When it comes to building a corporate knowledge management, organisations need to confront a new reality: Knowledge does not travel in one direction but flows in many. Successfully managing corporate knowledge sharing will ensure that your company becomes unique and successful.  
By Alvise Martini

The Corporate Learning Dilemma

Every manager knows that Learning is a key driver in a company’s long-term success.

Employees’ skills and knowledge constitute a company’s unique know-how and this represents an advantage that cannot be easily copied by the competition. The problem arises when many employees find formal learning initiatives boring and of little practical use. It’s common, after training sessions, to hear employees mumbling on how the training was boring, too abstract and not relevant to their work or the stakeholders they report to.

It is clear that something in the current formal learning system is not working well.

How can we improve this?

Formal learning as we know it

Traditionally, corporate learning is conceived as a one-way street. Knowledge passes from instructors to learners, much like how conventional schools work.

In the corporate environment, instructors are usually companies or individuals paid by the organisation to come in and impart their knowledge to the company’s employees (the learners). This formal training usually takes the form of a workshop, a corporate retreat or, a mandatory lesson on a Learning Management System (LMS).

Although formal training brings in knowledge from outside of the organisation, it presents 4 clear disadvantages:

1. It is expensive, very expensive. Corporate retreats, great speakers and LMSes don’t come cheap.

2. It’s hard to apply. Learners typically forget to apply what they’ve learnt to the day-to-day. 

3. It doesn’t stick. Learning is forgotten in a matter of days because it is too abstract and provides little workplace context. 

4. It does not reflect the way people normally learn. The learning industry agrees that formal training has a much smaller impact than informal learning.

Future-focused organisations have realised this for a while, and have started programmes to enable more knowledge-sharing internally.

Common initiatives are mentorship programmes, hackathons, flipped classrooms, and more. These are all great and high-impact initiatives, but they suffer from a scalability problem. Only high potentials and top managers have access to these programmes and often, the knowledge does not cascade downwards. 

It’s time to think of how to achieve the same results but at scale.

What’s coming next?

For learning to be effective, knowledge shouldn’t flow in just one direction. It should allow individuals to interact and learn from each other.
The democratisation of learning will see individuals not only learning, but also sharing their knowledge. Conversations between peers will reinforce learning and allow for more applicable teachings and ideas.

If this approach is embraced, knowledge will spread quickly and more effectively. On top of this, new experts will emerge from every corner of the organisation, unlocking further value for the company.

Compared to traditional formal learning, such a structure presents a few clear advantages:

1. It’s cheaper. Sometimes there is no need to go looking for an external expert. He could be sitting at the hot-desk 50m away.
2. It’s specific. Your employees will understand how the knowledge applies to your company, products and customers.
3. It sticks. Peers share best practices, tips, stories, and experiences that can be learnt and applied today. Discussion and practice are what make informal learning so easy to remember.
4. It makes the experience less formal and more enjoyable.


How to get there

As this transformation takes place, current policies and processes will change. Large corporates will look for a balance between freeing up internal knowledge and losing control of their learning.

Also, L&D professionals will acquire new roles and responsibilities; not only will they be in charge of managing experts and contributors from outside the organisation, they will also look more to the talent in-house. In this sense, L&D and HR professionals will acquire a new critical role as gatekeepers of the company’s internal knowledge.

New policies should incentivise and reward employees who invest their time to mentor their peers. It is important to note that teaching has positive effects on learners and instructors. When you teach someone, you end up with a deeper appreciation for the topic. 

As policies and processes change, so will an organisation’s requirements of its tools and platforms. 

One of the early winners is Slack. Its channel structure has created a place where everyone can share his opinions within the right groups, independent of rank and position. These new tools will transform the approach to online learning, and ultimately, attitudes towards it.

Shameless self-promotion notice:  We are doing some really cool work on Learning & Development at SmartUp, and you should check us out.

Alvise Martini is SmartUp’s Business Development Manager. He has a Masters from the London School of Economics and holds the SmartUp record for most slices of Domino’s pizzas consumed in one sitting. Visit SmartUp at www.SmartUp.io to find out more about us.