Don’t Lose the Know-How That’s Going Out the Door

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May 8, 2019

They say that knowledge is power, and in a business context, it is undeniably the case that information is an invaluable asset. The challenge all organizations face is not just how to generate relevant knowledge, but how to retain it and harness it over time.

Spurred by the rapidity of the generational change in the workforce, organizations are just now awakening to the importance of preserving and sharing institutional knowledge. With few exceptions, however, responsibility for knowledge management is informal and unstructured. This is where HR managers can play a key role in facilitating the sharing of knowledge as well as its accumulation and retention.

From an HR perspective, the two most important aspects are the sharing and retention of the knowledge that springs forth from an organization’s operations.

You might think HR managers will play a purely administrative role here, but with closer examination, it’s clear HR can make a big difference not only in how knowledge is handled, but how it is applied day-to-day. This is partly possible because they sit outside the departmental structures to which accumulated knowledge applies, yet hold responsibility for this information’s accruement and can take steps to prevent it evaporating unexpectedly.

There are lots of reasons why knowledge might be lost. Whether it is simply not recorded in the first place, or is tied to a specific individual and subsequently becomes inaccessible once they leave the organization, information can be hemorrhaged with worrying ease.

Knowledge base

HR managers need to be proactive to prevent this, and luckily there are several solutions to consider.

Collating the collective knowledge of a business so it is accessible to employees in the future is most easily achieved using a knowledge base. Modern platforms of this kind can be cloud based for complete scalability and accessibility, allowing for critical data to be curated centrally and easily expanded over time.

Getting them to share

But what if the knowledge in question exists only in the head of a specific team member? Managers might have a tough time coaxing individuals to convert their expertise into hard copy that can be shared with others after they resign or retire. Clearly, in this instance, a different approach is required.

The first option is to incentivize knowledge sharing rather than assume it will be given freely only to find out that this is not the case when it’s too late. Laying out reward structures that motivate employees to share the skills and information they have acquired on the job can be effective. People will be more likely to share if they feel they are being adequately compensated for their efforts.

The second option, which comes into play if the knowledge is incredibly specific and difficult to translate outside of a purely practical setting, is to let skilled staff impart their wisdom directly to other team members. This experiential sharing of knowledge is essentially learning on the job, so establishing a program of mentoring will prove a powerful tool for HR managers who do not want to lose knowledge when people move on.

If such a direct tactic does not seem like it would work in the context of your organization, job shadowing which requires less direct stewardship from the senior employee can be a suitable stand-in that delivers similar results. This may also apply when working with freelancers, as collaborations and interactions with permanent team members can be constructive as well as rewarding.

Irrespective of which strategy you adopt, or whether you choose to use as many as possible depending on the circumstances, the knowledge processes you put in place need to be effective in the short term and resilient in the long term.

Assessing learning

Another aspect of an HR manager’s role in knowledge sharing and retention comes down to determining the value of different learning experiences and assessing whether or not they are beneficial or harmful to the organization as a result.

This is ultimately a question of interpretation; when a team member or department enjoys success, did they achieve this because of the practices that were enforced, or were they able to succeed in spite of the limitations of the routines that are in place?

The same applies to failures, which may seem like a suitable learning experience, but can cause even greater issues if the reasons for them are incorrectly assumed to be related to routines, not other factors. The biggest businesses on the planet put scrutinizing failures, and even actively pursuing them to fuel innovation, above focusing on successes. Nurturing knowledge processes and leveraging them in the right ways works wonders here.

HR managers need to ensure that the correct resources are at the disposal of employees and that a data-driven approach to assessment is used, making it simpler to pinpoint and rectify problems whilst avoiding assumptions being made about structural issues. Simply knowing that this is the case should be enough to empower you to act more effectively and make positive changes to knowledge processes that benefit your business.