Disruption Is the New Norm

If the past year has taught us anything, it is that uncertainty abounds, and change can happen quickly. In March 2020, COVID-19 disrupted everything. But disruption was happening well before the pandemic — the internet, new technologies and generational changes in our workforce have been changing the landscape for decades. As a learning and development (L&D) leader, you play an integral role in preparing your organization to respond to unexpected challenges and showing leaders how to create teams that can rapidly confront whatever comes next.

Knowledge management is at the core of an adaptive organization, because it empowers employees to share information, as well as context and meaning, quickly and efficiently. It increases organizational agility while maintaining focus and alignment. This article shares strategies for how your organization can use knowledge management to not only survive but thrive, even in volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) conditions.

We Are Awash in Data and Knowledge, Not Management

We have an abundance of information and tools — but how well are we sharing that information within our teams? For decades, we centered learning around formal events — training sessions, knowledge management applications and enterprise-wide initiatives. They are valid approaches if they achieve their desired outcomes, but for many companies, the learning becomes a recurring set of actions that do not move the needle where leaders want it to be. Disruption has exacerbated this diffusion of progress by creating competing priorities, a lack of availability and focus among participants, and constant change.

How do we get ahead of this challenge? There are three steps to change how your organization integrates learning into its culture and operations to proactively and smoothly navigate the disruptive forces:

1. Align Knowledge Management With the Overall Strategic Plan

Learning professionals often perceive their role as supporting the needs of departments or functions (i.e., “They will tell us what learning they need”). Change your role into a more active, leading role by reviewing your company’s strategic plan and aligning your priorities to its aims and objectives. How can learning enable your organization to achieve its goals and outcomes?

Once you answer that question, focus your knowledge management outcomes around the question of what would success look like. This question defines your desired end state with an outcome rather than actions to take (actions will follow). For example, instead of measuring success as “conducting five classes for this new information technology system in 2021,” define it as “the department’s employees use the new system on day 1 without any major operational issues.” This approach aligns everyone in the organization around the success outcome. Afterward, you can debate the best courses of action to achieve it.

2. Be a Knowledge Broker, Not a Knowledge Manager

In most organizations, the training responsibility falls on one person or team, but needs change quickly, and employees’ learning preferences are more diverse than ever. Instead of seeing yourself or your team as the only option, shift into a broker approach. Your role is to find, curate and serve learning opportunities to the organization through the various tools in your toolbelt — internal and third-party content, YouTube videos, articles, podcasts, etc.

Shift your focus to who your audiences are and how they want to receive and consume content. Then, establish immediate feedback loops (think YouTube’s “likes” and “subscribes”) to adjust the content as needed. By brokering knowledge management across the company, you will keep your perspective broad and aligned to the needs of the strategy and the workforce.

3. Apply New Tools to Create a Culture of Continuous Learning

Virtual meeting platforms have become game-changers in knowledge management. Companies leverage them to record video and/or screen captures of how a person performs their work, which has led to a low-cost-of-entry technology platform waiting to be “brokered” for knowledge management.

Remember the years of having employees write down job processes and procedures? It took time that many employees didn’t have, and few people ever read those documents. Now, we have the capability to record what we do, in real time, while we are doing it. Many people go to YouTube to watch low-production videos of how to perform a skill. This rapid, just-in-time learning fits their learning preferences. Do the same for your organization.

Find a department in your company that has knowledge management needs — a customer call center, sales team or operations unit, for example — and run a pilot. Have your star performers record 10– to 20-minute recordings using one of these technologies on a topic or scenario, sharing how they perform it or some best practices. Share the recordings with new hires, capture feedback on what worked and didn’t work, and then adjust. The impact is immediate.

Want to Make Knowledge Management More Effective in Your Organization?

Change your mindset. Shift from scheduled events or applications to embedding learning and knowledge management in how employees perform their daily work. Lead your organization toward its strategic aims, and change how you are measuring learning. Do it well, and disruption will stop becoming a pain that you react to and, instead, be an opportunity to take your organization and its people to the next level.