Managing know-how in your organization

In one of our articles about the challenges tomorrow’s quality leaders face, plugging the knowledge drain was one of the top three challenges we addressed. Within that scope of knowledge lies your company’s know-how, competitive edge, innovation, and operational efficiency. One key question for quality leaders is, once you have plugged the knowledge drain, how will you manage it? 

Dealing with a changing workforce  
Today’s workforce is undergoing changes driven by increased mobility, higher job churn, and an aging population. Some of these changes are attributed to COVID-19 as a catalyst for remote work, the rise of the gig economy, and tapping into the global workforce.  Shorter job tenures, continuous learning, reskilling, and technological innovations such as automation and artificial intelligence can also contribute to higher job churn. An aging population also means an older workforce and delayed retirement. Adaptive and flexible workplace policies are needed for organizations to attract and retain talent.  As a quality leader, protecting valuable knowledge when a key person leaves the company and quickly onboarding new employees ensures uninterrupted quality processes. 

Defining knowledge management  

To deal with today’s evolving workforce, knowledge management is a crucial process to manage and use your organization's knowledge systematically. Traditionally, knowledge was captured in written procedures and manuals. However, a modern and forward-looking approach emphasizes using tools, templates, and interactive methods. It is not just about storing information—it involves transferring and applying knowledge to improve your company’s operations and ways of working.  

Capturing and transferring what we know 
For quality leaders, it's crucial to adapt to the changing landscape of knowledge management. This means shifting focus from static documentation to dynamic knowledge transfer. Such as: 

Gather information: Quality leaders should cast a wide net to find new and better working methods continuously. You should conceptualize and integrate these insights into the management system, ensuring that practical, innovative practices are captured and disseminated. 

Communicate and educate: Beyond collecting information, quality leaders must effectively communicate and educate others. This involves transferring knowledge into actionable competence and ensuring all team members understand and apply new practices effectively. 

Facilitate knowledge transfer: Quality leaders can facilitate knowledge sharing between individuals and teams with training sessions, workshops, discussion boards, and videos. The “train the trainer” concept of teaching individuals who, in turn, teach others is an efficient way to spread knowledge. 

Be the change agent: Quality leaders drive the adoption of new knowledge management practices, such as new ways of working or using more efficient tools. This includes capturing data on current practices, identifying areas for improvement, and implementing strategies to enhance knowledge sharing. 

Use tools and technology: Your quality management system and all its contents are one of the primary sources of knowledge. A lessons-learned database captures and archives valuable lessons from past projects. Checklists and best practice guides to provide accessible content and using internal digital platforms such as your intranet are also helpful tools. 

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Mistakes are also knowledge 
A lesson learned can be transferred in various ways previously mentioned and is a powerful resource of knowledge. It is a repository of what went right and wrong; root cause analysis and corrective actions can help. The root cause may be that knowledge hasn’t been transferred to the correct people or transferred in a difficult way for the receiver to assimilate or understand. Also, corrective actions are sometimes related to lessons learned and knowledge management. Documenting detailed information about successes, challenges, failures, and solutions and categorizing information with tags and keywords will make the information easier to access. Feedback loops and audits can also be implemented. As a future quality leader, this will help prevent repeating mistakes and improve your management system's overall quality and continuous evolution. 

Managing knowledge – who owns it? 
A common challenge across organizations is the question of who owns and is responsible for knowledge management. It often overlaps HR, IT, and line management, creating potential conflicts. This is where your skills as a change agent, influencer, and cultural champion are needed to develop a knowledge-friendly culture. The entire organization owns your company’s knowledge, but it requires clear roles, responsibilities, and resources, not to mention time and budget. Defining responsibilities and encouraging accountability helps individuals and teams understand their role in maintaining and updating your organization’s knowledge base.  

By proactively capturing and applying know-how, quality leaders can effectively manage knowledge, improving quality and operational efficiency.