If only a few people in your business hold important knowledge or skills, there is a danger that these will be lost if they leave or retire. Even a short period of unexpected absence, eg due to illness or bereavement, could cause problems if you do not share the knowledge.
Build a knowledge-sharing culture
You should try to build a culture in which knowledge is valued and shared across your business. Consider the best ways of sharing new ideas and information with your staff. You may already have regular meetings when you can brief employees and ask them to share ideas and best practice.
Consider holding innovation workshops or brainstorming sessions where you give staff the freedom and encouragement to think of ways in which the business could improve.
You could also create a knowledge bank containing useful information and instructions on how to carry out key tasks. Putting this on an intranet is ideal, as it will encourage staff to post news or suggestions. Read about the benefits of the intranet.
You may decide to appoint a senior manager as a knowledge champion to ensure that knowledge is managed and channelled properly in your business.
Protect and exploit your knowledge
As part of your knowledge management, you should also make sure that you protect any intellectual property (IP) that your business owns.
Registering IP rights may help you stop competitors from copying your intellectual assets. It may also allow you to profit by licensing your business' knowledge. Read more about protecting intellectual property.
Use IT to manage knowledge efficiently
Protecting and exploiting your knowledge will be more effective if you develop efficient systems for storing and retrieving information. Your files - whether stored digitally or on paper - contain knowledge that you can use to improve your business. Different technologies are available to help you manage information and knowledge in your organisation. Find tips to help you choose the right IT system for your business.
Keep knowledge confidential
Your employment policies play a central role in keeping your knowledge confidential.
For example, you might get staff to sign non-disclosure agreements when they join the business to ensure they understand the importance of confidentiality from day one.
You can also set up employment policies for your business, such as employment contracts, to reasonably limit your employees' freedom to leave and:
- go to work immediately for one of your rivals (restraint of trade clauses)
- set up a competing business to yours in the vicinity (restrictive covenants)
Incentives and training
Offering staff incentives to come up with suggestions for business improvements can be an effective way of getting them to use and share knowledge. Find out how to implement staff incentive schemes.
Don't forget the importance of training in spreading key knowledge, skills and best practice across your business.