Knowledge Management 101: Preventing a Knowledge Loss Crisis in 6 Steps

Jill Monte - Content Specialist ·

If there’s one thing that remains true in business (and life in general) it’s this: a crisis can strike any company … anytime, anywhere. Imagine you just found out a valuable, tenured employee is leaving and taking all his or her critical knowledge and experience with him to a competing organization. Your only hope to avert this crisis? Advanced planning!

Knowledge loss is becoming a critical issue that cannot be ignored. Our experience tells us that clients often see the need for Knowledge Management (KM) from a very narrow crisis mode, or a broader demographic angle. If the scenarios below resonate with your current situation, keep reading.

  1. Jack Smith is a key employee who announced his resignation. In 30 days he’ll be leaving and he’s the only one who knows x, y, and z. Plus there might be a, b, and c that he knows, which we don’t even know to ask about.
  2. 30% of our organization (or department, job role/function) will leave or be eligible to retire in the next 2 years. Who will replace them, what skills will they bring and how will they learn our internal processes? For more on how to deal with this type of knowledge-based succession, read our 10 Step Knowledge Management blog here.

Which situation is happening at your company?

If you feel like you’re experiencing option A, you’re in crisis mode and you’ve come to the right place to get out of it. You need to know what to do NOW in order to avoid losing all of the valuable knowledge and experience your employee has accumulated over the years. Good thing you ended up here!

6 Key Steps for Preventing a KM Crisis

In this blog you will learn how to prevent a KM crisis in these 6 steps while ensuring that essential business knowledge, experience and connections are saved and utilized for the future viability of your organization.

  1. Educate yourself on tacit vs. implicit knowledge and identify from whom in the organization you need to gather knowledge (e.g. key staff or pending retirees)
  2. Obtain the knowledge (knowledge loss risk interview) to gather initial data on what types of knowledge the person has, including relationships with vendors/suppliers/partners
  3. Perform knowledge loss risk assessment
  4. Understand the knowledge transfer process
  5. Execute and share the plan (for plan creation help, go to this blog)
  6. Measure and evaluate the knowledge transferred

Before we launch into the meat of the 6 steps, let’s cover a little more about KM in general and discuss some of the most common reasons for knowledge loss.

Knowledge Management involves more than just information; it is the people, process, culture, and enabling technologies necessary to capture, manage, share and find information. When departing employees leave a company, they also take with them critical knowledge about what and who they know. Is someone critical leaving your organization?

According to research, the average turnover at organizations is 16%, with an average 2-year turnover time, even at companies with great employer branding. This results in a lot of knowledge regularly leaving a company. How would that affect your company’s bottom line?

Some reasons for knowledge loss include:

  • Unexpected departures
  • Position eliminations
  • Job mobility
  • Alternative work arrangements
  • Seasonal/temporary work situations

When employees leave unexpectedly, they’re taking their institutional knowledge with them, making the workforce at least temporarily less efficient, UNLESS the knowledge is properly captured and documented. So it’s important to know about the types of knowledge that exist, if you’re not already aware. Now, it’s time to dive deeper into the 6 steps.

STEP 1. Tacit Knowledge vs. Explicit Knowledge: Setting the Foundation of KM

Explicit knowledge is knowledge that is easily shared and transferred through writing or speaking. It is information that is easily learned from talking to someone, reading a book, or looking something up online.

The explicit knowledge can be easily archived in a system according to a customizable structure. This saves businesses lots of time when onboarding new employees, for instance, which in turn boosts productivity. But most important of all, companies avoid high costs because knowledge transfer (see more on this below) increases the ability to plan strategically, and costly mistakes can often be avoided.

Tacit knowledge, also known as unique, is knowledge that is hard to transfer or pass along through writing or verbalization. It is developed through a person’s experiences, observations, and insights, and it requires shared activities to transfer or communicate that knowledge. If an employee with this type of knowledge leaves unexpectedly, it could very well lead to a crisis.

While both types of knowledge play a role in knowledge transfer, the most important (and most challenging) type to capture is tacit knowledge, because it requires more effort and interaction to acquire. For more information on explicit and tacit knowledge, read this blog.

Now that we’re clear about the types of knowledge, let’s discuss a critical component to the knowledge management process … the knowledge loss risk interview.

STEP 2. Know How to Conduct a Knowledge Loss Risk Interview

When knowledge needs to be captured from a single individual, like in the case of a retirement or job transfer, the knowledge capture interview is very effective. After identifying a job incumbent who may retire or leave the company, it is important to identify the special skills/knowledge that are at risk for loss when that person leaves. This is so that efforts can be made to transfer this knowledge to other incumbents before the knowledge is lost from the company. The data captured through the interview can be turned into documents, checklists, procedures, etc. The benefits of using a knowledge capture interview include:

  • Performing the interview ensures that the knowledge is not lost with the incumbent
  • This captured knowledge is much easier to transfer to future incumbents
  • Information captured from the interview identifies specialized areas of knowledge which become the subject of subsequent interviews with the SME, or leads to additional research/information gathering

You can use a knowledge capture interview form similar to the partial one shown below to capture knowledge from your subject matter expert.

Besides the interview method, here are some other great ways to capture knowledge:

  1. Build a knowledge library through a LMS, blog or online program
  2. Implement an employee training program that records and organizes content via audio memos, videos, etc. in course or webinar format
  3. Create a company-wide mentoring program that connects senior and junior level executives

STEP 3. How to Perform a Knowledge Loss Risk Assessment

A knowledge loss risk assessment is a critical element of knowledge management. It is a process used to determine the potential business impact of the loss of critical knowledge from an organization. The process for attrition (employees who retire, transfer, quit or are fired) -based assessment uses a risk assessment matrix, which focuses on two components:

  • Position risk – based on the unique/critical knowledge and skills possessed by the employee and an estimate of the difficulty or level of effort required to refill the position.
  • Attrition risk – based on the expected retirement or other attrition date of an employee.

Depending on the combination of the two factors listed above, a total knowledge loss risk factor can be derived for each targeted individual in the company. A knowledge loss risk assessment is a helpful starting point for setting priorities where key employees can be targeted for knowledge retrieval or other mitigation actions. See the graphic below, which illustrates the process.

STEP 4. Streamline Your Knowledge with a Solid Knowledge Transfer Process

This step ensures that everyone on your team will have the information they need to keep your business running smoothly. It is a practical method for transitioning knowledge from one part of your business to another (or one person to another). It involves the circulation of information, ideas, tasks, processes, tools, documents, and so much more.

Knowledge transfer is commonly thought of when key members of a team leave, and the organization wants to capture their experience to pass on to incumbents. But there are many other reasons to capture knowledge. Think of onboarding new hires or summer interns who come and go. These instances, too, require knowledge transfer to some degree. How much and what kind of knowledge will depend on the goals of the desired outcome.

Working in tandem with HR on the following company optimization strategies creates an ideal and effective workplace as these key components were rated high in relation to creating a seamless knowledge transfer process:

By taking specific steps in the knowledge transfer process to mitigate the potential for knowledge loss, there is an opportunity to ensure a more seamless transition as workers retire and leave the organization. For example, implementing a mentorship or apprenticeship program would be efficient ways to narrow the knowledge loss gap.

STEP 5. Prepare to Execute the Knowledge Management Plan of Action

Once your full plan is mapped out (read this blog for more on planning), it’s important to communicate timelines, processes, expectations, etc. to all employees so that everyone feels involved and buy-in is secured. This will help ensure short-term goals are met and momentum is gained, which will help maintain the enthusiasm and support of everyone involved.

Implementing a knowledge management program and maturing the overall effectiveness of your organization can require significant effort. The following components will help guide you through the execution phase, which you may want to do in 2 or 3 phases, instead of all at once.

  • Establish clear knowledge management program objectives
  • Assess current state
  • Prepare for change and communicate every step
  • Define a high-level process as a foundation
  • Determine and prioritize technology needs
  • Build an implementation process with input from team members
  • Always re-assess and adjust to industry demands and market needs

STEP 6. Measuring and Analyzing Over Time

It’s important to remember, knowledge management should be an ongoing process, not a one-time task, so be sure to schedule regular intervals to conduct the process – many companies find quarterly is a reasonable timeframe.

Before introducing any metrics system, get clear on the question you want the metrics to answer. Metrics can help answer several questions, such as:

  • Is KM working? If not, what needs to be fixed or adjusted?
  • Is implementation on track, and if not, what needs to be different?
  • Are team members doing what they are supposed to be doing? Who is doing well, who is struggling? Why and what improvements can be made?
  • Are we delivering value? If not, stop, reevaluate and try another method.

Setting up your metrics isn’t a one-size-fits-all process; it needs to be customized to your business and processes. Most metrics will require a baseline to measure against. Make sure you answer these questions with certainty: a.) who needs the metrics? b.) what decisions will be made based on the metrics?

Still not convinced KM is worth your time?

Consider this: the average new hire spends almost 200 hours working inefficiently (asking colleagues for information and waiting for responses, figuring things out through trial and error, and/or “reinventing the wheel” to duplicate the work of the predecessor). These inefficiencies lead to employee frustration, unnecessary delays in work products and services, and an overall loss of productivity that can negatively impact a company’s bottom line.

We hope you can use the information outlined in this blog to avert your current KM crisis and capture all that valuable knowledge before it leaves your organization. Looking ahead, going from crisis to crisis simply isn’t sustainable. So, when you’re ready to build a systemic, culturally embedded system of tacit knowledge capture, storage, and transfer, check out this blog.

Don’t let your company fall into the unprepared group of organizations losing knowledge. It’s time to get to work now to avoid gaps in knowledge. You may be feeling informed and motivated enough to start the process on your own, but if not, we are here for you.

*Source: HR Daily Advisor

If you have questions or would like to speak to one of our KM consultants, visit the link below.

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