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Knowledge (base) is power: the where, when, and who of consistent company archives

Published: March 19, 2013

Author: Molly Shotwell

Today’s post is by Training & Curriculum Coordinator Sam Naishtat.
Schoolhouse Rocky can tell you that knowledge is power.
Hey, weren’t you just reading the other day about how cool it would be to start a Knowledge Base for your company? (If you weren’t, here you go …beware bone-chilling references to failed Medieval monarchies.)
Well, now we’re getting to the meat of the matter: what to put in the KB, where to put it, who to add to it and organize it, and when – that is to say, how often – to keep it updated.
Without further ado…

What should be in the KB?

Now that you’re hooked, what should a good KB consist of? Well, whatever you want, really.  Allow me to tell you what we keep in our Knowledge Base at PPC Associates:
1)      SOPs – The cornerstone of our KB, our Standard Operating Procedures lay out the particulars of our patent-pending processes. These SOPs have gone through some serious peer-reviewing and re-editing—a good example of the crystallization that occurs when we have to agree on a way of doing things, and then write it down.
2)      Cheat Sheets and Glossaries – We work with many different programs, such as AdWords Editor, Microsoft Excel, and Minesweeper (don’t pretend you don’t do it too). For these programs (minus the last) and others, we’ve assembled a list of shortcuts, tips, and handy tricks for more easily performing the most common actions within them. We also have a glossary of the SEM terms we use, especially useful for new hires who might otherwise feel like they’ve landed in a foreign country.
3)      Blogs – We’ve collected a number of blog posts that we think are especially good references for how we do SEM. Most of the posts are written by PPC Associates employees, covering a wide range of topics, but we also include plenty of outside bloggers’ information that has given us food for thought.
4)      Checklists, Checklists, Checklists – We have checklists for the thorough auditing of an account, checklists for launching an account, lists of best practices for landing pages, all kinds of ideas that lay down what we know about the best way to get things done.
5)      Old Presentations and QBRs – We like to keep some of our old documents on hand to show how things have been done in the past. Explanations are fine, and we employ them often, but sometimes all it takes is to have a look at a QBR from last quarter to know exactly how to set yours up. This is especially helpful if an account manager is taking over a client from a fellow AM and wants to create the kind of presentation that that client has become accustomed to seeing.
6)      Getting Started Materials – To assist new hires in getting settled, we have a welcome brochure that provides all of the information one could need in their first week—how the office runs, where to find extra pens, how to get enrolled in our insurance plans, or what to do if the copier gains sentience and summons Cthulhu (Just kidding…we all know Cthulhu will not be summoned). We also have a roadmap of the processes a new hire should learn within their first 90 days, to give them an idea of the pace at which we work.

Where should you put a KB?

The exact “where” of your KB isn’t of critical importance.  What IS important is that it has its own space.  Every member of your organization needs to know that there is a dedicated area where they can learn more about how you approach the work.  And they need to be able to get there easily.  If it’s buried in some corner of a link on your website that doesn’t even work anymore, that certainly diminishes the potential benefit. We keep our knowledge base as a separate tab in our company intranet, as you can see in the screenshot below.

where to put a knowledge base
The top of our intranet’s home page. I spy an entity unto itself!

But you don’t have to incorporate something as involved as that; you can keep it as simple as you please. A folder in Google Drive or a well-organized tree of files and folders in DropBox can work just as well. Just make sure it’s organized, and let everyone know where to find it.
I do recommend keeping your KB in a centralized location online, as opposed to using a print version or a series of e-mails, because it’s easier for individuals to contribute to it that way, and it’s much easier to keep everything updated.

Who should contribute to a KB?

As for who should be allowed to contribute material to your KB, the answer to that is a slightly-louder-than-necessary EVERYONE. The knowledge base should be a compendium. Management should absolutely contribute, to establish the top-level mission statements and ideals for the company, but you should take advantage of the knowledge of every employee.
One portion of our KB consists of various blogs that are especially relevant to the work we do. Many of these blogs were written by our own people—and by that I mean ALL of our people, from our CEO down to the lowest-ranking office administrator (which, at the time, was me!).
The process of choosing which blogs to put in the KB is also an inclusive one. For example, a recent hire, who specializes in social media, picked out a handful of blogs about working with various social media platforms for inclusion in the KB. This is a resource we would not have been able to compile if we’d only relied on a select few to contribute to our KB.

what to put in a knowledge base
These two files, uploaded by one person, contain the work of dozens of colleagues.

That said, it can be helpful to have a KB “curator”: Someone who knows how to format your KB and add new material to it, to maintain its clean and consistent appearance. Notice that both blogs in the above screenshot were uploaded to our KB by me, although the blogs themselves were written by many different people. In addition to maintaining the content, the KB curator (I’ve decided to coin the phrase, thereby eliminating the need for quotation marks) can perform some other necessary tasks, such as:
1)      Reaching out to different employees to ask them for a contribution to the KB
2)      Working with those interested in contributing to determine the most appropriate material for them to submit
3)      Meeting with the company’s higher-level management to determine whether the KB’s content continues to reflect their values and ideas for the organization
Does this mean you need to go out and hire someone to do nothing but stare at your KB all day? Certainly not. If you already have someone that handles instructional design or company knowledge, fantastic! If not, the only real requirement to be a curator is that they know their way around whatever platform you’re using for the KB.  Nor need it necessarily be one person; create a rotation, or a pool of high achievers to draw from. You could even have everyone in the company take a turn maintaining your KB’s content. Just like the content itself, the curating of that content can be a job for all.

When do you update the KB?

Wait, what? When? Yes, there is a when. An important consideration when it comes to a healthy KB is the regularity with which you tend to yours. This is where the KB Curator can really come in handy, because he/she can create a schedule for adding new or updated content, for removing dated or redundant content, and keeping everything looking nice.
As for how often, it depends on the size of your company, the size of your KB, and the resources you have to lend to it. The most important thing, though, is that you stick to a schedule and follow it—the KB must be at its best, and people need to know it’s worth their consideration, if it’s to be taken seriously.
Just for an off-the-cuff example, maybe once a week, someone adds in new contributions and prunes anything that can be done without. Once a month, you can invite everyone to review the KB to see if they think anything should be added, and then invite them to create the content. Once a quarter, the management can meet to make sure the principles and guidelines they’ve laid down still reflect their feelings about the company. But again, the most important thing is that you pick a schedule that makes sense, and respect it!
You’re so hooked now. You can’t wait to finish reading so you can start your own Knowledge Base and be the hero of your dynamic company. But wait…how do you do it? Next time, my friends. Stay tuned.
– Sam Naishtat, Training & Curriculum Coordinator

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