Take strategic steps to counter knowledge loss and engage employees.
Talent development managers are currently facing a significant loss of organizational knowledge due to the great resignation and seismic shift to distributed workforces. In many companies, the lack of senior management attention and funding for knowledge management initiatives has resulted in growing knowledge gaps.
What worked before in terms of employee engagement is falling short as pandemic-related fatigue continues to hamper efforts. Any increase in organic knowledge sharing between employees that was prevalent at the start of the pandemic, when there seemed to be no shortage of employees willing to help each other, has subsided.
Despite these challenges, it is not too late to act to retain knowledge and meaningfully engage the workforce.
With the activation of technology, most organizations are capturing large amounts of explicit knowledge and empowering employees to do the same. From a knowledge preservation perspective, there is no shortage of content available at all times through a company’s intranet portal or in an employee’s cloud storage drive.
The irony is that knowledge is often there, but employees can’t find it. This contributes to the loss of organizational knowledge.
How many of us have searched their employer’s intranet only to receive hundreds of results on our search term, leaving us to sift through documentation trying to find the answer to our question? The knowledge is there somewhere in the quagmire but is difficult and takes too long to access.
Because of this difficulty, employees are beginning to create their own processes and procedures that diverge from established ones. This dilutes established processes and procedures over time to the point that no one actively remembers the original methods and knowledge is lost. All efforts to preserve knowledge now work against the company.
So is the Great Resignation. Workers literally leave the door with tacit knowledge, that is, the skills, insights, and experiences they have that they cannot easily articulate or document. This is the factor that contributes the most to the loss of organizational knowledge.
This type of know-how is the most difficult to replicate or replace. This is why existing employees find it difficult to quickly or easily move into another role. This is why new employees need time to become competent. This intimate understanding of how to play a role through practice, experience, ritual and response is difficult to maintain.
Work to preserve knowledge by supporting organizational knowledge management plans, hiring knowledge and content proficient professionals, rethinking role descriptions, and reimagining how the company approaches employee exit interviews .
Without an organization-wide knowledge management plan addressing people, process, technology, content, and culture, many efforts to retain knowledge will be hampered. If the opportunity arises, support broad knowledge management initiatives.
This support does not have to be financial in nature; however, many knowledge management initiatives are underfunded or funded for limited periods of time. Managing an organization’s knowledge, both explicit and tacit, is an ongoing effort that never stops and requires ongoing funding to be successful.
Funding cannot apply to technology alone. People, like in a dedicated knowledge management team, are needed to socialize, operationalize, and routinize the plan.
Regardless of whether funding is available or not, a demonstration of support at the executive and management level is imperative. Many knowledge management initiatives die without active evangelism and C-suite support.
Specifically, take the following actions in each of the five areas.
Plan and fund resources dedicated to knowledge management. Justify funding through improved overall organizational decision-making and faster access to information.
While the value of knowledge management can be notoriously difficult to measure, start with a small pilot around search term refinement and feedback that demonstrates faster access to information. Faster access to correct, up-to-date and relevant information helps employees make the right decisions.
If funding is not available, consider redistributing talent development resources to support knowledge management initiatives that other areas of the business have taken. Beware of making resources overlap two roles: TD and knowledge management. Allow them to really focus on the knowledge management role and initiative.
When hiring TD staff, look for people with skills and backgrounds in knowledge management, content management, and technical writing. They often have L&D experience in addition to technical communication experience. Even if they are hired in other roles, when knowledge management initiatives emerge, they are the people who can propel knowledge management efforts within the organization.
Rethink role descriptions. Understand that employees may have roles that have been combined due to the pandemic and the Great Resignation.
It may be time to do a review of roles by employee group to really understand the work that individuals do. This review process can also identify gaps in knowledge.
And reinvent the employee exit interview. This is often your last chance to capture tacit knowledge. Think of it more as an interview with a subject matter expert. Build knowledge management questions into the conversation.
For example, “Is there anything you do today in your role that isn’t documented or captured somewhere?” Employees may not choose to answer this type of question, but it is a small step in trying to fill knowledge gaps and prevent knowledge loss.
Make sure the company has a defined process for capturing knowledge. Start now to identify knowledge gaps. Have teams review standard operating procedures to identify and address gaps.
Similarly, ask the teams to ask their SME about what they do every day. Ask them what they know that isn’t documented or written that might be helpful to others. Interviews are an effective way to capture tacit knowledge.
Understand that this does not have to be an exhaustive detail of every process. If the result is that you close some knowledge gap before other people leave or change roles, then consider that a success.
Next, dust off the succession plan. Help teams understand the succession planning process and validate their plans.
Also, assess the flight risk of employees who have recently changed their lives; promotion and compensation issues; or the escalation of negative attitudes toward the job, role, or organization. Prioritize knowledge capture processes for these people.
Tools like file storage and content repositories, instant messaging, virtual meetings, email, and intranet portals are wonderful knowledge management tools, but they are just that.
Overreliance on technology to solve knowledge management problems is an ongoing problem. Be judicious in solving the loss of organizational knowledge with additional technology.
For example, adding knowledge management or content management software won’t solve organizational problems if you don’t have knowledge and content management people who will manage interactions with employees or clients.
If technology seems like the solution, make sure to stay focused on employees and how they will be affected. Advocate for better search functionality and metadata so that searches return more meaningful content.
Speaking of content, it’s not static. It must be managed.
For example, archiving outdated content contributes to better search results. This is where a dedicated knowledge management team can make a difference.
Consider the content offered by the TD team. Does the team organize the content? Even if there is no organization-wide knowledge management plan, the TD function can work to manage its content and output to employees.
Champion knowledge management initiatives. Until capturing, sharing, transferring and archiving knowledge becomes part of the corporate culture, the company will continue to lose knowledge.
Mobilize your employees
While not new concepts, asynchronous videos, virtual office hours, and 30×30 meetings are all options you can use to engage staff and mitigate knowledge loss.
Asynchronous Videos have proven to be an effective way for leaders to communicate with the workforce. The messages and their length vary depending on what knowledge leaders need to share.
Videos are usually posted on the organization’s intranet or shared via email and a link. While views may not total 100% of employees, asynchronous videos provide a respite from meeting fatigue because employees can consume the content outside of a formal meeting.
Consider the context of the message, however, before choosing this medium. Such videos are effective for shorter communications with a positive or neutral tone, but they are not ideal for communicating bad news.
Virtual office hours where team members can go informally has accelerated over the past two years. More and more leaders are setting aside an hour a week on their calendars for their team to eventually attend.
It’s up to team members to stop to talk, get feedback, or share an issue. As with asynchronous videos, not all employees will take advantage of this opportunity.
30×30 appointment allow leaders to provide more formal feedback on performance and goal progress. Schedule them every 30 days for 30 minutes.
Conversations are known to foster knowledge sharing and strengthen relationships. Use this type of meeting format beyond your employees as well. Connect with other leaders in the organization to expand knowledge sharing.
Whichever strategy you choose, act now to stem the loss of organizational knowledge and champion knowledge management.
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