The Value of Standardizing Knowledge in IT Service and Support
With an influx of new hires, it’s essential to find ways to flatten the learning curve. Tightening up your knowledge management can help.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 5.9 million job separations in December 2021. Only 0.8% of those were due to layoffs and discharges—meaning a vast majority of the separations in December (and arguably throughout 2021) were due to workers voluntarily quitting their jobs. Separations equate to job openings which usually result in an influx of new hires.
The second largest increase in new hires in December 2021 is in the information (technology). This means we must absorb extra cost and effort to train and on-board new hires, and it also means we’ll have to accommodate for a learning curve to learn new systems and acclimate to the new organization before fully realizing the efficacy of adding resources to our workforce.
What can help shorten this learning curve?
In a previous article I wrote for HDI, “Why We Must Cultivate Digital Dexterity in Our Organizations,” we discussed the value of the “who” – developing utility players who can adjust to new technology relative to the demand and needs of the market and the organization.
In this article, let’s talk about how we can create an environment where utility players can thrive and be successful. It’s up to us as leaders to design a work environment that allows fast learning and facilitates a framework where talent can adapt quickly.
Knowledge Management System - Best Practices
An essential element to this type of work environment is having a robust knowledge management system (KMS). Here are some of the essential items required in a well-tuned (standardized) KMS for any organization to be successful:
Have a Learning Style Guide
If you have the resources to use documentation specialists or instructional design specialists within your organization, you’re already halfway into having a usable style guide. A good documentation specialist or instructional designer (DS/ID) knows that they need to design according to their audience.
In every organization, there are several different learning styles that we need to accommodate. For instance, others require lots of diagrams to help visualize a workflow. Some only need clear and concise steps to easily follow a step-by-step process, while others need a video or some sort of animation to help navigate procedures. Some will need a combination of all three. You will need to develop your own style guide according to the unique learning style of your workforce. The DS or ID will need to do focus group sessions with your staff, testing different styles to identify the right mix of elements to include in your learning style guide.
In his book, Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World, General Stanley McChrystal talks about how the teachers in West Point “constantly reinforce the importance of a set of commonly accepted principles.” This describes how, even in the military, style guides are important for strategic success.
A practical example of this in the military is their use of “rucksacks.” McChrystal describes how it’s part of their standard operating procedures (SOP) in the Ranger Regiment to pack all their individual rucksacks exactly the same—same equipment, same number of supplies, same folds and knots, and each piece packed in the same location. In the heat of battle, this allows Rangers to easily navigate anyone’s rucksack for supplies and means to defend themselves without the need to figure out where to find items they need.
In our organizations, having a well-defined style guide allows new hires to easily decode KM articles and quickly execute on the necessary steps to complete a task.
Make it easy to find
This piece is pretty obvious. Having a search function in your KMS is not enough. You’ll need to have the proper keywords and key phrases to help the end-user search and get connected to knowledge they quickly need.
Make sure that the keywords/phrases undergo some sort of user acceptance testing (UAT). What’s the point of using keywords that may be accurate, if those keywords are not natively used by your end users?
Mechanisms to Ensure Knowledge Accuracy
Ideally, you’ll have a dedicated DS or ID who can create a schedule of reviewing, editing, and creating knowledge. If you don’t have that resource, here are some things you can consider to ensure a well-kept KMS.
Put an Expiration Date on Each Article
An expired knowledge article doesn’t mean that it’s going to be unusable. All this step does is systematically label an article as expired. Either have it as a collateral duty for technicians in your team to review and validate these articles, or once a technician searches and uses expired articles, they can validate that it’s still correct and usable. Doing so resets the expiration date of this article. If they find that it needs editing, they can do it then.
Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down
Having an “Is this Helpful?” thumbs up/down feature allows your end users to easily evaluate an article. A thumbs up tells the KMS that it’s still accurate. A thumbs down puts the article in a queue for review, unless the end user has the ability to update it themselves.
In our organization, we recognize folks who use, update, and create knowledge articles. These numbers are also considered in annual performance reviews. Codifying constant review and updating of knowledge goes a long way.
Having standardized knowledge is key in shortening the learning curve when you have to constantly onboard new talent due to the Great Resignation. With standardized knowledge, you don’t need to train each new hire on all the processes and procedures to do the job. At the very least, hire competent talent with relevant job experience, teach them how to navigate your KMS, and familiarize them with your style guide.