The Ultimate Guide to a Knowledge Sharing Platform for Professional Services Firms

1 – Why is knowledge sharing important?

Ultimately, knowledge is the core asset at the heart of any professional services firm. While people are the key resource, it is the knowledge those people contain – and the knowledge retained within the firm – which is the tangible asset of that firm. Knowledge within a professional services firm becomes the means by which work is completed, a strategic point of difference in an increasingly commoditised environment, the basis on what pricing and value is often determined and the enabler of productivity (or inefficiencies and bottlenecks).

1 - Why is knowledge sharing important?

The knowledge sharing opportunity awaits

Your staff are increasingly ready to share and capture knowledge from each other if given the opportunity. It’s up to your firm to take advantage of this desire with your own knowledge sharing platform. The knowledge sharing opportunity is there. Do you take advantage of it, or resist it? Learn more about these four key forces which require your firm to have a plan to share knowledge.

  1. Your staff are already conditioned to share and acquire knowledge
  2. Staff are changing jobs more often causing knowledge leave your business faster
  3. Success will increasingly lie in the rapid sharing of knowledge to create strategic advantages
  4. Knowledge sharing platforms are rapidly displacing the need for importing external knowledge

Growing your firm with a knowledge sharing platform

Knowledge is the key asset of any professional services firm. Knowledge about it’s clients, it’s processes, it’s technical capabilities and it’s commercial acumen. So a knowledge sharing platform, or knowledge sharing software, should be among the key tools for professional services firm. Yet often it is not.

Most professional services firms do not effectively manage the flow of information among their staff, clients and prospects. They may use a client relationship tool to manage some client data and they may have a passive knowledge management process (like Sharepoint, or some PDFs or slides). Rarely does a professional services firm have knowledge sharing software to identify, capture and share knowledge in a meaningful way.

That’s a shame. A knowledge sharing platform can take the key asset of knowledge, and use it to enable significant business growth for any professional services firm. Let’s review all the ways knowledge sharing software can drive business growth.

  • Better outcomes through better processes. Implementing a knowledge sharing platform reveals the trends, inefficiencies, inconsistencies, best practices and disconnections within the business. It provides incredible data about HOW outcomes are being achieved within the business. 
  • Long-term improvements in workplace behaviours. Knowledge sharing starts with cultural change. It provides infinite opportunities to improve employee collaboration, interaction, innovation and performance by engaging employees directly in the development and sharing of knowledge
  • Accelerating delivery to your clients. If knowledge is the key asset for professional services firms, time is the key expense. Yet a knowledge sharing platform can specifically target issues of productivity and efficiency.
  • Stimulating innovation and collaboration. Knowledge sharing software breaks down the ‘expert culture’ within a business. It stops employees hoarding or withholding knowledge and trying to use that as power. This is often a critical issue for professional services firms, where knowledge is used as a means for promotion or relative out-performance against peers.

Boost employee retention with a knowledge sharing platform

One of the top reasons to ensure your professional services firm has a knowledge sharing platform is to capture valuable employee knowledge before staff leave your business. However, you can also boost employee retention with a knowledge sharing platform to create a ‘before and after’ solution.

With a knowledge sharing platform, you really can’t lose. First, you can boost employee retention with a knowledge sharing platform by…

  • Provide solutions for overwhelmed staff by not just providing training, but providing context, tips, tricks and tacit knowledge to improve efficiency.
  • Give employees personal development opportunities by providing training which is relevant, engaging and perfectly suited to them, including for support staff.
  • Recognise expertise among employees by providing a platform for your top performance and motivated staff to be recognised by the business and their peers.
  • Creating a culture of collaboration and teamwork by making internal best practices readily and widely available, and eliminating unhealthy internal knowledge hoarding.

Second, the use of a knowledge sharing platform provides insurance for when staff do eventually move on. By that point, their expert knowledge has been captured. And not just in a simple PDF document, but in a way which can be shared, updated and tracked with other staff for years to come.

Boost knowledge transfer with training relevance, context and accountability

The transfer of knowledge in a training environment often focuses on the ‘push’ of that knowledge. For example, how can we design training in a way which is easy for participants to absorb, or is delivered in a method which they find suitable? As instructional designers, we can spend considerable time on training interactions, activities or content to hopefully boost participant engagement. Microlearning and mobile learning are just two of the latest examples in this push-based approach to training design.

There’s nothing wrong with this approach either! However, every force has an equal and opposite reaction. Indeed, when the transfer of knowledge is focused on behavioural change – apply new skills, stop old habits, implement different processes – the push of knowledge alone may not be enough.

This is particularly true for adult participants. Changing behaviours as an adult may be associated with uncomfortable feelings – admitting deficiencies with existing performance, acknowledging that someone else may have a better solution, or experiencing discomfort from initial failures with new skills. As a result, as we try to push learning and knowledge onto participant, they may well be pushing back against us!

So, in addition to considering how to push learning, we should give equal thought to helping the participant ‘pull’ the learning. We need participants working with, not against, the transfer of knowledge at a fundamental level. As we push, the participant pulls.

In this series of articles, we examine three concepts to improve this participant-driven (pull) transfer of knowledge in any form of training.

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2 – Building a knowledge sharing culture

If knowledge is the core asset of a professional services firm, then the capture and sharing of that knowledge must be a key strategic goal. Collaboration and sharing become extremely important company values. The very culture of the firm should support all efforts to capture and share knowledge. Yet for many professional services firms, collaboration and sharing are difficult cultural values – even with the best of intentions.

2 - Building a knowledge sharing culture

Building a knowledge sharing environment

Knowledge sharing is far more than just showing your work colleague how to use short-cuts in your invoicing software. For a professional services firm, a knowledge sharing environment is the very essence of strategic advantage! If human capital is the main resource for a professional services firm, than building a knowledge sharing environment – including the identification and capture of knowledge – is the key to leveraging that resource.

The problem is that most professional services firms don’t understand what knowledge is. They confuse knowledge and information. In particular, they focus very heavily on technical information, often at the expense of commercial knowledge. They also tend to create an environment which rewards the hoarding of knowledge, not the sharing of knowledge.

  • Information by itself is not knowledge. Information is simply ‘provided facts’. Knowledge is the application of that information. Knowledge is the context, the experience, the know-how. Every professional services firm broadly has access to the same information. What differs is their knowledge – how they use that information. Knowledge is the skill. Information is merely data.
  • Knowledge sharing must therefore go far beyond listing data and facts. It must also capture what to do with that information and how to use it, both efficiently and effectively. This means knowledge sharing cannot occur unless it is tapping into experience and expertise. Knowledge sharing must come from within your staff, not just from a spreadsheet.
  • Most professional services firms tend to promote and reward staff based on relative outperformance of their peers. Partners who close more deals tend to receive bigger bonuses and move to more senior positions. As a result, professionals who keep knowledge to themselves can have an internal advantage over their peers. An advantage they can use to obtain a bigger slice of a bonus pool, or to get ahead in the race for promotions. Many professional services firms end up creating a culture which favours the expert and encourages hoarding of knowledge.
  • Without any KPI to encourage professionals to capture and share their expertise, firms are often left with no options other than technical information training, or generic external training content. To be clear, external training content is not knowledge sharing. It is knowledge ‘importing’, not knowledge sharing. Any external knowledge needs to be adapted to fit the particular context of your business, because it is not a good fit! It will never fit as well as the knowledge generated from within your business.
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3 – Capturing and sharing knowledge

Once a firm has realised its knowledge is a core asset, and has started to build a culture of collaboration and sharing, then the environment for a knowledge sharing platform is ready. The next step for a firm is to determine how it will capture and share knowledge. This means addresses issues of (a) efficiency (both in capturing, as well as sharing, knowledge), (b) effectiveness (ensuring the knowledge is transferred in a meaningful way), (c) improvement (easy updates and additions to institutional knowledge in a fast moving industry) and (d) permanence (knowledge is transferable at any time, in any location and without the original expert source).

3 - Capturing and sharing knowledge

The steps to implement a knowledge sharing platform

There’s no doubt that any professional services firm should have a knowledge sharing platform. Knowledge is the key resource for professionals. Without a platform to capture and share that knowledge, it’s putting your most valuable asset into the hands of luck. Knowledge might get shared. Knowledge might be retained when experienced staff leave. Knowledge might be used as a differentiator. The right knowledge might be used. These are all huge assumptions which can be solved when you implement a knowledge sharing platform.

Here are the five key steps for any professional services firm to implement a knowledge sharing platform, like Tribal Habits, in their business. 

  1. Establish objectives. In order set the correct objectives for your knowledge sharing platform, you first need to identify the business problems that need resolution. It’s those outcomes that will justify your reasons to implement a knowledge sharing platform in the first place.
  2. Prepare for change. Often managers and business owners believe that incorporating a knowledge sharing platform is just an application of technology. However, to ensure success when you implement a knowledge sharing platform, it will require a cultural change in the way employees look at sharing and storing knowledge for personal development.
  3. Define your high-level processes. With objectives established and some steps taken to prepare for any required cultural change, you can now map out your high-level process for capturing and sharing knowledge. This step tends to focus on selecting a framework to curate knowledge and assigning oversight of that framework.
  4. Implement a knowledge sharing platform. Knowledge sharing has three major phases. As you implement a knowledge sharing platform, you need to account for all three phases – not just the initial phase of capturing knowledge.
  5. Measure and improve. Which leads to the last step in the process – on-going improvement. Knowledge sharing is not an ‘event’. It differs from traditional training which often occurs once and staff then move on. Knowledge sharing is very much a journey.

Using a knowledge sharing platform to optimize regular client meetings

The value of a knowledge sharing platform to your firm’s client experience, and its ability to optimize regular meetings cannot be under-estimated. The quality of your organisation’s client management services has the potential to make or break your business. A negative experience to bad a referral, unfavourable reviews and high client complaint rates. A positive client experience can improve customer loyalty and boost sales.

As such, it is imperative to equip your staff with skills that allow them to navigate through tricky client situations. While generic online training on client service skills can assist, a knowledge sharing platform offers a far better (and often cheaper) alternative. A knowledge sharing platform allows you to capture the exact details, processes and points of difference in your own client experience.

This is particularly true for specialised meetings in professional services firms. It is impossible to purchase off-the-shelf training for such specialised client interactions. Yet a knowledge sharing platform can provide your staff with completely customised training based on the proven best practices in your own business. Consider regular, consistent client meetings which could be optimized via a knowledge sharing platform.

  • Tax planning meetings for accountants
  • Annual review meetings for financial planners
  • Fact finding meetings by personal risk advisers
  • Data collection meetings by finance brokers
  • Project debrief meetings by engineers
  • Client relationship review meetings by bankers

Create more value with clients through a knowledge sharing platform

Every professional services firm manages client processes – repetitive interactions with clients.

  • Back-office or support functions, where the execution of client instructions occur through a consistent process (such as para-planning functions for a financial planner).
  • Front-office or service functions, where the client experience is standardised through the use of processes (such as valuable tax planning meetings for accountants).

In either case, there are repetitive actions occurring by both staff and clients. And where there is repetition, there is room for value to be extracted for everyone. A knowledge sharing platform becomes a very powerful tool to maximise the value of these repetitive, standardised client interactions. It can improve efficiencies for the professional and their client, as well as offer more strategic outcomes for the client.

4 – Working with subject matter experts

Once a firm has prioritised knowledge sharing, created a supportive culture of collaboration and has the means and tools to share knowledge, the final step is the engagement of your subject matter experts.

4 - Working with subject matter experts

Select the right subject matter experts

One of the keys to successfully sharing knowledge within your organisation is how you select subject matter experts. Whomever you choose will have a reasonably large impact on not just what knowledge is shared, but how it is shared. As a result, its critical to make a wise choice! You need subject matter expertise with the right…

  • Expertise. Your experts obviously need to have expertise in the topic! However, this is not always as obvious as it first sounds. The best expertise can be replicated by others. We don’t want expertise which is reliant upon another condition – historical situations, inherent talent or isolated conditions. The ideal is expertise which is easy to transfer and useful in the future.
  • Time. Your experts need to have time to capture their knowledge. So we want experts who wont feel under too much pressure to devote some of their time to this knowledge capture process. Experts who are already being asked to do too much may view this request with annoyance.
  • Attitude. Some people are great at sharing. Some aren’t. We need experts who don’t mind sharing.

Working with multiple subject matter experts

One way of making knowledge sharing within an organisation easier is to have multiple people share expertise on the same topic – multiple subject matter experts. Seems like a sound way to speed up the process and reduce everyone’s workload. But how do you make it work? The key to multiple subject matter experts is to follow some critical guidelines.

  • The golden rule here is that the expertise being captured or shared must be consistent among the experts.
  • The other golden rule (!) is that the experts must agree HOW that one agreed way will be explained to other people. Not only must the knowledge be consistent, but the way in which it is explained must be consistent.
  • Next, carve up the topic into its pieces – rules, steps, parts etc… – and assign them to your experts.
  • Then, either manage the capture of knowledge on a sequenced or simultaneous basis.

Handling subject matter expert problems

You know – those subject matter experts who promise to do something but don’t. Or they do something and you can see its half-hearted. Or they are doing something but it is taking forever. This can be very frustrating. However, there are plenty of few prevention ideas and a few cures to deal with subject matter expert problems.

  1. Get the SME’s manager involved. This isn’t always possible if the SME is very senior, but many SMEs will be reporting to someone. It’s very useful if that ‘someone’ is on your side. Whatever your manager tells you is important…becomes important to you. So we want to avoid the manager of the SME sending the wrong messages.
  2. Set a deadline with meaning. If you set a deadline but its just a date you choose, it has little consequence on the SME. However, if your deadline is being driven by other events which rely on the SME completing their work, then that’s different. Your SME needs to be aware of that and consequences for lateness.
  3. Set milestones with deadlines. Even better, set a series of milestones with deadlines for your SME.  Have their topic outline due by a certain date, their first draft a week later and their final draft a week after that. That keeps your SME moving and gives you a series of triggers to manage the problem before it gets out of hand.

Learn more in this in-depth article on subject matter expert problems.

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