Guru's Brittany Bingham on Empowering All Employees With The Knowledge They Need to Succeed
When we look at ways that companies fail to make good on their stated missions to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), there are a few common culprits.
Intent is rarely one of them.
Most companies want to be a place where everyone can succeed and thrive and feel included. But they don't recognize how everyday ways of operating, like conveying information through informal channels, communicating in only one way, or expecting employees to seek answers to their questions on their own can keep companies from living up to their DEI goals by disenfranchising underrepresented groups.
Knowledge management startup Guru was started with the goal of creating knowledge-driven cultures, where information is proactively made accessible (as opposed to reactively shared or sought), that could help fix all of that, so we sat down with their VP of Marketing, Brittany Bingham, to learn more.
Leveling the playing field
Guru is structured around a set of simple truths: companies make better decisions if they have accurate information to make them with, employees feel confident and empowered to do their jobs when they have all the information they need, and more engaged employees lead to happier customers.
"Not only are the companies who embrace a knowledge-driven culture seeing better revenue outcomes, but they're promoting an environment where knowledge is abundant versus an environment where knowledge is scarce," says Brittany, "which creates and facilitates an workplace where employees will thrive."
Those truths are especially salient for companies trying to become more inclusive of diverse talent.
Here's an example: in a company whose main mode of information dissemination is managers chatting informally with individual employees, you might see that people who look like the managers—who are more often than not white men—have an advantage over other employees.
If that same company invests in knowledge management, though, including Guru's card system that creates centralized, verified repositories of knowledge that is accessible to everyone, you can remove that potential bias from the equation.
"Creating a source of truth in documentation that everyone has equal access to helps level the playing field because there's no inability for people to seek and share the knowledge that they need to be successful," says Brittany.
In a knowledge-driven culture like the one Guru has built and helps their customers to build, information isn't siloed or guarded. Instead, it exists out in the open, easily accessible, allowing everyone to have what they need to do their jobs. Why is that so important? Knowledge is power within most organizations, and because that knowledge is often protected and hoarded (typically by company leadership, which is more often than not white and male), making that knowledge accessible levels the playing field for everyone, regardless of their background, tenure, or status at the organization.
Just imagine the difference between a new engineer, upon getting hung up on a problem, needing to go find another engineer, find out if they know how to help, and hope they have time to explain—versus that new engineer being empowered by easy access to commonly asked questions to unstick herself and go about her day. Not only does it save the company time and resources and reduce key-employee risk, but it ensures that employees don't succeed or fail based solely on their extroversion or connections.
Embracing knowledge management means embracing transparency, too, explains Brittany. "As a company, talking openly about diversity is not something that we shy away from. This is so deeply a core value and tenant to the company - and, not only do we create conversations about these initiatives as a company, but all up-to-date information is available in our Guru collections that are accessible to everyone at the company. By publishing and codifying all of those commitments and initiatives, we have made sure that a focus on DEI has been instilled as a critical component of the company."
How knowledge management enables remote work
Creating systems that provide accessible information to all was always important, but really proved to be so as many companies transitioned to being fully remote during the coronavirus pandemic.
With employees working different schedules from different places and with no chance for hallway chats or office-wide announcements, it's especially key that companies share knowledge proactively and systematically now.
"This mass shift to distributed work has shown that there are so many companies that were fatigued and didn't have the infrastructure or the ability to disseminate information in a competent or verified or equitable manner," says Brittany. "But whether or not employees are in the office, their ability to do their job should be entirely the same."
Once again, Guru can help level that playing field, even as the field itself is changing, says Brittany. "Not only are you seeing that the means of communication and access to information are shifting, but the type of information, the processes, the content, and the policies also shifted pretty quickly for companies. And so being able to maintain and centralize a source of truth that employees can be confident is accurate is super critical in these times," she explains.
Guru thinks about a company's toolkit for communicating while distributed in three ways, says Brittany: first, there's virtual face-to-face conversation, like through Zoom or Skype; second, there's chat communication, like through Slack or Microsoft Teams; and third, there's a knowledge management system, which unlike the first two, doesn't require the overlapping presence of employees being online at the same time and available to talk to each other, but rather provides information in a leveraged, asynchronous way that democratizes it.
"In the absence of strong knowledge management solutions, critical information can get lost in a crowded inbox or is too hard to find, and so employees may be left wondering what the policies are or where a company stands," Brittany says. "More equitable, flexible access to information reduces the risk that team members are disadvantaged due to uncommon schedules or different preferences of how they consume information."
Democratizing knowledge starts with valuing it
So now that you know how knowledge management can level the playing field and allow all workers, regardless of their identity or connection to an in-group, or whether they're in the office or working remotely, to succeed, how do you go about making it a reality where you work? If you think your company could benefit from better knowledge management, Brittany suggests you start by doing the following:
- Advocate for it. Make your case to leadership about why knowledge management matters. Feel free to use this statistic from a Guru customer: one hundred percent of employees reported an increase in confidence on the job after implementing Guru's knowledge management toolkit.
- Start documenting everything—and maintaining its accuracy. It's not enough to write something down once and leave it there, says Brittany. That information needs to be kept up-to-date so people can trust it. And the information needs to be trusted in order for it to be adopted or used.
- Measure results. "A knowledge-driven culture requires buy-in across an organization," explains Brittany, who suggests looking for data on reductions in repeat questions or noise, increases in employee engagement, and use of a knowledge management system.
Brittany explains that Guru practices what it preaches. She left her role at a startup with a mission she was really passionate about—reducing inequality in access to higher education for all students, but in particular lower-income and minority students—to come over and lead marketing at Guru. "The people are some of the most phenomenal I've ever come across, and that's the byproduct of the culture and values that were built in the organization," she says. "That alone was enough for me to say 'sign me up,' but that, combined with products that solve meaningful problems and drive more engaged teams, made me sure. It's a business with a purpose, and I knew I just had to be here."
If you're interested in learning more about Guru, including seeing their open roles and upcoming events, check out their PowerToFly page here.