What is knowledge sharing (KS) and how should it be facilitated?
This is a question that is recurrently answered by experts; however organizations continuously get caught up in the tools and platforms such as Bloomfire, Freshdesk or a good old SharePoint, rather than looking at the fundamental strategic nature of sharing the knowledge developed.
The current environment in the energy industry offers the opportunity to take a step back and re-think KS. As workers leave the industry, years of knowledge and experience leave with them, and put organizations at risk. By thinking strategically about how to build organizational capability, an organization is better prepared to decide if the next shiny tool available is really needed, and instead focus on how to make knowledge sharing effective.
A good way of approaching the topic is by answering three questions. Why share? What to share? How to share?
Many managers wonder whether to maintain existing KS initiatives in next year’s budget. Institutions like the American Productivity and Quality Center (APQC), have conducted extensive research, and results in the energy industry are as varied as 2.5x to 10x return on investment, making a strong case for keeping KS in your budget.
KS can create deep roots in the organization and impact a variety of areas. Initial cost savings and productivity benefits can be quickly identified as employees more readily have the information and lessons needed to improve their performance and productivity. Longer term wins may be harder to pinpoint, but are still valuable as they translate into decreased time spent in meetings, more creative solutions or even decreased employee turnover.
Take a look at the results presented by Oscar Guerra, unit head of Knowledge Management and Innovation Strategy at Ecopetrol, in the 2015 Knowledge Management Conference: Savings of $5.19 million USD through increased well production and reduced costs in the well abandonment process were directly tied to KS initiatives.
What to Share?
At this point the options are infinite; however, all is never the answer, at least not for your initial approach to KS. Start with the expected end state and define what success looks like. This will help you determine the priorities to focus on.
Most programs start small, targeting a function or division in the company. This offers flexibility to incorporate learnings, adapt the approach, and develop a learning-based culture throughout the process.
How to Share?
The decision on how to share knowledge, whether on the methodology or tool front, needs to look into cultural aspects of the organization, and assess best fit.
For example, from a methodology standpoint NASA was a pioneer in routinely inviting retirees to share success/failure stories with young scientists and engineers. Storytelling proved to be a highly effective method of transferring technical knowledge for their population.
In the tool dimension, solutions can range from the simpler out-of-the-box platforms to custom made systems, however it is fundamental that practitioners and SMEs in the organization are actively managing these resources. Their participation makes the initiative relevant and provides credibility to the source and content.
In short, to build your knowledge sharing strategy and program, communicate first the rationale, understand the end goal you pursue and only after that select the methodologies and tools. When doing so, make sure they fit your organizational values, culture and procedures.