According to Deloitte's Global Human Capital Trends, 'knowledge management' remains one of the top three issues influencing a company's success, yet only 9% of surveyed organizations feel ready to address it. Building sustainable knowledge management practices have been even more critical with the pandemic due to the distributed working structures and many organizations' restructuring. Re-examining traditional knowledge management practices is essential to minimize information fragmentation and increase communication and collaboration across teams.

What is knowledge management, and why is it essential for organizations to invest in knowledge practices? According to Deloitte, knowledge management is the art of transforming information and intellectual assets into enduring value for an organization’s clients and its people. This means having an accessible system where knowledge is documented and remains accessible to the entire organization. The correct information can get to the right people at the correct times to help people share experiences and insights and improve teams’ productivity.

The following are five practical tips that organizations can implement to build sustainable knowledge management systems:

  1. Establish a culture of knowledge sharing

Knowledge sharing in the workplace is more likely to occur when a company culture places a greater focus on knowledge transfer and open communication. Deloitte's survey showed that when the organization is knowledge-focused, 23% more respondents will consider it easy or very easy to obtain information.

Figure 3. Obtaining knowledge from repositories is significantly easier when the organisation is knowledge-focused

To establish a culture of knowledge sharing, leaders will need to make knowledge-sharing a priority. Through communication, setting an example, and creating policies and structures that encourage knowledge sharing, knowledge sharing can become a cornerstone to how your organization operates. Taking on an inspirational leadership style, where you’re able to energize, inspire and align your employees towards a common purpose and organizational goal, can also make team members more comfortable with sharing information freely. However, changing culture is not an easy task, especially when most of us are working remotely. Hence, it is crucial to work together with different key stakeholders in your organization (i.e., HR teams, managers) to collaborate and to drive a culture of knowledge sharing.

2. Create rewards to increase employee motivation for knowledge sharing

A common barrier to knowledge sharing is simply a lack of motivation to share, due to reasons such as “I don’t have any time,” “I don’t know what is expected of me,” and “What’s in it for me?”. Understanding the key factors that lead to low employee motivation towards sharing their expertise and program knowledge will help you develop the best systems and processes for establishing better knowledge sharing practices across your firm.

What motivates people to share knowledge? According to research conducted by HBR, allowing people to see the value of sharing knowledge works better than pressuring them to do so. If employees can see how sharing information can help them reach their unit or organizational goals, they might be more likely to do so. The research also found that people are more likely to share when they are “autonomously motivated” (which means doing something because it is meaningful or enjoyable) instead of “controlled motivation” (which means doing something to get a reward or avoid punishment).

Ideally, we can motivate employees to share through inspirational leadership - communicating, regularly thanking and praising them, and most importantly, leading by example. A possible alternative would also be to provide extrinsic rewards, such as incentives, goals, measurements, or even gamification.

According to Stan Garfield, a Knowledge Management Author and Speaker, the following are some reasons why employees do not share knowledge:

  • They don't know what they are supposed to do.
  • There is no positive consequence to them for sharing knowledge
  • They are rewarded for not sharing knowledge

As leaders, it is essential to understand what will motivate your team and design the best practices based on understanding your team and your organizational culture.

3. Make use of technology to create knowledge centers.

Knowledge management contains different processes and tasks, and each function needs the appropriate technology and tools to achieve its goals. Determining the functionality of the technology systems required for the firm’s firm’s specific activities and initiatives will help you choose the appropriate knowledge management technology for your organization.

According to Herothemes, there are four significant types of knowledge management systems:

  • Customer Support Systems: These systems are designed to serve your customers, most commonly providing answers to common issues related to products or services. They allow customers to find solutions without needing to contact the customer support team.
  • Expert Knowledge Systems: These are made for an organization's internal use -- to serve a company's team or department. For example, the HR team can create an expert knowledge system with expert guides on onboarding, managing team conflicts, etc.
  • Document Management Systems: These are knowledge bases for managing documents. It usually includes capturing, classifying, and indexing documents or for administration and security documents. Beyond this, they may consist of a whole host of possible features, including multiple platform support, multiple/customizable interfaces, workflow modules, file/format conversions, etc.
  • Database Management Systems: Database management systems are used to store and share different data types related to an organization. Whether it's data related to customers or product history, database management helps keep everything well organized.

4. Leverage knowledge management during onboarding and offboarding

Integrating knowledge management processes during onboarding and offboarding is one of the most important things you can do for your new employees and your organization. We all know that the impact of first impressions is lasting, and this is likely the same case for new hires, whereby their onboarding experience might probably set the stage for how they feel about your organization. Integrating knowledge management into your onboarding processes will allow your new employees to have an excellent first impression of your company. This might translate into greater job satisfaction and an increase in their likeliness to engage in knowledge sharing further down the road.

Also, poor onboarding is considered one of the key reasons new hires leave within the first three years of working with the firm. Employee turnovers can be extremely costly to companies and can take organizations up to two years to bring new hires up to the same efficiency level as their predecessor. To avoid this cost, it will be essential to provide the right tools and resources (i.e. instruction guides, connecting new hires to current knowledge experts in the organization) to provide them with the proper information required to integrate into the organization successfully.

5. Manage organizational structures to increase information exchanges

Re-examining organizational structures is one of the most important yet often overlooked aspects in designing sustainable knowledge practices. Besides motivating your employees and finding the best technology tools to increase knowledge sharing, it will be highly beneficial to utilize your organizational structure to transform and facilitate cross-discipline awareness and expertise.

There are two main types of organizational structures: formal and informal. The formal organizational structure is typically the organization's official structure and displays the firm members’ hierarchical relationships. The informal organizational structures tend to be the ones that are created through informal networks, usually representing the way people interact. As a leader, it will be essential to identify and support these informal networks, allowing knowledge to flow in any direction across the team or organization, regardless of the employees' job titles or hierarchical relationships.

In a period with so many changes -- employee mobility, hybrid work, rapid growth, and innovation in many organizations, it is crucial to ensure that both you and your organization create sustainable knowledge practices to allow all members in the organization to feel engaged and updated so that they will be more motivated and empowered to drive business growth.

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