The Princess Bride is one of my favorite movies. One of most interesting themes in the movie is how we all use words to mean different things. When Wesley says “As you wish” to Buttercup, he really means “I love you.” This theme comes up over and over again in the movie. At several points Vizzini repeats the word “inconceivable” as he and his gang try to evade Wesley (after they kidnapped Buttercup). Inigo Montoya remarks “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Nearly every knowledge management program, technique or tool promises improved productivity. But what does that mean?

How do effective knowledge-sharing practices improve productivity?

Let’s start with two different meanings for productivity.

The first one is the traditional one. Productivity is throughput. How many projects can your team members complete? How many questions do they answer?

This is one way to think about productivity. It’s directly related to how much an organization can scale, as well. So, how do knowledge-sharing practices affect this type of productivity?

Effective knowledge sharing reduces the time to connect the right knowledge to the challenge at hand.

In other words, if your team member is sharing knowledge with one another, it takes less time to find that knowledge and use it to complete each member’s work. The time savings is going to impact team members differently, depending on the type of work that they do.

  • For high-volume contact centers, the impact will be on call times and time to resolution
  • For professional services, the impact will be both on the time to complete a project and number of in-flight engagements that one consultant can manage
  • For organizations with self-service, the impact will be a reduction in the number of customer interactions that require a person

So how do you measure it?

My favorite method of measuring this type of productivity is by calculating the team’s work capacity. How many questions, projects, or other work can the team take on in relation to the number of customers, clients or team members the organization serves?

You get a ratio of the count of activities you complete compared to the number of people/organizations you serve.

For a support organization it might be

For every 1 support team member, we can assist 1,500 customers

For a professional services organization, it might be

For every 1 consultant, we can successfully onboard 15 new clients per quarter

Another measure of productivity

But this isn’t the only type of productivity that knowledge affects. Team members’ work shouldn’t just be measured on throughput. Some activities create more value than others.

So the second way to understand productivity isn’t as traditional. Productivity is value creation. In this definition, productivity isn’t a simple count of activities. It is a measurement of the value of each activity and the number of each completed. So, how does knowledge sharing affect this type of productivity?

Effective knowledge sharing reduces the time spent on lower-value, repetitive tasks and increases the bandwidth for team members to engage in high-value work.

If team members are sharing what they already know and can find that knowledge effectively, they can use that knowledge to complete tasks that have already been accomplished by someone else. That means that tasks accomplished anywhere in the organization can be done more quickly the next time around. Project plans become templates, earlier versions of procedures become first drafts and answers become customer-ready knowledge articles.

Team members can leverage this additional time to engage in more complicated tasks, tasks that require more effort or that the team has never done before.

So how do you measure it?

In our Five Metrics to Assess Knowledge-Sharing Programs, we describe a metric called “Rework effort.” Effectively, this is the second definition of productivity. How much time are you spending on new, high-value work versus the time spent on work that the organization has already completed?

To determine the value creation version of productivity, you need to do three things:

  1. Create a simple rating system to determine an activity’s value. It’s OK to make it up. Maybe it’s something easy, like real dollars or euros earned by the organization. Maybe it’s based on conversations with customers about what work you produce that they find most valuable. Maybe it’s determined by whether this is a repeat or a new activity.
  2. Take a random sampling of activities, determine how much time it took for each and assign each of them a value rating.
  3. Multiply time and value and add up the result.

Over time, you can look at the activities at each value rating and see how you can spend less time on lower value work and more on higher value work.

Define what you mean before you start

Before you start your knowledge-sharing program, make sure you are explicit about what you mean by your key metrics. You also need to make sure you know how and where you will gather them. Your likelihood of success will increase significantly and you’ll be surprised what everyone else thought you were going to accomplish!

So, how does your organization measure productivity?

Interested in metrics? Check out the white papers on measures in our library.

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