Note From Beth: Many of us don’t value taking the time for intentional learning within our organizations. We are so focused on getting things done, checking it off the to do list and the forward momentum that it requires, that we miss an important opportunity to hit the pause button, reflect, and improve process. Being intentional about learning can also help an organization scale effectively.
Unleash Your Organizations Knowledge Sharing Processes – Guest Post by Kelcie Tacchi
As Wyman’s Teen Outreach Program® began to be replicated across the nation, the need to capture learning in a more sophisticated way grew right along with the growth of replication. Like many nonprofits, the rapidly evolving environment around and within us was littered by a practice of ad hoc documentation and person to person knowledge sharing. Identification of these factors marked the beginning of our journey to discover how to consistently capture and leverage knowledge, information, innovation, and data…of our constituents, our partners and our staff.
Define your Call to Action
We learned identifying and managing intellectual capital is your first step too. As a nonprofit, it’s your most valuable asset. In this blog post, I will describe the process Wyman used to study how our organization historically captured, stored, used, and shared data, information, and knowledge and how developing a systemic Knowledge Management enterprise will increase our efficiency and performance.
Create a Staff Engagement Strategy
Once your call to action is defined, allow it to strategically take root within your organizations strategy and culture by engaging your staff throughout the entire process, increasing the capacity for buy-in. Since you will be collecting information from a variety of individuals regarding their practices, you should communicate why you are collecting this information and what you will be using it for. For the purpose at hand, communicate that a new strategic initiative regarding the management of your organizations knowledge is being initiated. Explain why it will be important or informative for their work. Then, introduce the team that will be conducting an audit while explaining that the audit will guide increasing efficiency, filling any gaps, and replicate what is working, areas that need attention, and bring to light their suggestions for improvement.
Be aware that “knowledge hoarding” is often a common practice. To alleviate any concerns or tension, explicitly articulate to your team that their jobs are not at stake. The audit and any information they provide will be used strictly for the purposes of improving organizational practices. In fact, it is best that confidentiality be assured by coding their responses. This elicits feelings of transparency and honesty that allows a wide range of information sharing, which often leads to new awareness.
The key takeaway here is awareness and communication is key- throughout the entire process. Never stop communicating. Keep in mind that posting an announcement on an internal website or sending out an e-mail about the audit is not communication. Instead, make sure you are offering personalized outlets to stimulate both feedback and questions.
Conduct an Organizational Audit
Managing intellectual capital usually includes the development of wikis, communities of practice, expertise databases, and other repositories of all sorts… but let’s pause here and not get ahead of ourselves (trust me, it’s easy to do!) Your next step is to conduct an organizational audit, which will inform how your organization is currently capturing, storing, using, and sharing data, information, and knowledge.
Step 1. Design Protocol. It is critical to take key stakeholder preferences regarding information collection, storage, and utilization into consideration; they hold the most valuable insight for defining a successful strategy for your organization. Defined “key stakeholders” will vary from organization to organization, so select a group that is most relevant for you and design protocol accordingly. There are lots of ways to collect data on the current practices of your organization- common best practices are surveying and interviewing.
What Wyman did: We designed interview protocol for staff, board members, and donors consisting of 10-15 questions (the interviews took anywhere from 30-60 minutes).
Step 2. Administer a Survey Pilot. This will inform if your audit protocol will capture all the vital information you need.
What we learned after our pilot: Our pilot initially consisted of a standard set of questions; which allowed us to realize that we needed to ask different levels of staff additional questions, on top of the standard set. For example, the Executive Leadership Team held knowledge that others in the organization did not have access to, so creating questions facilitating capturing their knowledge was important. It was also in our initial protocol to interview significantly less individuals, but after the pilot we strategically decided that we needed to widen our interview pool.
Step 3. Conduct the Audit. Administer your protocol. If you chose an interview method (or any method for that matter), I strongly encourage you to speak with as many individuals as your capacity will allow. You will gain much deeper insight than a small participant group produces. For a small organization, allow three months to conduct the audit. In a much larger organization, you will likely need more time (assuming there is only one person conducting the interviews).
What Wyman did: We conducted 50 interviews in an organization with 33 full time staff. We included staff, key board members, funders, and partners. We wanted the most informed audit we could manage.
Step 4. Analyze your Results- Complete a qualitative analysis across and within levels of your stakeholders. If interview protocol was used, your first step is to transcribe all responses, and then you can start an analysis. If resources are available, software such as, NVivo, will make the early stages of your analysis a little less time consuming. Either way,begin reading through the data with your initial research questions in mind. Then start identifying, coding, categorizing, and interpreting themes, sub-themes, and contrasts between. Always remember that efforts regarding anonymity should be made to protect confidentiality when analyzing and reporting the results.
Communicate the Results throughout the Organization
After completing the analysis, present your findings to your board committee. Discuss organizational assets unleashed from the audit and key findings relating to the following: unmet needs regarding knowledge sharing, cultural barriers inhibiting the fluency of knowledge sharing across the organization, and current strategies for; data use and retention, data capture and analysis, and the management of innovation and knowledge generation. Also, explicitly show your audience specific technology your organization is utilizing, and what information is being stored in each system.
After presenting audit findings to your board, share your findings with the executive leadership team and shortly thereafter with the entire organization. It is important that the organization receives the same message; therefore it may work best to hold a required meeting for all staff. Getting everyone in the same room will exemplify the importance of the audit, and that you value the time they spent providing you with information.
Determine Goals and Indicators to Address your Key Findings
Since you now have a clear understanding of your organizations strengths and challenges, you can begin focusing in on where changes need to be made. Your final step is to identify the key areas for your organization to address and create action plans. Remember, it may be unrealistic to solve every challenge right away, but by setting indicators and goals you are already on the road towards progress!
How does your organization learn and share knowledge?
Kelcie Tacchi is serving as an AmeriCorps Knowledge Management VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) at Wyman Center. (http://wymancenter.org/)