In the previous articles in this series, we looked at what knowledge management means and why it is important for an in-house department to deploy. But, how can you make sure you are doing it right? Where should you start, and what is the best angle? In this final part of the series on knowledge management, we will outline the importance of promoting a knowledge sharing culture as part of implementing any knowledge management practices and five steps you can take to make it happen.

Knowledge Relies on Culture

Knowledge management can only exist if your culture encourages a free-flowing exchange of ideas. In order for people to be willing to capture, retain and share their knowledge, organisations must maintain environments that foster a culture of continuous learning. The reason continuous learning needs to be valued is that knowledge management is a long-term strategy. If your organisation is always focussed on short term or immediate objectives, it can be difficult for knowledge management to have a meaningful impact. 

For example, storing a document in the document management system using the wrong labelling will not prevent your team from completing a transaction. In the longer term, however, it will create inefficiencies and slow down the process for others. 

Because dedicating time to knowledge management does not generate immediate value, it is important for lawyers in your department to be supported by:

  • a management team that values knowledge management; and 
  • an organisation that recognises that effort.

To build a knowledge sharing culture, there are five key steps.

Step 1: Demonstrate that Management is Highly Supportive

You are more likely to successfully implement knowledge management if managers recognise it as an important strategic initiative. Lawyers need to feel a sense of urgency, otherwise they may not be incentivised to adapt their workflow.

In addition to support at management level, it is also necessary that senior lawyers in a team embrace the initiative and use the knowledge management tool. Otherwise, it is unlikely that other members of their team will do so. Knowledge sharing ultimately relies on teamwork: you can only know what someone else has shared with you or made available to you. It is therefore important: 

  • to reward and encourage lawyers working together towards a common objective; and 
  • for your team to be inspired by senior team members who support the strategic initiative of developing better knowledge management practices.

Step 2: Communicate the Importance of Knowledge Management

Highlighting the benefits of knowledge management to lawyers can go a long way to building a knowledge sharing culture. It can be helpful to use practical examples of how lawyers can use the knowledge management tool to improve their day to day work, referring to pain points in the current process that a clear knowledge management strategy will eliminate. You will be even more persuasive if you are able to touch on obstacles that the team has raised in the past.

As part of this step, it can be valuable to establish a clear communication plan from the outset which outlines: 

  • how you will explain the high-level steps of the initiatives; and 
  • how and when you plan to roll out the initiative.  

You can also decide how you will adapt your narrative depending on the audience and who you are trying to get on board.

For example, your communication might change depending on whether you are speaking to:

  • the tech team (who will help you build the system);
  • lawyers (who will use it); or 
  • managers (who will invest in it). 

Lastly, you may wish to identify the channels which will be the most effective for communicating with your intended audience. You should decide, for example:

  • whether regular emails enough; and 
  • when a meeting will be required.

Step 3: Empower Team Members to Contribute

There is only so much you can do to implement a knowledge management system. At some point, the success of the initiative relies on whether or not other people contribute. This is why it is crucial to make it as easy as possible for people to contribute to knowledge management.

An important step in making this happen is identifying and removing any roadblocks or unnecessary steps that dissuade or prevent team members from using a knowledge management tool. A successful knowledge management initiative may well be about removing steps, rather than adding them. Commenting on initiatives, suggesting new ideas and providing feedback should all be as easy as possible.

It can also be helpful to create accountability over knowledge management streams, so that there is more incentive to contribute. 

For example, you could place expert lawyers in charge of updating a database of research or precedents. Giving lawyers the space to own the initiative can create a positive feeling of accountability.

Step 4: Communicate on Quick Wins

This step can be applied to most projects, including knowledge management. By planning early visible improvements and focussing on them from the outset, you can communicate quick wins to the team and boost engagement. This can help overcome any initial resistance to changes or the addition of a new system.

In this way, you could work to tackle any feeling amongst lawyers that the knowledge management initiative might be a waste of their time. Of course, it can also create enthusiasm and trust in knowledge management and potentially increase the number of contributors. 

Step 5: Reward Knowledge Sharing

Lastly, you can create a knowledge sharing environment that will lead to a strong knowledge management system by incorporating it into your reward system. This will send a clear signal to lawyers that it is a compulsory strategic initiative. Knowledge management can be a part of performance reviews and feedback from managers

For example, if a team member performed well but did not use the knowledge management system in place, this could be taken into account for employee rewards.

Key Takeaways

The role management has to play in promoting a knowledge sharing culture is critical. It is also necessary to:

  • establish a clear communication plan; and
  • take into account the different stakeholders and the quick wins that will help get them onboard. 

In the longer term, knowledge sharing is only possible if team members contribute and share their knowledge. You can therefore have a huge impact on the success of a knowledge management initiative by making sure that this process is as smooth as possible.

Lastly, rewarding lawyers for contributing and using the organisation’s assets appropriately, including knowledge, can be a strong incentive.

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Melanie Gilbert
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