With all the emphasis on big data these days, employers should not lose sight of what could be called ‘big knowledge.’ That is, within the brain of every good, experienced employee lies a wealth of know-how and insights that could vanish in an instant if that person walks out the door for good.
The formal process of identifying, recording, and managing an organization’s mission-critical knowledge is known as knowledge management. Employers can use it in a variety of ways. One that is worth exploring is preserving employees’ knowledge now to reduce the ill effects of turnover later.
Break it down
In following this concept, you will need to break down your organization’s knowledge into two categories:
- Explicit knowledge, which exists in tangible sources such as books, procedural manuals, and databases
- Tacit knowledge, which exists only in your employees’ minds
Obviously, gathering and organizing explicit knowledge is markedly easier than collecting and sorting out tacit knowledge. You can examine, update, and arrange hard copy and digital files in whatever manner works best, but harnessing your employees’ knowledge will take some extra effort and creative thinking.
You could simply mandate employees to document their tacit knowledge into more manageable resources — such as databases that hold work duties, procedures, and contacts. However, employees may respond negatively to having to write down every little detail of what they do. They may feel like they are being investigated or given busywork.
A gentler, more inclusive approach may be to first get employees to buy in to your knowledge management efforts. Introduce the concept to them and explain its benefits. Then, you could have supervisors conduct collaborative interviews with key staff members to discuss current procedures and discuss improvements. These interviews also could identify discrepancies between written procedures and what actually occurs.
Also, if you are not already doing so, consider using (or expanding your use of) an intranet — a self-contained, Internet-like private computer network. An intranet can preserve threaded employee discussions and collaborative documents as they are generated. You can then review these communications for best practices and improvement ideas.
After you have organized your company’s explicit and tacit information, categorize it by accessibility and frequency of use. Then, if employees leave, you can quickly and easily summarize and disseminate their knowledge.
Keep it in-house
Although you cannot always prevent turnover, you can guard against its downsides. Knowledge management can not only keep important information in-house but also enable you to better train new hires. To discuss the concept further, please contact us.