It’s a fact that as your company grows in the digital world, you will find yourself in seas of information. And how you collect, process, retrieve and use that information will increasingly become a point of competitive difference.
So what’s the best way to build your internal knowledge base? We’ve set out a step-by-step guide and a list of best practices below.
Free online tools for work:
1. Fluxes.com — Free Project and Task Management Software
2. Status.net — Software for Effective Communication
- Step by Step: How To Establish Internal Knowledge Base Part 1
- 3 Best Practices to Follow Part 2
- Bonus Section: Ready-to-Use Style Guide (Example)Part 3
Many companies have never strategically invested in or managed their internal knowledge databases. Instead, knowledge is often collected organically within departments by individual employees, who may take that expertise with them when they leave. And the more specialized teams and departments you have, the more likely data silos will restrict the flow of information and communication within your company. That’s why having a centralized knowledge base has a number of benefits:
Improved Internal Communication and Collaboration:
Making relevant and up-to-date information readily available makes it much easier for your employees to share knowledge and ensure that everyone is on the same page. It also means that teams can discover and use valuable information collected by another department, increasing for interdepartmental communication and collaboration opportunities.
Efficiency and Retention:
An internal knowledge base ensures that your employees know immediately where to go if they have a question. This saves time that would otherwise be wasted asking around or waiting for another team member to provide the information. It also ensures that if an employee goes on sick leave or joins another company, you are still able to retain and use their knowledge where it is recorded in the database.
Faster Employee Onboarding:
Having a central knowledge repository lets you quickly onboard new employees and cope with changes in your company’s teams. Not only can you collect the history of certain projects so that your new team member can quickly up to speed, it’s also easier to train people to use one new system, rather than multiple.
How to establish a useful internal knowledge base
Start with the most helpful topics:
Identify your company’s common pain points and problems. A good way to start is by coming up with a list of frequently asked questions or going through the orientation materials for your new employees. You can also ask each team member to check their records and see what questions keep recurring, or what information they constantly find themselves looking for. When you gather this information in your internal knowledge base, your employees will learn to immediately refer to the database instead of each individual having to continually research or ask around for the answer, saving your company countless hours.
Once you’ve identified your company’s most commonly asked questions and pain points, assign ownership of particular topics to a member or members of your team. This makes it easy to keep track of who is responsible for drafting and maintaining the information and lets you draw upon the subject matter expertise of specific team members.
Decide how often your knowledge topic should be reviewed and updated:
Your internal knowledge base can quickly become useless if it isn’t regularly reviewed and updated. It’s also more costly to wait until most of the information is outdated before dedicating time to fix it. That’s why it’s important to have a set process for reviewing, improving, and updating your internal knowledge base. How often the topic owner or curator should check in will depend on the topic itself. Evergreen content may only need to be reviewed once a year, while other topics may cover quickly shifting industry knowledge and need to be reviewed monthly. Tip: In Status, you can just set your knowledge topic to be recurrent (and set how often it should recur).This means every person assigned that topic will receive automatic prompts to review content and ensure it’s still relevant.
Manage user accesses and permissions:
While an internal knowledge base should generally be company-wide, you may still need to consider whether you want to manage user access and permissions to particular topics or content. In Status, managing permissions is easily adding a specific set of people to the “Who will read” section of topics. Alternatively, if you want to keep the topic company-wide, you can add everyone to the “Who will read” section.
Tip: You should also consider who should see knowledge topic updates. Not everyone who has access to that topic may need to be directly notified of changes. In Status, you can just edit the topic body to reflect new information if the changes don’t impact the topic’s observers (for example, if your topic is “Welcome to our company! Here are some important first steps”). Alternatively, you can post an update that sends automatic notifications to each observer where the change impacts everyone (for example, “Our new Benefits and Vacations Policy).
Create a style manual:
Having a style manual will help ensure all internal knowledge base content follows the same consistent style. This makes it easier for your employees to navigate through and read all the collected information. The style should be simple and comprehensive and include how to set out your knowledge topic headings and structure.Tip: Create a “How to Write Knowledge Base Content” topic containing guidelines and best practices to serve as a style manual. Keep it short and sweet just to get people started; you can always update it later based on feedback from your employees.
Check out our bonus section for an Internal Knowledge Base style guide that you can use for yourself.
So now that you’ve created your internal knowledge base, here are some tips and best practices to follow.
Link relevant information.
An internal knowledge base is only ever as good as its content. Improve information flow and communication by ensuring knowledge creators link their content with other relevant areas of knowledge. Your guidelines should include setting aside time to regularly search through the internal knowledge base to identify new information to link to and reduce unnecessary duplication.
Eliminate or reduce technical jargon and acronyms.
Keeping your internal knowledge base reader-friendly can be a difficult challenge when subject matter experts write each article. Ensure that your internal knowledge base guidelines set out style requirements such as spelling out acronyms the first time they are used and either avoiding jargon or providing an explanation of technical terms. One way to help review and improve readability in Status is to assign two people to a knowledge topic: one person who is a subject matter expert to write the initial content and keep it updated, and another to evaluate it and ensure that any employee without the requisite expertise can understand it.
Encourage new content creation and development.
Make it easy for your employees to suggest new knowledge topics or ask questions. While you can (and should) always keep a topic open to gather feedback and recommendations, it’s easy for your employees to forget to contribute amidst their day-to-day projects and targets. So send reminders to contribute ideas regularly (for example, every two months or quarterly), and build knowledge contribution into your employees’ KPIs. You can also draw upon knowledge topic comments and discussions to identify new pain points and further information to include in your internal knowledge base. So encourage your employees to ask questions and discuss knowledge in the comments. More broadly, you can also emulate and integrate social media functions into your internal knowledge base, encouraging your employees to ‘like’, ‘share’, and collaborate on creating useful information.
Creating and maintaining a useful internal knowledge base is easier to say than do. The sheer scale of the data we create today makes this an increasingly important challenge for companies. As market competition continues to grow and we shift to a knowledge economy, the way your company collects, processes, and shares its information will become increasingly important.
Bonus section: Example Internal Knowledge Base Style Guide
Hey knowledge topics curators!
Here I’ll provide some structure and guidelines on the best way to structure your topics:
Define your question or problem
Keep your knowledge topic focused by ensuring it either answer one question or describes how to solve one problem. This makes it easier for people to search or browse through the database and find useful information:
A) Give your knowledge topic a simple and descriptive name. It usually helps if it’s in the format of a question (Where can I find…? When should I…?). Alternatively, you can focus on the problem your knowledge topic solves (eg. How to…?).
B) Provide further background on the question or problem in the knowledge description. This helps people who may not know exactly what they’re looking for to find or recognize the problem they’re facing.
Writing knowledge topic content
Now that you have clearly defined the question and/or problem your knowledge topic addresses and provided some background, create a clear structure for your content. This might be a step-by-step list of how to fix the problem. Alternatively, it may be a short and direct answer to a common question. Either way, ensure that you provide links to other relevant topics in the internal knowledge base. You should also add a list of your company’s subject matter experts who can answer further questions. Finally, invite people to ask questions in your topic comments, and seek feedback so that you can improve the content in future topic updates.
Notes on Style
A) Keep it short and simple: your peers will be looking for a quick answer to solve their problem.
B) Avoid technical jargon. Some of your peers may be from different departments and lack your specialized background, so either avoid jargon or make sure you explain technical terms where you use them. The information should be easy to understand even for those with zero prior knowledge of the topic.
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