The Knowledge-Driven Culture Opportunity

The state of knowledge management, collaboration, what matters, and what to do about it

What is knowledge?
We define knowledge as information someone can act upon. 
What is knowledge management? 
We define knowledge management as the practices and systems that capture the information and expertise inside your company and make it available to those who need it when they need it. Learn more about knowledge management.

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Culture: (noun) The set of predominant attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that characterize a group or organization.

Multiple academic, scientific, and business disciplines converge on this topic of company culture. We’re not going to spend time here trying to recap the decades’ worth of insights from behavioral economics, the social sciences, and neuroscience. But, if you’re working in those fields, we tip our hat to you! 🎩

People’s attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors travel together. By that we mean that each one influences the other two. When you dial up the intensity of one, the others follow. This is true for individuals as well as their larger cultural groups. 

So, with that framing in mind, we’re in a good spot to understand the first of our key findings from our research survey. 

The perception and performance link

Perceptions (i.e., attitudes and beliefs) of knowledge management are strongly associated with business performance (i.e., behavior). And here’s the kicker: Stronger positive sentiment — more intense attitudes and beliefs — is associated with stronger performance. 

We’re not making this up, we swear. 

On average, the more intensely someone endorses knowledge management, the more likely they are to also report being part of a high-performing business.

So let’s dive into why high-performing companies have made the jump from simply knowledge-affirming to fully knowledge-driven cultures, and why that distinction matters.

What is a knowledge-driven culture? 
We define a knowledge-driven culture as one that encodes the creation and maintenance of knowledge into its values and behaviors in a way that supports continuous improvement and learning, along with supportive notions of people, processes, and measurements.

Watch Rick Nucci share his thoughts on knowledge driven culture and key findings from this report

From a knowledge-affirming culture ...

Here’s some good news: nearly all companies, regardless of business performance, are knowledge-affirming, meaning that they place a high level of importance on knowledge. This mentality is particularly prevalent among company leadership.

80% of leaders rate “making information accessible and actionable to those who need it at the time of need” as important to their company, as do 69% of employees
Jump down to understand the gap between employees and leaders

In fact, the vast majority of the companies surveyed showcased knowledge-affirming beliefs and attitudes:

Knowledge-affirming beliefs and attitudes
Of overall respondents, here are the percentages who agree or strongly agree with these statements:

But let’s be real: LOTS of things in business (and in life) are considered important and still fail to find traction or any meaningful follow-through. If both high-performing and low-performing businesses are knowledge-affirming, what indications do we have that core beliefs and values around knowledge make a difference?

… to a knowledge-driven culture

Here’s where that value set becomes a positive force for change:

When knowledge management graduates from being merely important to very or even wildly important, that shift ultimately translates to business performance.

High-performing businesses are much more likely than low-performing ones to rate the knowledge management objectives we queried as “very important.”

Who feels strongly about knowledge management? 
The average percentage of respondents that rate knowledge management objectives as “very important” grouped by business performance:

It’s also predominantly the high-performing companies that exhibit the attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs that characterize a knowledge-driven culture, meaning knowledge-driven cultures see better business results and more engaged employees. Effectively, knowledge-driven cultures are those that close the gap between knowing and doing. 

The knowledge-driven culture difference
Of companies that self-describe as having knowledge-driven cultures: 

The employee responses here are, in a sense, telling leaders that knowledge management can do better. So what causes this disconnect? It likely stems from the fact that employees and leaders need different things from knowledge management. 

Individual contributors usually need to focus on role-specific tasks, such as closing tickets or negotiating a contract, while leadership is looking at top-line business performance and putting together horizon plans. The kind of knowledge individual contributors need may change as frequently as every day, while what leadership needs tends to be longer-lived.

Differing views on core knowledge management objectives
Percentage of leaders and employees who rate their company as effective or very effective at achieving these objectives:

The evolution from a departmental to a broad company imperative

Almost half of the leaders in our sample are familiar with Knowledge-Centered Service (KCS), which is a methodology developed by the Consortium for Service Innovation at the vanguard of customer success and support organizations. KCS values empower everyone to share collective responsibility for creating and maintaining a knowledge base. 

Just as Agile and Scrum methodologies have been adapted from software development and applied within other business functions such as marketing and HR, KCS-aligned and -inspired approaches to knowledge management are being pulled deeper into and across the enterprise. 

Our findings indicate this uptake remains a work in progress. Customer success is the one business function where employees and leaders totally agree on the importance (if not the effectiveness) of knowledge management to the company. Employees and leaders generally align the importance of knowledge management to sales. Where employees have not yet caught up to leaders is on the importance of knowledge management to marketing, IT, and HR. 

Differing views on departments
Percentage of leaders and employees who rate the contribution of knowledge management as important or very important to these functions:

Percentage of leaders and employees who rate the contribution of knowledge management as effective or very effective to these functions:

Leadership coaches will counsel that it’s the job of leaders to “get there first” and then bring everyone else along. When it comes to mapping the territory and establishing a vision for the organization that’s knowledge-driven, leaders have gotten there first. 

We’ve also seen that the importance of knowledge management is bigger than any single department, and that company-wide imperatives rank at least as important, and sometimes more important, than department-specific contributions do. The job of bringing along everyone else still remains.

Activating and maintaining a CX- and EX-centric strategy requires agility, collaboration, and a commitment to continuous improvement. Becoming a knowledge-driven culture provides the most powerful lever to activate this strategy.

Collaboration is at the heart of knowledge-driven cultures

Everyone has a role to play in a knowledge-driven culture:

  • Leaders actively contribute in sharing their knowledge with their teams as well as broadly across the organization.
  • Teams work in partnerships, recognizing the critical relationship between seekers of knowledge and subject matter experts.
  • Companies prioritize the employee experience in seeking and sharing knowledge when bringing in new processes and technologies.
See it in action: Learn how Shopify has built a knowledge-driven culture

It’s these kinds of large-scale — and small-scale — collaborative efforts that allow companies to create positive feedback loops. Those positive feedback loops drive better employee experiences, which in turn drive better customer experiences. Those are what allow businesses across the spectrum to create customers for life. 

Having a great product or offering with terrible support isn’t enough. No one wants to overpromise and underdeliver. This is especially true in the SaaS space, where companies have to show value at each renewal cycle. 

By breaking down silos and actively encouraging cross-functional knowledge sharing, employees at every level — leadership included — will have what they need to adapt to any challenges they may face, whether it’s one unhappy customer or a sudden, whole-company shift to remote work.