Making sure your company is running like a well-oiled machine isn’t always easy. Many small business owners bank on their experience. The word alone transmits a sense of trustworthiness and reliability that makes customers feel secure.
However, if you asked most entrepreneurs to define exactly what that experience is, they might be hard-pressed to provide a clear answer.
It’s a concept that is both powerful and vague—both relied upon, and not understood. So, what is real experience? What really makes a person or team valuable to a company? How is that experience born out of business dealings, and how can a company retain that experience if they can’t even describe it?
Performance management expert Maik Wagner spends his days answering these questions.
He works with companies to help them turn experience into a usable, transferable resource. Through a process known as knowledge management, Wagner ensures that valuable experience is not lost as the company develops, and helps less effective teams learn from high performers.
How to turn experience into a viable resource for your business
Because experience is often diffuse, highly individual, and context-dependent, it can be hard for business owners to see the wood for the trees—especially in the very early days of a growing company. Therefore, a wealth of in-house experience often goes untapped. Without a proper system to define and harness this knowledge, companies simply lose it instead of using it to reach their business goals.
Here, Maik Wagner shares a few tips on how a company can weigh its experience, turn it into a usable resource, and maintain it within the organization.
Not all of the experience that a person or a team believes is important will be useful to a company. Therefore, before you start a process of knowledge management, it is important to know the exact kind of experience that you want to gather.
Ultimately, you need to decide what will end up being economically useful to your company. What kind of knowledge will help your teams perform better and provide a better return? It will be easier to define what useful information looks like once you have established strict parameters.
Decide what you need to know
Most experience within companies is accrued over long periods of time when people and teams work together and build their knowledge. However, while that knowledge is trapped in the context of an individual or a team, you can’t define how it could benefit your business.
Therefore, you need to remove the context from the experience to decide what is really an economically useful resource. Start by asking yourself where performance can be improved, and what knowledge sets should be considered general information?
Using these answers as a guideline, you can analyze and process internal experience to distill the most useful, broadly applicable information.
Make sure not to fall into the trap of believing that only you or your best and brightest employee has useful experience. High performers work in tandem with other people and teams that all feed into knowledge processes and how experience is developed.
To explore networks, and thus the entire span of knowledge within an organization, you need to speak with the key stakeholders that you interact with on a day-to-day basis. This will give you a broader picture of how experience is developed and processed and has the added advantage of going beyond just a hunch about who/what is most valuable.
To implement a proper knowledge management system, it is important to speak to experienced individuals, examine complex communication patterns, and assess the validity of experience types against a series of theses and hypotheses. And It often makes sense to bring in a knowledge management expert to help you through this assessment.
But, even armed with very detailed knowledge about management and team behaviors, it’s impossible to discover everything that makes up a perfect experience set.
You should, however, be able to define a set of derivatives that can be used to quickly train successors, redevelop company processes, and strengthen competencies within teams.
By extracting knowledge from experience, business owners are given a very good foundation for further developing teams and optimizing processes. However, now that the knowledge has been distilled, it needs a good management structure.
You should decide how teams will use the findings, how they should be applied across the organization, and perhaps even most importantly, what should be discarded, or kept for use at a later date (e.g. when you have a larger team).
Applying what you’ve learned is a challenging task and it’s important to start small when you begin to implement these learnings. If you overhaul every process based on your findings, you won’t be able to properly assess the success of your efforts. And if you try to change the overall corporate culture, you could distort the impact of any smaller changes you’ve made to your knowledge management process.
As with any process that isn’t directly monetized, it can be very hard to measure knowledge management success. However, if an employee can start their new role armed with the knowledge, processes, network, and best practices of their predecessor, it will quickly become apparent that your efforts paid off.
“Assessing the success of changed processes, or whether a team is developing certain competencies can take a long time. Therefore, it’s important to remember that knowledge management is a long-term commitment that requires ongoing attention and not just a one-off quick fix,” says Joanna Weiss, a manager at, COMATCH, a young start-up that successfully implemented its knowledge management process in 2018.
Knowledge management keeps your business on track
Effective knowledge management helps companies operate at peak conditions and means that the inevitable loss of valuable employees won’t hamper how effectively you run your company. It also means that struggling teams can learn from their stronger counterparts, with the end result being a high-performance culture.
And If your company is still struggling to keep up the pace, maybe you should ask yourself if your in-house experience is as reliable as you think it is?