When leaders think about the things they need to do to keep a company successful, the obvious usually comes to mind: sell more, compete effectively, manage cash, retain employees. I could easily list 10 things off the top of my head.
The “what” you need to do (in other words, identifying the ideal outcomes) is the easy part. The “how” you need to do it bears deeper thought. And when you peel back the onion, a core component of every company’s success is the knowledge of its people.
While this may seem like a no-brainer, it’s not that simple. From the bottom to the top of an organization, achievement of overall corporate goals is firmly rooted in what each team member knows, or doesn’t know. Think about it; as human beings, how we perform on the job—our behavior, the decisions we make, the things we do—are all informed by previous experiences that were the same or similar. If it’s a situation we’ve never encountered before, our actions will be based on general knowledge we may think is relevant to the situation presenting itself. And where we don’t have important knowledge or a reference point? Anything can happen.
Having a highly knowledgeable workforce sets the stage for the best outcomes and mitigates the loss that can result from less than ideal performance. And I’m not just saying this. Some of the largest companies in the world including Walmart and Johnson & Johnson, have been able to achieve specific business outcomes and save a ton of money in the process, when they’ve equipped their employees with the right knowledge to take the right actions on the job. For these businesses and many others, knowledge is at the center of performance.
It goes without saying that none of us can know everything about everything. Life, every day, every moment, is about making choices with the best information at our disposal. But where organizations get themselves into trouble is when employees don’t have enough knowledge and take a “best guess”, often with a time constraint, and hope it works out. Organizations are losing millions of dollars a day as a result of employees being afraid to act because they simply don’t know, or can’t make the right decisions due to incorrect assumptions.. The bigger the company, the bigger the impact.
Multiply the effect of decisions being taken by every person in your organization each day and it’s pretty easy to see how a straight line to success gets off track quickly. The more relevant knowledge people have, the more linear that path to success. In other words, providing your team with the right knowledge so that they can access it at the moment of need is essential to good decision making, and achieving corporate goals. Of course hiring the right people in the first place is a given. But even the best hires can’t execute without the appropriate knowledge.
A recent study by Bersin by Deloitte concluded that the average employee is so overwhelmed and distracted on the job that he or she has only 1% of the workweek to devote to learning something new. Wow! When you think about the volume of organizational knowledge that exists, and how quickly it changes, no wonder sub-optimal decisions get made because of individual knowledge gaps.
How do you drive maximum knowledge so that people can perform at peak and the company has the biggest opportunity for success? Break from tradition, that’s how. It’s simply the case today that employees expect information to be accessible to them anytime, anywhere. Google has trained us well. We all expect to have our thirst for knowledge quenched at a moment’s notice in two clicks. Add to that, the modern employee also expects their employer to help develop their skills, make them smarter and provide opportunities for personal advancement.
Fortunately, tools and technology exist today allowing companies to personalize knowledge to a job, and make it easily available via pull, rather than push, right at the moment the employee needs it. More and more companies are also recognizing topic experts within their teams and the incredible body of knowledge those individuals can transfer to others. The most progressive companies offer opportunities for team members to generate content and share it instantly. It’s a more employee-centric approach to ensuring organizational knowledge stays relevant, comprehensive and available.
No matter how you approach it, taking steps to garden and grow employee knowledge on a continuous basis is the key to ensuring your company has the best chance at success.