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Knowledge retention: What practitioners need to know

Once a strategy is developed, a KR implementation plan and SOP can be created and institutionalized throughout the organization. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA, tva.gov), for example, has been actively engaged in knowledge retention throughout the years and has the following KR process (tva.gov/knowledgeretention/index.html):

  • Assess the risk of losing critical knowledge and skills.
  • Determine an approach to capture critical knowledge.
  • Implement and evaluate actions for managing that risk (documentation, mentoring, training, re-engineering, sharing expertise).

Knowledge retention approaches run the gamut from easy-to-use, low-cost approaches to more sophisticated, pricey techniques. A variety of KR approaches include the following (http://www.ittoday.info/ITPerformanceImprovement/Articles/2010SeptLiebowitz.html):

  • A knowledge map, to be placed on the organization’s intranet for preservation and expansion purposes, can be a useful aid.
  • Continuity books, as used in the military, or job hand-off aids, as used in companies like John Deere, can describe typical job duties, business processes, workflows, points of contacts, etc., to help someone quickly climb the learning curve.
  • Deskside reviews can be used where someone learns by exchanging templates, cheat sheets and other job aids that may be in the desk drawers or on a hard drive, instead of on the organization’s shared drives.
  • Mentoring programs, job shadowing, lunch and learn sessions, organizational narratives/storytelling, knowledge fairs, job rotation, wikis, blogs, expertise locator systems (yellow pages of expertise), videotaped interviews, online searchable multimedia asset management systems, lessons learned systems, do’s and don’ts tutorials (webcasted) and other KR approaches can be applied as appropriate.

Before deciding which knowledge retention technique can best mitigate knowledge loss, the organization should determine what is the critical “at risk” knowledge, based on the future strategic mission of the organization, whether there are backup experts in place, and what is the knowledge attrition profile of the organization.

Litmus test

How do you know if you’re in trouble?

I have developed a KM/KR Quick Litmus Test. Check the ones that apply to your organization:

  • The average age of your employees is fairly senior.
  • You haven’t done a good job of documenting processes and capturing knowledge.
  • Other organizations seem to be ahead of you by being engaged in KM/KR efforts.
  • There doesn’t seem to be a mentoring program to help share and transfer knowledge between the experts and newcomers in the organization.
  • Little funding has been put into employee training and development.
  • One part of the organization doesn’t know what the other parts are doing—even if working in a similar domain.
  • You spend a good part of the day looking for information that has been misplaced.
  • You don’t feel you have the time to chat with your colleagues in the organization in an informal way.
  • Many of your knowledgeable employees are leaving the organization either through early buyouts, better job offers or other reasons.

Organizational learning

If you marked six to nine of those items, you are in great need of knowledge retention and transfer activities. If you checked four or five items, you could take advantage of knowledge retention and transfer techniques. If you marked three or fewer, you still might need a little extra help in the KR area, but perhaps not as much as the others.

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