Three keys to keeping institutional knowledge where it belongs: in-house and in circulation

For a wide variety of businesses, from the family bakery to the booming software company to the multidisciplinary architecture and engineering company, institutional knowledge is their most important asset – and often the most at risk. .

Now, amid a wave of employee attrition so large it’s being called the Great Quit, the pressure to preserve that asset is mounting. What happens to institutional knowledge when one generation of leaders within an organization gives way to the next, or when one company is bought by another? How to ensure an organization has the means to capture, store, and easily access its institutional knowledge, to preserve the legacy of the people who built and nurtured the business, and to protect unique competitive value of this asset in the future?

How a company and its leaders answer these existential questions could well have a massive impact on an organization’s culture and competitiveness in the future. The stakes are higher than one might imagine. A company with 1,000 employees can expect to lose $2.7 million in annual productivity due to inefficiencies caused by knowledge loss, according to research by Panopto (registration required). There are also negative cultural ramifications to consider, as institutional knowledge is key to building cultural continuity within an organization.

Rather than letting tribal knowledge die out forever as executives retire, employees leave, contractors depart, and companies merge, here are three tips for keeping it in-house, at your fingertips, and in play.

1. Prioritize knowledge and people

Where, and with whom, does knowledge reside within your organization? How important is this knowledge to the present and future of your business? Who in your organization has the most valuable institutional knowledge? What knowledge is siled and how can it be freed up to be easily shared? This is where you take stock of each level of your organization, from top to bottom, to identify and assess the knowledge your people and systems possess, a process called a “knowledge audit” or “knowledge mapping”. . Once you have the results in front of you, you can prioritize the insights you want to capture.

2. Embrace and encourage

After identifying and prioritizing the knowledge you want to capture, it’s time to develop a coordinated strategy for how your organization will go about capturing it. It usually involves a combination of digital tools and other practices.

On the technology side, investing in an integrated digital foundation (an enterprise resource planning system, for example, or a customer relationship management solution) for your business is fundamental to knowledge transfer and preservation of the inheritance. Having this foundation in place allows an organization to free up siled data so it can flow freely within and between teams, from the C suite down.

Decades of at-risk institutional knowledge could well be trapped in the disparate systems and manual processes that a business can rely on. By providing tools to capture and share information, ideas, and experiences from past projects, technology helps connect the dots between a company’s past, present, and future. Replacing siled and disparate systems with an integrated digital ecosystem allows a company to establish channels and mechanisms that encourage the capture and sharing of institutional knowledge. Ultimately, this knowledge fuels an easily accessible and constantly growing library.

In my experience, if you provide people with easy-to-use digital knowledge capture tools that meet them at key times in their work, they will use it. Just be sure to educate your staff on why they’re used, train them on how they’re used, create metrics and incentives around knowledge sharing practices, and then keep an eye out to make sure that people use them consistently.

Since a wealth of critical knowledge also likely resides in the brains of people within your organization, be sure to establish additional channels for knowledge transfer – things like lunch and learn where opportunities. higher-level staff can mingle with younger workers, mentoring programs, etc. Also, start diligently (and digitally) documenting and recording practices, processes, workflows, business relationship information, and any critical information you see fit to preserve and share.

3. Establish a formal transition plan

I am always struck when I come across a company without a real plan to institutionalize and perpetuate the knowledge, values, business processes and relationships that made them successful in the first place. The less a company’s management leaves to chance these critical elements of competitive advantage and corporate identity when considering a change of custody (through a transfer of management, merger , sale, etc.), the more likely it is that the important institutional knowledge, business relationships and organizational values ​​they have worked so hard to build will be passed on to the next generation of leaders when change occurs. will produce. In addition to all the legal and financial details of such a change, a succession plan should also detail the processes, technology, channels and practices for preserving institutional “memory”.

Institutional knowledge is one of a company’s most important competitive assets. Each of these approaches is designed to foster and reinforce a culture of knowledge sharing that can thrive even in the midst of leadership changes, staff turnover, or a merger or acquisition – preserving this critical asset so that it can empower employees and strengthen the link between a company’s past, present and future success.

Donald E. Patel