Thursday, October 12, 2006

Looking ahead? We don't need no stinkin' looking ahead! (yes we do)

Getting back to the old blogosphere hasn’t been easy, as I’ve been on the road for the past 3 weeks and trying to come up with pithy things to write about just hasn’t been on my list of priorities. Even this week when I thought I’d be home the entire week—I find myself going nearly cross country twice, from home to Calgary, and then Calgary to Virginia Beach, before going home again. So unfortunately, while this still isn’t pithy, it is timely as I just conducted a webinar with my colleague and knowledge management SME Darcy Lemons.

The topic was all about knowledge retention and how to get that knowledge to the right people even after the knowledge providers have “left the building.” Although there are many considerations, such as transfers, layoffs, voluntary quits, temporary leaves, and so forth, the loss of knowledge by an organization due to retirements is the one that I most closely associate with. I guess realizing that my professional career goes way back to the disco era of 1974 makes that a stark and startling reality for me. No organization I’ve ever worked for in the past had or has (to my knowledge) any type of robust, knowledge retention strategy.

About the only thing left of the outgoing person’s legacy is the now up-for-grabs cubicle and the hoarded napkins, paper clips, markers and pens, and spare change collected over many years left in the departed’s desk drawers. So Darcy and I talked about the bleak statistics compiled that predict how we won’t be able to replace the outgoing knowledge (people leaving) with sufficient numbers of incoming knowledge (people being hired) even on just a body count basis. That is, we can’t expect to be able to replace people one-for-one, and the idea of being able to directly replace their knowledge and experience (developed over the years) is laughable.


Anonymous said...

So....are you saying that it is laughable to try? Or are you saying the task is so daunting it is laughable?

Anonymous said...

Jim.. I don't know if the "idea of being able to directly replace their knowledge and experience (developed over the years)" is laughable, but it sure is worth a chuckle - at least the "directly replaceable" part. Since everyone is unique in their biases, experiences, mental models, perceptions etc. direct replaceability is not possible - as I heard Hubert Saint-Onge say once, "it's not like you can open cranium, insert knowledge, close cranium, job done."

The more I think about the knowledge retention challenge, the more I think that optimizing "one-to-many" knowledge diffusion through exchange, and making explicit the network “many” to the new employee, is likely the best strategy. Information capture / access is important as a cue to where knowledge holders are, and the starting point for productive conversations, but spending some time to optimize how people in organizations exchange what they know will have huge benefits, though perhaps difficult to quantify using traditional ROI measures.

So, what does optimize mean? Make facilitation a recognized, supported core competency across the organization; assess where highly important knowledge exchanges take place in the context of core business processes; examine the group processes and environments in those exchanges; make visible and prioritize any issues and opportunities, including any needs to create new exchange opportunities; continuously evolve and improve collaboratively with participants using effective feedback.