employee knowledge base

Striking gold: 7 savvy ways to tap into employee knowledge

The business world is a dynamic place where every bit of knowledge and creative juice must be cultivated from each and every employee for your company to succeed.

Done with purpose, identifying shareable skills within your current workforce can lead to more effective employee development, increased engagement and a greater sense of overall well-being throughout your organization.  That’s good news, considering these attributes benefit everyone: your business and your employees.

How do you keep your information-gathering strategy as vibrant as the marketplace in which you operate? Here are seven tips for mining those nuggets of wisdom that exist inside every worker’s mind.

1. Listen to those with no, or new, experience

When was the last time you saw a product, service or process through entirely new eyes? Think of how valuable the insight from that interaction could be.

An employee who is new to your company or to your department is an invaluable resource. If that employee is confused by a process or the instructions for your product, it’s a sign that your customers may be befuddled too.

Rather than brush off their questions or confusion as an annoyance or something that will resolve itself over time, listen and learn from what they’re telling you. Maybe it’s time to rethink your processes or product messaging. You might find that their experience with a different company sheds light on a dilemma your business is currently facing. Consider these interactions a free mini-focus group.

2. Listen to those with long-time experience

When a manager (or a team) is ready to move on a new idea or initiative, it can be tough to listen to those with doubts. Long-term employees who bring up past failures often get dismissed as out-of-touch naysayers or pessimists.

Yes, it may be true that what your company did before no longer applies. But don’t be too quick to disregard experienced hands without thoroughly listening to their ideas on why things didn’t work before. This is another opportunity to mine a wealth of industry and company-specific knowledge.

Another advantage of long-term employees: They’ve got history. The depth and breadth of their experience gives them valuable perspective on current business trends. This often allows them to see patterns or formulate ideas about where things are headed. Used properly, their foresight has the potential to prevent your company from making costly mistakes.

3. Pair junior and senior employees on projects

It’s not unusual in today’s workforce for employees to range in age from their 20s to their 70s. This provides companies with a unique opportunity to match young up-and-comers with older, more experienced gurus.

Such cross-generational pairing can break down age-related hierarchies and stereotypes, bringing fresh thinking and understanding to all manner of projects. Diverse work groups can unleash innovation and creativity, as long as everyone listens and respects differences of opinion.

Particularly in smaller companies where there are fewer opportunities to move up the career ladder, partnerships of this type offer less-skilled workers the chance to learn and expand their knowledge base. That’s good for individual growth and the company as a whole.

4. Destroy information silos

Make collaboration a practical value among your employees by holding people accountable for cooperation. You can do this by encouraging people within departments to cross-train on tasks as often as possible.

Consider helping workers build relationships between departments by offering in-house “internships” that allow them to work in another area of the company for a set period, say three to six months.

Other strategies for collaboration and knowledge sharing:

  • Give salespeople opportunities to serve new or different clients periodically.
  • Ask employees with subject-matter expertise to create a presentation for less-experienced staff members to help expand their industry knowledge.
  • Establish who your go-to people are for the different areas of your business, and make it easy for employees company-wide to communicate with them (and each other) to obtain information.

Simply knowing who to call in the company when there’s a question can go a long way toward destroying information silos and improving everyone’s knowledge of how to get things done.

5. Make mentor programs bi-directional

People tend to think of mentoring as a senior employee imparting wisdom to a younger, less-experienced employee. However, rookie employees often have as much to offer as older employees, from technology prowess to a new perspective. When assigning a more-experienced mentor to a less-experienced one, encourage both parties to find ways to learn from one another.

Remind mentor and mentee that the knowledge transfer should work both ways, and information that only flows one direction doesn’t help the company.

6. Talk to your employees

It may sound simplistic, but many managers are so busy these days that they forget to build time into their day to simply talk to their employees. We’re not talking random discussions about the weather – we’re talking about how their work is going, what they feel they’ve accomplished lately and how they feel they’re developing professionally.

What are they doing well, and what do they think they could do better?

Without talking to your workforce, it’s impossible to know who needs a training course, who needs a stretch project and who needs some individual coaching. These conversations not only reveal opportunities for improvement, they also let employees know that their manager cares about them and appreciates their contributions.

7. Create a process for innovation

Innovation doesn’t just happen. It requires thoughtful action. When your company holds a brainstorm session, make sure everyone is heard, with no judgement for ideas that seem wacky at the time. When you’re brainstorming, there are no bad ideas.

Next, evaluate each idea for its marketability, profitability and overall feasibility. When you’ve distilled your list to a workable idea or two, it’s time to consider a test pilot.

The process of moving from idea session to real-world engagement uncovers new thoughts and capabilities in employees that may have been overlooked before. Regular time devoted to innovation can help prevent your company from pushing people aside or leaving people stuck in old roles.

Make sure you’re getting the most from your employees every day. Download our free e-book, How to Develop a Top-Notch Workforce That Will Accelerate Your Business.