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Should You Complement Your Intranet With Knowledge From Employees?

by Meghan Casey on April 26th, 2012

Employee intranets have traditionally been owned and managed by technology, communications, or human resources. Today, there’s a trend toward employee intranets being owned by teams responsible for internal knowledge sharing or knowledge management.

That makes a lot of sense, but it also can cause confusion. Words like “knowledge,” “knowledge sharing,” and “content” mean different things to different people. Often, the problem is that people are trying to draw a line between knowledge and content.

That conversation goes everywhere, and then, ultimately, nowhere. Why? Because content and knowledge are not comparable terms. It’s like trying to compare an apple to helium. So, where do we begin?

First, let’s define some things

All too often, we assume people know what we mean when we use certain terms. And that can get us into trouble. So, let me define what I mean when I use the terms knowledge, knowledge sharing, and content.

Knowledge is the state of knowing something. As in:

Meghan knows a lot about "The Outsiders"

Knowledge sharing refers to the act of sharing something you know with others. It happens many ways—hallway conversations, on-the-job training, seminars, etc. Sometimes it’s enabled by technology, like this:

Meghan transfers knowledge to Sean

Content is the documentation of knowledge. It is one way in which knowledge can be tangibly shared or transferred. For example:

Sean's mind is blown by Meghan's knowledge

Enough about The Outsiders. Let’s talk intranets.

The goal of most employee intranets is to transfer knowledge from the business to its employees. That happens with business-to-employee content. Sorta like this:

Employee booking corporate travel

More and more, companies are realizing the importance of enabling employees to share knowledge with each other. That employee-to-employee content can add credibility to business-to-employee content by adding context. It can also provide business benefits, like:

  • Saving human and financial resources, because employees and teams aren’t constantly “reinventing the wheel”
  • Encouraging conversations that lead to new ways of thinking and ideas that influence profitability
  • Supporting employees’ ability to collaborate with each other and draw on each other’s missteps and successes

Intranet content folks typically are responsible for the business-to-employee content on the intranet. That’s why they are the perfect people to take on the strategic integration of existing business-to-employee content with the employee-to-employee content that may exist, or could be identified and curated, throughout the company.

OK, one last example building on the scenario above:

Employee knowledge sharing intranet example

You don’t have to own it all or do it all at once

The task of integrating business-to-employee content with employee-to-employee content might seem pretty daunting, like most every content project. But, also like most every content project, getting people to collaborate and breaking the work into manageable pieces can help.

Ready to get started?

Here are a few possible first steps:

  • Determine which topics covered on your intranet could be bolstered with a perspective from employees
  • Work with your colleagues around the organization to find out who has knowledge and experience related to those topics
  • Pick a couple topics to start with and interview the employees you identified to find out how their knowledge might translate to content
  • Put some ideas together in the form of outlines or sketches and shop them around

  • http://shinytoyrobots.com/ Robin Cannon

    Interesting piece. I think “intranet” is becoming a somewhat hazy term. It can mean so many different things – from a very simple “basic admin information” for staff, to a collaborative social tool like Confluence, or an entirely staff created Wiki. 

    So I think your advice is great, assuming the foundation of the company effectively defining what kind of intranet they’re gonna have.

  • http://twitter.com/franwess Francois Wessels

    Nice post! I do agree that the delivery method of knowledge is content. I can only add that developing a knowledge sharing culture within organisations is not really an option but a must for every organisation. The discipline (if we can call it that) of knowledge management has come into being partly to enable employees to share tacit knowledge with the organisation. Getting employees to share is however a totally different beast. 

    Your post has made me think how we as content strategists can aid in this process of making sharing easier and thus enticing employees to part with their tacit knowledge to the benefit of the organisation. I do not necessarily have the answer but here is some work I did in 2007 on the benefits of a knowledge sharing in general. Maybe this should be reworked in the context of content strategy.   

    http://dl.dropbox.com/u/459336/publications/2007/the_benefits_of_a_knowledge_sharing_culture.pdf
    http://francoiswessels.org/research

  • http://www.twitter.com/mbloomstein mbloomstein

    Great stuff, Meghan. I agree with your points about growing an intranet over time; I’ve seen many organizations mire in confusion about that. They try to create fairly comprehensive content about each topic–maybe by mixing the business-to-employee basics with the color commentary that could come from employees later on–rather than just nailing the basics across *many* topics. They burn out, failing to address large swaths of high-demand information. Beyond interviewing employee subject matter experts, do you have any advice for organizations to encourage the color commentary and employee-to-employee information that complements the more basic content?

    Oh, and stay gold. 

  • Ian

    It takes a unique and talented web person to be able to advise an organisation on knowledge management in my experience! Most of the web agencies I have worked on are terrible at recording and sharing knowledge, even about the projects they actively working on. Hopefully content people are better though.

    Totally agree with the post, if your intranet isn’t bolstered by employee knowledge, and it isn’t added to strategically over time, you’re missing a massive trick.

    For example, I worked on an intranet to develop a “new starters section” for the homepage, and who better to help populate this than employees themselves?

  • Meghan Casey

    Great insights everyone. At the foundation of any of this work is, as Robin mentioned, determining the purpose of your intranet. This approach isn’t applicable for an intranet geared to purely support task completion with functionality. So, yes, step one is figuring out your core content strategy. Step two is determining how both types of content — business-to-employee and employee-to-employee — fit.

    As far as building a knowledge sharing culture, I am no expert there. But, I agree that it’s important for the organization to figure out what kind of culture they want and then prioritize efforts to build and support it. There are lots of technology and tools that can enable it. But more important is the attitude and behavior shifts that will need to happen to get people accustomed to sharing their knowledge with others.

  • http://twitter.com/jesperby Jesper Bylund

    Nice post!

  • http://twitter.com/jesperby Jesper Bylund

    Nice post!

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