Leadership & Professional Development

3 Steps to Creating a Knowledge Culture in Your Organization

September 13, 2017 10:18 am

Corporate education—for the purposes of teaching new and existing team members about company culture, relevant industry occurrences, and tactical skills (e.g., new technologies)—is critical to ensuring a continuous learning environment that benefits employees and, equally as important, clients.

Steve Jobs was particularly focused on doing this well because he understood that employees are a reflection of an organization’s brand. By deeply immersing employees in the “ Apple way,” he was creating brand ambassadors while providing employees with an important foundation to support innovation. Apple University’s program was carefully created with the support of the dean of the Yale School of Management. Apple employees can easily sign up for courses that are tailored to their interests via a streamlined internal portal.

Many of us try to emulate Apple’s ability to simplify everything, including how they educate their employees, and I highlight this reference as a gold standard. Most organizations don’t have Apple’s resources and the deeply entrenched culture that can set the parameters for how to educate employees and what they should learn.

In an industry with an incredible amount of change, healthcare organizations are challenged to educate their employees with the right amount of information, at the right frequency, and in a format that employees can easily access and retain. It’s rare that you would hear an argument from management that “education isn’t necessary,” but this doesn’t mean that it always can be separately funded and resourced. Taken together, how do you “do” education in a way that achieves your goal of creating a continuous learning environment?

In our healthcare technology company, education about the current regulatory environment requires a robust education framework. It’s part of our organizational culture that we continually educate everyone in the company about healthcare industry changes and how they may affect the organizations we serve. We believe that all roles in the company should have some level of knowledge, and because regulations and industry changes happen continually, we are challenged to keep all departments up to date without incurring significant overhead or distracting team members from their core tasks. To achieve our educational goals, we’ve employed these three tactics:

1. Establish education baselines

For each department in the organization, we worked with its leadership to establish a baseline description of the education-level goal. Because education, learning, and content are not numeric or linear in this context (i.e., “you need to reach a 90”), this goal was a description of what a person who has successfully completed the education will know about regulation. For example, “The finance department should know the name of the regulation, the reasons it’s important to our clients, and where they can go for additional information,” or, “The quality assurance team should be able to provide a detailed description of the regulation (without accessing resources), the three most important changes from the current regulation, and the key inputs to calculations impacted by the regulation.”

By establishing these baselines, we created a description of an educational continuum to more easily categorize the various departments, but also to create a framework for future regulations.  Using the above examples, the finance department needs a “1” level of knowledge whereas the quality assurance department needs a “4” (on a 5-point scale). We also learned that providing a thread of information that connected to their individual roles provided more connection to what they were learning. In finance, for example, changes in regulation impacted the values on a report they frequently referenced. By providing that connection, they understood why their forecasts might be different and also had a more specific context for the information.

2. Take inventory of existing resources

Without an official education department, we work hard to strike a balance between creating our own education material and using materials that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and/or trade associations provide. Our goal as a company is to simplify the complex, so we certainly don’t want to base all of our education on the source of the complexity. That said, there are plenty of high-quality blogs, articles, presentations, and videos that can provide foundational knowledge. To ensure the quality of this information, one of our staff members (a level “5” from a knowledge standpoint) serves as a curator of the information.

3. Measure it

We firmly believe that education plants seeds of knowledge, and we as an organization and our clients benefit when those seeds germinate in unexpected places. To ensure that those education roots are deep, we measure the team’s understanding against the goal that we set for that department. This measurement does not necessarily have to be a test (although it may be applicable for some), but it could also be the demonstration of mastery through a targeted conversation. The key, however, is that the team knows that they will be measured on their absorption of the education we have provided.

The most difficult part of establishing continuous learning is the “continuous” part. The three steps above provide a strong foundation for all new topics; however, there remains one last key to organizational success: personal mastery. Employees cannot wait to be educated and they can’t rely on their organization to push all of the information to them. The education that we push to employees is only intended to serve as the igniter of an individual’s curiosity. We know and expect that employees will read articles, watch TED Talks, subscribe to blogs, and network with colleagues to expand their knowledge of a topic. This furthers their questioning, inspires more internal education opportunities, and, most importantly, happens continuously. To accomplish this, we ensure we hire people who are intensely curious, make resources easy to access, and, overall, reinforce a culture where inquisitiveness is highly valued and rewarded.

Beth Houck is vice president of client services for SA Ignite.


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