What is it like to step into the role of a knowledge manager at a company? We spoke with Martin Theobald, a Knowledge Manager at Crisp, to find out.
Crisp is an actor-risk intelligence service that protects the world from online exploitation, lies, threats, abuse, and hate. This 250+ and growing UK-based organization went through an intense growth period from 2020-2021 that forced executives to re-evaluate the way they captured and shared knowledge. Here’s what Martin has to say about his experience with picking tools, building knowledge bases, and setting employees up for success.
[Note: This interview and been edited and condensed for clarity]
Identifying the knowledge problem
When Martin was hired as a knowledge manager at Crisp, the company knew that it had a knowledge management problem. Despite it playing a central role in their day-to-day work, teams were struggling to share knowledge with team members and others.
The company was aware of the noticeable gap and saw the importance of knowledge for their business, but because so many people were already collecting information on their own, it was difficult for them to justify bringing on a person to solely focus on managing it.
Martin made the argument that the main goal should be to provide the right framework to collect and collate company knowledge, then put it in the proper place for others to find.
On creating buy-in
“I had full backing from the executive team. They realized about a year ago that knowledge management was a problem. That's when they went on the journey of actually introducing a formal knowledge manager. Some people made the argument that they deal with knowledge all the time, so why do we need another person to do that? Then they start wondering what value a knowledge manager brings and how that is going to improve operational performance with the company.”
“I started to describe that what we're trying to do is provide the framework to collect and collate existing knowledge and put it in a place where people can find it. Luckily, the execs said they knew it's going to be a slow burn project. It's not going to instantly change overnight because it's a cultural thing. It's about people and processes. It's not about the tool. The tool is an enabler, which has grown in significance since everybody's remote working.”
“So for us, this is a mindset change. People having experience and implicit knowledge wasn't going to be good enough anymore. Teams struggled to share their information. So we found a way to say, ‘I can see you've got a problem. I've got a methodology to approach this with and know how you can capture your knowledge in a more constructive way.’”
“I think any initial pushback is around actually starting to do it. Everybody's busy, and now you're asking them to do another job on top of what they normally do. Then you're convincing them that if you do this once all you need to do is maintain it. So by investing once, you get multiple benefits. If you don't take time to do the work of collecting and sharing knowledge now, you're actually just exacerbating problems going forward.”
Why Martin chose Guru
Martin had worked with plenty of helpful tools in the past but he wanted to find an all-in-one solution for managing knowledge that could work within their established tech stack. This is where Guru came into play.
“One of those things that I noticed from past jobs was that actively keeping knowledge managed was difficult. What I liked about Guru is the verification piece. You can select a review period, it's managed as far as people can create it, and a peer review can be carried out on your chosen date."
“You have a flexible content hierarchy capability to develop your own collections of boards and cards within boards so I thought that was really quite useful. I like that approach. I like tagging and tag management. So not only can you just do prescriptive text searches, but you also have the capability to pull things across different collections and boards into tag management. I like that a lot.”
Getting teams started
“When I came in, I did a survey on the state of knowledge management within the company. Overwhelmingly it came back there's far too much knowledge in people's heads, and the knowledge that was written down was in four or five different places.”
“I started talking to small teams that were struggling to gather their knowledge or even know where to start. So we created this activity where I explained how people access knowledge, why people need to share it, and who needs access to it. There's quite a lot of stuff that we have internally that is on a need-to-know basis from a customer privacy point of view. We have to be very careful about how much we share within the company and with the right people.”
Focusing on providing context to shared knowledge was another facet of Guru’s rollout at Crisp. Giving someone an operating procedure or process document can be unhelpful if they don’t know where it’ll fit into the grand scheme of things. Understanding impact and desired outcome are important, and that leads to the team producing more helpful and better-structured content.
“We started to create knowledge maps. Even before people started writing any content, we've already done the work of creating a content hierarchy of a collection, group of boards, and the sort of content that you’d want to include. We started thinking about the way that we collect content and mapped it in a simple spreadsheet or file just to show the sort of things we collect. Then it became an objective to go find and create Guru Cards.”
Turning peers into knowledge workers
Creating a knowledge champion community was one of the final steps in solidifying Guru’s place at Crisp.
“I have a knowledge champion community across all levels of the company. They have regular meetings where they can update each other on progress, troubleshoot problems, and share tips and tricks on the best way to use Guru.”
Out of all of the things Martin did to implement Guru at Crisp, one of the methods we’re most impressed with is his use of new employees in structuring and verifying knowledge. Peer review and combating the problem of assumed knowledge played an integral role in getting teams up to speed in Guru. When people get comfortable in their roles certain things can come naturally to them, but that knowledge is accumulated over months or years of doing the job.
The Crisp team would intentionally bring in new employees because they’d be able to easily identify gaps in created knowledge. They’re able to review existing cards, find holes through their lack of understanding, and work with original content creators to fill in gaps and reverify cards.
“If someone comes in as a new employee and started to do the sort of role that you do, they don't have your experience or background. There are large chunks of knowledge missing because it's assumed that they would know this already, and that's not always the case. So quite often we'll get the new employees to review existing cards. Then they start to work with the original content creator to review cards, establish the gaps, fill them, and then re-verify them.”
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