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CTDO Magazine

Capture Knowledge Before It's Gone

Friday, April 15, 2022

Take strategic action to counteract knowledge loss and engage employees.

Talent development executives are facing significant organizational knowledge loss right now due to the Great Resignation and the seismic shift to distributed workforces. In many companies, a lack of senior leadership focus and funding on knowledge management initiatives has led to growing knowledge gaps.

What was previously working in terms of employee engagement is falling short as pandemic fatigue continues to dampen efforts. Any boost in organic knowledge sharing among employees that was prevalent at the pandemic's beginning, when there seemed to be no shortage of employees wanting to help each other, has abated.

Despite those challenges, it is not too late to act to retain knowledge and meaningfully engage the workforce.

Preserve knowledge

With technology enablement, most organizations capture copious amounts of explicit knowledge and permit employees to do the same. From a knowledge preservation perspective, there's no dearth of content available at any given time via a company's intranet portal or in an employee's cloud storage drive.

The irony is that the knowledge is often there, but employees cannot find it. That contributes to organizational knowledge loss.

How many of us have searched our employer's intranet only to receive hundreds of hits on our search term, leaving us to wade through documentation trying to find the answer to our question? The knowledge is there somewhere in the morass but is difficult and too time-consuming to access.

Because of that difficulty, employees start to create their own processes and procedures that diverge from established ones. That dilutes established processes and procedures over time to the point that no one actively remembers the original methods—and that knowledge is lost. All the efforts to preserve knowledge are now working against the company.

So is the Great Resignation. Workers are literally walking out the door with tacit knowledge—that is, the skills, ideas, and experiences they have that they cannot easily express or document. That is the largest contributor to organizational knowledge loss.

That type of know-how is most difficult to replicate or replace. It is why existing employees struggle to quickly or easily step into another role. It is why new hires need time to become proficient. That intimate understanding of how to perform a role that comes through practice and experience and ritual and response is challenging to preserve.

Take action

Work to preserve knowledge by supporting organizational knowledge management plans, hiring skilled knowledge and content professionals, rethinking role descriptions, and reimagining how the company addresses employee exit interviews. 

Without an organization-wide knowledge management plan addressing people, process, technology, content, and culture, many efforts to retain knowledge will be stymied. Given the opportunity, support broad knowledge management initiatives.

That support does not have to be financial in nature; however, many knowledge management initiatives are underfunded or funded for finite periods of time. Managing an organization's knowledge—both explicit and tacit—is an ongoing effort that never stops and requires continuous funding to be successful.

Funding cannot apply only to the technology. People—as in a dedicated knowledge management team—are needed to socialize, operationalize, and routinize the plan.

Regardless of whether funding is available, a show of support at the executive and leadership level is imperative. Many knowledge management initiatives fade away without active evangelizing and support from the C-suite.

More specifically, take the following actions in each of the five areas.

People

Plan for and fund dedicated knowledge management resources. Justify funding through improvement on overall organizational decision making and faster access to information.

While knowledge management value can be notoriously hard to measure, start with a small pilot around search term refinement and return that demonstrates faster access to information. Faster access to correct, current, relevant information helps employees make the right decisions.

If funding is not available, consider redistributing talent development resources to support knowledge management initiatives that other areas of the company have taken on. Be wary of making resources straddle two roles—TD and knowledge management. Allow them to really focus on the knowledge management role and initiative.

When hiring TD staff, seek out people with knowledge management, content management, and technical writing skills and backgrounds. They often have L&D experience in addition to technical communication experience. Even if they are hired into other roles, when knowledge management initiatives do pop up, they are the people who can propel knowledge management efforts within the organization.

Rethink role descriptions. Understand that employees may have roles that have been combined because of the pandemic and the Great Resignation.

It may be time to complete a role review by employee group to truly understand the work individuals are doing. That review process can also ferret out knowledge gaps.

And reimagine the employee exit interview. It is often your last chance to capture tacit knowledge. Think of it more as subject matter expert interview. Embed questions about knowledge management into the conversation.

For example, "Is there anything you do today as part of your role that is not documented or captured somewhere?" Employees may not choose to answer that type of question, but it is a small step in trying to close knowledge gaps and prevent knowledge loss.

Process

Ensure the company has a defined process for capturing knowledge. Start now to identify knowledge gaps. Ask teams to review standard operating procedures to identify and close gaps.

Likewise, ask teams to interview their SMEs on what they do each day. Ask them what they know that is not documented or written down that would be helpful for others to know. Interviews are an effective way to capture tacit knowledge.

Understand that it does not have to be an exhaustive detailing of every single process. If the result is that you close some knowledge gaps before additional people leave or change roles, then consider it a success.

Next, dust off the succession plan. Help teams understand the process for succession planning and validate their plans.

Additionally, assess the flight risk of employees with recent major life changes; promotion and compensation concerns; or escalating negative attitudes toward the work, role, or organization. Prioritize knowledge capture processes for those individuals.

Technology

Tools such as file storage and content repositories, instant messaging, virtual meetings, email, and intranet portals are wonderful knowledge management enablers—but they are just that.

Overreliance on technology to solve knowledge management problems is an ongoing issue. Be judicious in solving organizational knowledge loss through additional technology.

For example, adding knowledge management or content management software is not going to solve organizational issues if you do not have knowledge management and content people who will manage the employee- or client-facing interactions.

If technology seems to be the solution, ensure you maintain focus on employees and how they will be affected. Advocate for better search functionality and metadata so searches return more meaningful content.  

Content

Speaking of content, it is not static. It needs to be managed.

For example, archiving outdated content contributes to better search results. That is where a dedicated knowledge management team can make a difference.

Reflect on the content that the TD team is offering. Is the team curating the content? Even if there is no organization-wide knowledge management plan, the TD function can work to manage its content and output to employees.

Culture

Champion knowledge management initiatives. Until capturing, sharing, transferring, and archiving knowledge becomes part of the company culture, the business will continue to lose knowledge.

Get employees engaged

While not novel concepts, asynchronous videos, virtual office hours, and 30x30 meetings are all options you can use to engage staff and mitigate knowledge loss.

Asynchronous videos have proven to be an effective medium for leaders to communicate to the workforce. The messages and their length vary depending on what knowledge leaders need to share.

The videos are generally posted on the organization's intranet or shared via email and a link. Although views may not total 100 percent of employees, asynchronous videos offer a reprieve from meeting fatigue because workers can consume the content outside a formal meeting.

Consider the context of the message, though, before choosing this medium. Such videos are effective for shorter communications with a positive or neutral tone, but they are not ideal for communicating bad news.

Virtual office hours where team members can informally drop in has accelerated during the past two years. More and more leaders are setting aside one hour a week on their calendars for their team to optionally attend.

It is up to team members whether they stop by to talk, get feedback, or share an issue. As with asynchronous videos, not all employees will take advantage of the opportunity.

30x30 meetings enable leaders to provide more formal feedback on performance and goals progress. Schedule them every 30 days for 30 minutes.

The conversations are known to foster knowledge sharing and strengthen relationships. Use this type of meeting format beyond your employees too. Connect with other leaders in the organization to extend knowledge sharing.

Whichever strategy you choose, act now to stem organizational knowledge loss and champion knowledge management.

Read more from CTDO magazine: Essential talent development content for C-suite leaders.

About the Author

Liz Herman, PMP, CPTC, has practiced knowledge management and program management for over 25 years in the healthcare and education industries. She brings extensive experience managing contracts with federal agencies with an ability to develop and grow client relationships and assemble expert teams to address the need of federal clients. She is a creative content creator, curator, and innovator focused on building collaboration and social engagement. Her program management work spans business development, training and content management, change management, strategic communication, contact center operations, and talent development. Liz holds a Ph.D. in applied management and decision sciences from Walden University, a Master of Arts in English from Iowa State University, and a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from the University of Iowa. She is a certified Project Management Professional and Professional Technical Communicator and a long-time adjunct instructor teaching business and communication courses.

4 Comments
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Excellent! Timely and important.
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This is great information Liz, thank you. Our company has recently seen a high number of retirements from employees who have been with the company 10+ years. All that knowledge walked out the door on their last day. The training and development team is in the process of developing a system using an external vendor (cost-effective) to capture "Lessons Learned."
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excellent content, very practical and result oriented. very nice
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