-to” people in our organization?
What do only they know how to do?
What’s the impact level of others not having this knowledge?
What resources would be needed to capture and share key information with others?
What tools would make creating and distributing information more effective and efficient at scale?
Where could we dismantle information silos by centralizing knowledge in one place?
What would it take for everyone to feel like they’re part of a learning culture?
Step seven: Quantify the business impact of knowledge sharing. 📈
There’s some truth to “If you can't measure it, you can't manage it.”
Figure out what you can quantify, when it comes to knowledge sharing. How does better documentation and more widespread institutional knowledge impact:
Sales and revenue
Product development and innovation
Customer experience and Net Promoter Scores (NPS)
Employee experience and retention
Return on investments in technology
Step eight: Celebrate the process experts who impact business outcomes. 👏🏿
Ask people what makes them feel appreciated at work, and chances are a majority will say “recognition.”
It doesn’t matter how you reward your company’s Knowledge Champions—just that you do. These are the people who are making access to knowledge—ideally in the flow of work—possible.
Quick tip: The benefits to sharing knowledge need to be obvious and compelling, and go beyond incentives like:
Establishing your reputation as an expert.
Expanding what you know.
Gaining more visibility for your work.
Increasing your professional value.
Types of knowledge sharing
Knowledge sharing can be done on a one-to-one and one-to-many basis. It can take place informally and formally. Tacitly and explicitly. Online and in person. In real-time and asynchronously. It can happen between peers, between a subject matter expert and a beginner, and between friends and people who want to be your friend. (Shameless plug to check out our community, if you haven’t already!)
In any or all of those cases, key information may be communicated verbally. But in the ideal world mentioned above, all of it would be documented, to ensure no institutional knowledge would be lost.
Benefits of knowledge sharing
We’d need a lot of hands to count all the advantages to taking a proactive approach to personal knowledge management, skill sharing, prioritizing a learning culture, and leveraging collective intelligence. For the sake of time—and short attention spans—we’ll give a top five our best shot.👇
Note: We consider improved documentation, productivity, efficiency, decision making, creativity, innovation, job satisfaction, and succession planning to be table stakes.
If you know how to recreate Uber’s secret sauce, you’re a step ahead of the game. 🎊 To recap: Intellectual property goes beyond patents and code bases and includes the institutional knowledge needed to build revenue-generating products and brand evangelists. Knowledge is hardly something to be treated casually. It’s a competitive advantage that paves the way to operational excellence.
Teaching others is a skill with multiple upsides. 🤩 Think about the last time you taught someone how to do something. Did you learn a better way to do it or explain it, in the process? The more experts share, the more expert they become.
We live in a world with a lot of readily available answers. 🤖 (We see you, ChatGPT!) But what’s tough to replace? The opportunity to learn directly from someone with contextualized insights. When you can access directly applicable intel about your customers, systems, standard operating procedures, company goals, challenges and workarounds, internal dynamics, etc.—a generic response seems just that. Generic.
What does knowledge sharing at scale create? A learning culture. 🤓 Where everyone seeks, shares, and applies new knowledge and skills. Where people work faster and smarter towards common company goals, with the added benefit of accelerating their own personal and professional growth.
If your goal is to keep up with rapid change—in your industry, your market, and your company—knowledge sharing is a force multiplier. 🌟 The quicker you can convert new know-how into collective intelligence, the sooner you can impact “north star” business goals.
Why knowledge sharing is broken—and why it matters for teams
We know intellectual capital is important. It’s why we fork over large sums of money for top talent. It’s why we enlist people to help us create non-compete, non-solicitation, non-disclosure, and other confidentiality agreements. It’s why we read books, bookmark blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos, attend conferences, sign up for webinars, subscribe to newsletters, follow thought leaders, etc.
And yet…we often overlook an essential caveat. Knowledge is only valuable when it’s shared.
It doesn’t matter if “Knowledge Manager” is or isn’t in your job title. If you’ve built, discovered, or learned something, true success likely hinges on your ability to help other people run with your initial win. To do that, you probably need to document what’s in your head, clearly articulate what may feel intuitive to you, and proactively field a few FAQs.
Easy enough, right? If you have infinite time, patience, altruistic tendencies, and a very good playlist: sure.
But if you have things to do and goals to achieve, this is where knowledge sharing gets the short end of the stick. (Through no fault of your own!) This is where it becomes all too obvious that our longstanding approach to knowledge sharing is fundamentally broken.
Why knowledge sharing is broken
You know who has a lot to say on this topic? The people who champion knowledge sharing anyway. The people who believe that everyone is an expert at something, hoarding know-how doesn’t help anyone, and the value of employee knowledge can’t be overstated.
These people also tend to agree that:
Documentation is all of these things: tedious, time-consuming, and boring. And none of these things: easy, fast, and fun.
Taking hours to document a single process feels like a wasted effort, because it’ll only be a matter of weeks before the process changes and it’ll be time to update your static PDF or re-record your video.
When you *do* decide to power through, it’s equally frustrating to know your documentation probably won’t get used or appreciated like it should.
Why it matters
Why do Knowledge Champions make documentation anyway? Because they know that without it, their organization will fall behind.
If you don’t have a strong culture of documentation, four things become iffy at best:
Getting your team’s experts to commit to creating and maintaining documentation.
Protecting your top performers and senior employees from an onslaught of interruptions, meetings, and repetitive questions.
Keeping institutional knowledge from walking out the door when employees leave.
Great people can do great things—but not if they’re spending their energy playing detective, searching for information that should be easy to find. Or playing Whac-A-Mole with never ending requests, watching their time for strategic thinking dwindle away. Or going through the motions on their last day, planning what they’ll do with their breather between jobs.
The bottom line
Excellence—at the individual, team, and company level—is directly tied to how quickly we can learn and leverage new knowledge at hand. What’s the new news not to be missed? Our old ways of capturing and sharing information are no longer cutting it. Not at a micro or a macro level.
What will empower everyone to capture, follow, and continuously improve the processes that contribute to your competitive edge?
A knowledge sharing culture.
A way to document way more, in way less time.
A mutual belief that knowledge sharing is a practice, not a project—and that knowledge operations is the new knowledge management.
The easier it is to create documentation, the more documentation you and your team will create. The more documentation you create, the more knowledge will get captured, shared, and applied across your entire organization.
Once you reduce friction and add incentives to increase the quality and quantity of shared knowledge, you can focus your efforts on speed and scale. The faster you can transfer knowledge, the faster you can produce real business change and results.
What is knowledge sharing and why is it important?
Knowledge sharing describes the exchange of information, experiences, and/or skills between people. It can happen in a one-on-one setting, among teams, and/or between organizations. In the best case scenario, knowledge sharing positively impacts our collective ability to learn, solve problems, innovate, and make decisions. Without a continuous practice of knowledge sharing, it’s tricky to increase efficiency and productivity at an individual level and operational excellence at a company level.
What is an example of knowledge sharing?
Say you’re a new hire on an operations team for a growing SaaS startup. Knowledge sharing may take place in several ways. Example A: Part of your onboarding process may involve reading through SOPs or other documentation to familiarize yourself with day-to-day tasks. Example B. Your manager may set up a weekly one-on-one meeting to touch base and offer regular coaching sessions as you get up to speed. Example C: Your teammate may invite you to shadow them to develop a deeper understanding of your new role in context. All three of these are common examples of knowledge sharing in a work context.
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