Organisations talk about business resilience and continuity, but more often than not, those conversations centre around the ability to trade without interruption after an external or internal crisis.
What about knowledge continuity?
Often overlooked, knowledge continuity, or ‘corporate memory’, is rarely as well considered or protected by organisations. Many continue to miss its importance.
What happens when a senior or experienced member of staff leaves? Their files remain, but the information locked inside their heads walks away with them in the majority of cases. This invisible loss of knowledge can be felt immediately on a day to day basis, when the answer, “Oh, Helen used to do that. I don’t know,” suddenly pops up. These minor operational hiccups, however, are illustrative of a much larger problem that companies often don’t recognise until it is too late.
Day to day processes may suffer when someone experienced leaves, but the invisible holes in your organisation’s knowledge are much harder to overcome. Who is responsible for ensuring that knowledge is captured and retained by your organisation?
Preventing knowledge loss:
- Make sure your organisation has a named person in charge of knowledge
- Ensure that all relevant staff know where and how knowledge is stored and accessed
- Create an inhouse taxonomy that allows all knowledge to be tagged, making it more discoverable
- Conduct regular audits of your knowledge to refamiliarise teams with the processes and content you hold
- Recognise your experts and create database in the company/organisation (relying on the taxonomy to create a structure for this)
- Consider holding annual Expert interviews with staff to continually capture that knowledge
- Apply a team or company knowledge capture processes that is clear to all staff
- Conduct exit interviews to capture knowledge
Last exit to… knowledge
Traditionally, exit interviews in the corporate world have been used to provide feedback on why personnel are moving on, how they feel about their organisation and the bugbears and things they would change if they could.
In recent years, organisations have come to realise that departing employees have a habit of taking their experience with them. Exit interviews shouldn’t be seen as satisfaction surveys for an employer. They should be seized as an opportunity to spot potential knowledge holes which will be left behind by someone who leaves. Moreover, the process should not be left until the last minute.
As soon as someone announces they are leaving, your organisation should:
- Plan the handover process
- Identify the areas to be affected
- Review the employee’s responsibilities and capture as much knowledge as possible of their workflow
- Avoid asking for a simple job description. Ask the unexpected questions: what elements of their work did the employee not expect?
- Make the process about the staff member: ask them what they’re most proud of doing, what tricks they found to streamline their work
- Capture key learnings, contacts and relationships
- Leave the door open; there may be a need to contact that person again in the future, so a cordial relationship is crucial
Capture knowledge before it leaves
Some organisations curate knowledge on a continual basis, by holding regular meetings with Knowledge Experts within the company. Not only can this confirm the areas where skilled workers thrive, it can also uncover new ideas and suggestions to improve processes that staff struggle with. This allows an organisation to address an issue before it becomes a reason for leaving a position. It also means that knowledge can be captured at regular intervals.
Implicit knowledge is one of the hardest elements to capture and save for any organisation. By its nature, it is subjective but borne from personal experience. This means that whoever is in charge of conducting knowledge capture or exit interviews needs certain experience in the same field and should be a trusted officer of the organisation, rather than someone dropped in from HR with no practical experience in the position under discussion.
Identifying possible holes in an organisation’s knowledge also makes onboarding new staff much smoother. Your organisation will now have a much clearer picture of the role to be filled and, with no unexpected pitfalls, new staff will find their feet much faster. This means that there are fewer barriers to business continuity and reduced drag on other team members who may normally have had to spend longer, bringing a new staff member up to speed.
Organisations which treat knowledge as a valuable resource and commodity to be protected have a clear advantage over rivals. That has never been more important than now, as we continue to see the effects of the ‘Great Resignation’.