In the complex world of federal government contracts, success depends not only on efficient program delivery but also on the effective management and sharing of knowledge. Knowledge management is the secret sauce that empowers organizations to harness the collective wisdom, experiences, and information within their ranks. Kader Gumus, Director of Information Technology and Data Management for RELI’s TSA BPA, holds a master’s degree in knowledge management and organization development as well as a master’s degree in leadership and change. She shared her expertise with us on the positive impacts knowledge management can have within an organization, and some practical ways you can apply this concept to your work.
What is Knowledge Management?
Kader defines knowledge management as the collective behaviors through which knowledge and information are shared within an organization. This encompasses written and spoken knowledge, as well as the tools used to house and disseminate this knowledge. It extends to areas such as onboarding, training, professional development, and documentation as part of contract management activities and processes. Knowledge management provides a structured approach to learning from experiences, optimizing processes, and fostering continuous improvement to enhance a contract’s performance.
In the realm of government contracting, the value of knowledge management becomes even more pronounced. When knowledge is treated as a possession, it can lead to power and control struggles and a lack of collaboration. The distinction between organizations that embrace knowledge sharing and those that do not is striking – the better knowledge management works, the more efficiently and better performing those teams become.
Kader’s first practical application of knowledge management came about when she realized how long it was taking new employees to truly become productive. Traditionally, it took nearly a year for individuals to become fully productive due to the steep learning curve and ambiguity associated with joining a large, complex organization. Kader took a deeper look, and realized it was because new employees were largely left on their own without a senior employee to serve as a mentor, and also because the organization was lacking training material that could help gain this knowledge.
To avoid this pitfall, Kader created a contract onboarding program. Different from an HR orientation, this program ensured that foundational knowledge was readily available to new team members. It covers critical aspects like the federal customer’s organization and its culture, history, mission and vision, customer overviews, contract expectations, process insights, communication norms, and contract culture. The impact was remarkable. Team members embraced the culture of knowledge sharing, leading to faster integration and productivity—reducing the onboarding time from a year to just a few months. And not only do employees have a better understanding of their contract, but they also feel a deeper connection to the company itself. In turn, this approach helped decrease turnover. Employees felt supported and cared for within the critical first 90 days of their new job.
To further encourage a culture of continuous learning, Kader implemented the concept of “knowledge cafes.” In monthly knowledge-sharing sessions, employees are invited to either lead or join in a discussion about a topic of their choosing, providing opportunities to grow professionally, hone their public speaking skills, and continue to promote the sharing of knowledge. The same principle was even extended to the client side, fostering education about specific initiatives and practices.
“Knowledge sharing isn’t a requirement on the SOW, but we do it because we know that sharing the knowledge helps everyone be better informed and have a better understanding of what’s happening in a large, complex organization,” explains Kader. “We’re often only privy to a small sliver of the work that’s going on, because the teams are just so large and the processes are so big that it’s impossible for us to be involved in everything. We have so much collective wisdom across these government contracting teams, and you have to build mechanisms to allow that knowledge to be shared.”
By creating spaces for sharing, organizations tap into a wealth of collective wisdom that often remains isolated and siloed. Communities of practice, where professionals in specific disciplines convene to share initiatives and trends, provide a confidential platform to connect dots across teams.
While conversations are an essential part of knowledge sharing, written documentation is just as vital. Implementing practices such as standard file naming conventions and topic-specific document libraries, and proactively creating content like proposal templates and success stories eliminates redundancy and accelerates productivity.
Kader has designated one employee to interview members of the contract team as work is completed and document that work proactively, avoiding the last-minute panic that can often happen when working on a proposal. “When we’re in a rush, we just want to deliver the content but might not do our due diligence to consider the full picture and give a well-rounded description,” explains Kader. “We’re proactively developing a library of write-ups so when the proposal team reaches out, we don’t have to scramble to get the content ready.”
Job Aides Project
Transitioning a government contract from an incumbent to a new contractor is always a challenging time, and often incumbents may be hesitant to share their knowledge. To combat this, Kader developed a “Job Aides Initiative” which assigns a technical writer to interview each member of the incumbent staff – what they do, how they do it, how they use data sources to create reports and so forth. In addition to helping with turnover, this also neutralizes the power and control component of knowledge, so there’s no single person who holds all the information.
The Job Aides Project also helps evaluate tasks to see if they’re out of scope or if there’s a way to simplify complex manual tasks. “If we didn’t capture and document this knowledge, then we wouldn’t be able to create efficiencies, improve these jobs, make tasks easier, and eliminate duplications and redundancies,” explains Kader.
Implementing Knowledge Management
If you’d like to implement a Knowledge Management program in your organization, Kader recommends starting your own Contract Onboarding program. “Setting up a new employee with the foundational knowledge they need to be successful is the first step to building a culture of knowledge sharing on a contract,” she shares.
In the intricate world of federal government contracts, successful program delivery hinges on more than just processes and execution. It thrives on the collective knowledge and experiences of its workforce. By implementing effective knowledge management practices, organizations can create a culture of collaboration, continuous learning, and optimal performance. Knowledge management isn’t just a buzzword; it’s the key to unlocking the full potential of a government contracting team.
Sound like the kind of team you’d want managing your contract? Let’s talk about how we can make that happen!