Sunday, October 01, 2006

Keeping the knowledge you've got---from leaving....

You know you’re getting old when....

Although I’ve only been here at APQC for a few years, my professional life has spanned over 30. While that’s pretty hard for me to imagine, unfortunately the truth is that it is the truth. Starting during the height of the disco era is almost as embarrassing as admitting that I liked disco. Three decades and six employers later, I’ve been lucky enough to pick up quite a few tips and experience from every place I’ve been.

So when I was asked to do a webinar on the difficulties organizations have keeping their intellectual capital due to attrition—layoffs, voluntary quits, and especially retirements—I had to admit that why I was asked was because I was part of that demographic. I think I’ve got a few more good years left in me, but even if that’s the case, how does APQC plan to take advantage of the collected knowledge I’ve gained, both now and particularly when I’m ready to head out the door for the last time?

How does any company anticipate those needs? Or do they even recognize the problem before it’s too late? Do all companies plan for a retiree’s replacement only after they’re gone? And even if they know the time is near and post for a new hire, what about the loss of knowledge that leaves with the outgoing employee? You can’t simply replace that knowledge with a new body—or even two, or three. The point is, replacing the people isn’t the same as replacing their tacit knowledge and technical experience.

The problem is worse yet when a company initiates a reduction in force. There, the planning horizon is probably a lot shorter, and the ability to capture and retain the knowledge of those being laid off is limited at best. Having been laid off twice in my own career, I know that those organizations simply wanted me out as soon as possible so as not to create a disruption among those who remained. What they also didn’t get was any benefit of my knowledge—learned at their expense. My next employers were the beneficiaries of that.

Come to think of it, I was also a voluntary quit twice as well. In those cases, the companies I left were lucky to get two weeks worth of knowledge—or at least what knowledge I was willing to leave behind. Here again, on balance, I left with much more than I came in with.

So how does any organization plan for the loss of its knowledge? Some knowledge will always be lost to be sure, but how do smart organizations keep as much of it as possible? What’s their strategy? APQC will be looking at this problem over the next few months in a collaborative learning study titled, "Knowledge Retention & Transfer." They wanted me to start thinking about it now I suppose because they wanted me to be a part of the solution—and not the problem.


Anonymous said...

I think the solution on both a personal and enterprise level is doing whatever it takes to increase ongoing knowledge capture. Knowledge capture, for me, means keeping an ongoing list of information that is accurate and important in the present, or may be important in the future.

I use OneNote from MS to assist me in doing this for my personal life and for my business.

I have a folder for my personal life and a folder for my professional life.

My personal life folder has a section named OTHER BRAIN. In OTHER BRAIN, there are a number of pages.

When I experience something I think may benefit me in the future, or when I come across information I think may benefit me in the future, I note it on a page in OTHER BRAIN.

The beauty of OneNote is it's free-form, and actually "fun" to use.

When I have a question I can't answer with my brain, I search OneNote. I'm hoping that the answer is in my OTHER BRAIN, or someplace else in OneNote.

If can't find the answer in the captured knowledge of my brain or my OTHER BRAIN, I can, of course, use Google to search the captured knowledge of the other brains on Earth. The problem with an "other brains on Earth" Google search is I don't know the accuracy of information, as I do for my captured knowledge. OneNote can store a Google link, or even a pertinent web page

I know when I search OneNote, I'm searching for information that has either helped me in the past, or was listed by ME to help me in the future.

I don't understand why large enterprises don't require their employees to use OneNote on an individual and enterprise level, on an ongoing basis, with incentives, to capture knowledge that is important in the present, for the enterprise, or may be important in the future.

I think knowledge capture is essential. OneNote expedites knowledge capture, and future searches of that captured knowledge.

Why? OneNote is actually "fun" to use. may not be the appropriate word. How about OneNote has pretty colors, and it's not stodgy. The key is...I use it.

Dr. Dan said...


A good knowledge management issue to discuss as it is one that more and more organizations are facing every single day.

My experience as someone who's been doing consulting for a long time as well as knowledge management consulting, is that the best bet that the organization has at trying to capture and retain some of that knowledge is if they have a long term program in place to do so. My favorite is something as easy as having a mentoring program, to facilitate knowledge transfer both up and down the food chain.

FYI...I have a couple of blogs on this topic myself ongoing at:

Dr. Dan Kirsch
KMPro COO & Board Member

Ajit Chouhan said...

Have given my 2 cents on my blog.



Mark T said...

I can't remember where I read this recently (amusing given this posting is about knowledge attrition and loss) - I think it may have been from Knowledge @ Wharton, but there can be a positive benefit to an employee leaving one organisation for another. Where a prior employee retains social ties with the earlier company, an exchange of ideas from the new company to the old company can take place. Think about the number of times you have telephoned a friend you used to work with to ask him or her a question related to their knowledge of their current workplace. It's not necessarily all bad news...

Jim Lee, PMP said...

Thanks for your observations "urban." I’m also familiar with OneNote as it came with my Tablet PC. Interestingly however, while I started to look at its use—and I did find the concept very useful—I’ve never invested in it for some reason. I don’t know why. For me, it should have even more applicability, since I use the handwritten notes capability of my PC all the time (the key reason I chose a tablet over conventional PCs), and the ability to categorize and store that kind of freeform information would really be highlighted by OneNote.

So you’ve found it easy to use—and you use it. That truly seems like the critical success factor for knowledge retention and retrieval. So why have I resisted? I like easy. In fact, I’m always amused by the office supply store that advertises an “easy button” and the fact that they sell one (non-functional, I presume). Expanding ease of storage and ease of reuse by others would seem to be a “no-brainer.” Obviously however, OneNote is an app, and a “pay for” one at that.

I wonder if an organization can emulate that type of feel through blogs however? Would your “other brain” idea work in that environment? As anyone who reads this blog knows, I’m never going to make any list of top blogs based upon readership, and a key reason is that I don’t blog enough. There just isn’t anything to read here on a regular basis. But, if I decided to create my own “other brain” via this blog, would that change anything? Would readership go up? And even if so, would anyone care?

I still think that blogs, wikis, and other social networking devices will become de rigueur for enterprise knowledge sharing in the future, but I just don’t know how to take myself from the past century of communicating into the future.

Jim Lee, PMP said...

Thanks for your feedback Dr. Dan. I’ve thought for sometime as well that mentoring is a good way to provide tacit-to-tacit knowledge transfer. It’s even been noted in a famous Harvard Business Review article of a few years back titled, “The Corporate Brain.” What I found interesting there was the application of knowledge transfer strategies across the continuum from mentoring to self-service document repositories. At the time, I was with Ernst & Young Consulting in their knowledge management practice, and for an organization of 85,000 people (at that time) creating repositories definitely seemed like the way to go.

On the other hand, McKinsey chose the one-to-one approach, which obviously has its advantages too. However, uniform transfer of knowledge through mentoring probably is a weak point to it. That is, the quality and quantity of knowledge transfer in that situation I would think would be highly partner dependent. Experience, vision, biases might all color what knowledge is transferred.

I’m sure you’d agree that mentoring is just one of the ways to implement a holistic knowledge retention and transfer strategy. I’m curious of what it would take to make mentoring more consistent and widely available. Maybe Star Trek fans already know—maybe it’s The Borg.

Jim Lee, PMP said...

Mark, what you described has thankfully happened to me many times. I make it a point to stay in touch with former colleagues “just because” because I don’t know when I might want to check with them on something of importance. But the impression I get from that kind of activity is the benefit is primarily to an individual, not the organization. It’s the definition of networking. How would an organization take advantage of those continued connections? Can they? Should they?

For example, one of the reasons I’ve heard that companies should employ enterprise contact management software is to retain those connections. Principally used in sales I guess (I’m anything but a salesperson), such software allows not only a running history of contacts, outcomes, and so on, they would stay with the organization even when a person moves on. That makes sense to me, since presumably the contacts and relationships belong to the organization and not the individual.

But here, I’m caught in a dilemma—I use contact management software myself—for all my relationships, both professional and personal. One big ‘ol place for everything, since I’m not about to drag around two laptops everywhere I go, one for work and one for myself. So I’m stuck using the contact manager application I’ve been using for the last 12 years and 5 employers. Stuff goes in there and I use it to advantage of my current employer, but I do take it with me when I leave.

Even though some of my past (and present) employers do have enterprise contact management software, getting me to use it hasn’t been easy. Dual entries? Double the work? Does everything really need to be in both? There’s just not enough WIIFM to get me to “play nice” with the enterprise application. Any other thoughts on real, ‘works for me’ knowledge retention strategies are definitely welcome.

Anonymous said...

"There’s just not enough WIIFM to get me to “play nice” with the enterprise application."

Herein lies the problem. Most enterprise knowledge capture applications, whatever they are, provide little benefit to the employee. Essitially, they have to stop getting their job done to feed the monster.

What's needed are organization-wide implementations of applications that capture the processes, procedures and do so without interfereing with the normal course of work.

There are plenty of applications that do this, but organizations hesitate to implement them, as there is an upfront cost. Funny thing is, that the cost of these products pales greatly in comparison to calling in the exited employee as a consultant after the fact.

Until organizations realize that capturing their intellectual property during the normal course of business is FAR less expensive than trying to get it back after the fact, massive amounts of IP will continue to dissapear in to the ether... or worse, go to a competitor.

Unknown said...

Jim, I have written a blog and paper on the subject and address that cheap communication and generic collaboration/wiki tools are a potential source of brain-drain for organizations. Let me know what you think.



And here too