May 26, 2014

Knowledge Loss Due To Internal Promotion

I would like to share with you a case study about knowledge loss due to an internal promotion. 

The background to this case study is very simple and I am sure something that you will recognise, either because you have been the manager of such a person, you have been in the same department or perhaps you have been that person.

We will call the person ‘Pat’.

Pat was very well liked and very, very good at his job.  Each year he received excellent ratings in his staff evaluation and eventually his line manager and HR decided it was time for Pat to be promoted.  Everyone was very please for Pat, people thought he deserved the promotion and everyone was excited about Pat moving into his new role.

And so the day duly came and Pat moved into his new role.  At lunchtime his former colleges were eager to hear how he was getting on; what were the new people like; did he miss them; was the job more challenging than he expected; what was it like working in the new department?

On his second day in his new job the telephone rang and the caller asked for Pat’s advice, advice that he has so routinely given in the past.  While he was very busy trying to come to terms with his new role, Pat was happy to oblige and did what he could over the telephone.

One the third day Pat got a further four calls from his former colleagues and while each time he tried to be of assistance, on each occasion he took less and less time to provide the advice.

By the fourth day, Pat was always ‘too busy’ to give advice to former colleagues but always promised to “call them back as soon as he was finished his meeting”, he never did.  He was now focused on delighting his new boss and working towards another excellent in his annual staff evaluation.  His knowledge was no longer available to his former colleagues, but that wasn’t his problem.  Pat was now focused on his new role.

Not long afterwards his former manager realised they had a significant and growing problem.  Pat had always been available and willing to share his knowledge with his colleagues but as they now realised, Pat’s knowledge was in his head, and the head was no longer available to them!  If only they had documented what Pat did and how he did it!

When Pat’s new manager heard of their plight he was very sympathetic and agreed to loan them Pat for a day or so, provided it was a onetime event.  They were to assume that after this loan period that Pat had effectively ‘left the company’ and that his knowledge could no longer be accessed by contacting him.

A knowledge handover interview was arranged which I conducted, and for two days Pat explained not only what he did but why he did it that way.  The context behind the ‘how-to’ was provided together with worked examples.  Pat even created a timeline showing the sequence in which things had to done and a list of his external contacts.  All of the material was compiled into a knowledge asset that was then made available to his former colleagues, a sort of ‘Pat in a box’.

Everyone was happy; the former colleagues had access to Pat’s knowledge in the form of the knowledge asset; Pat’s new manager was happy because Pat could now give his undivided attention to his new role and Pat was happy because he could get on with the challenge of understanding and delivering in his new role.

The need to identify and document critical knowledge was highlighted within that client by the situation Pat found himself in.  Everyone had assumed that because Pat was transferring within the company that his knowledge would continue to be available, an assumption that was very quickly proven to be wrong.

You may wish to avoid the assumption that if someone moves department that their knowledge will continue to be available to the organisation by identifying the critical knowledge that the department needs in order to continue to function efficiently and effectively and put a process in place to capture that knowledge before it becomes unavailable to you.

You may find the following checklist useful;

·        Do you know the knowledge that is critical to the efficient and effective operation of the department?

·        Have you a process in place to document and manager that critical knowledge?  If not, put something in place now.

·        Are you at risk of someone leaving the department due to promotion, who is a provider of any of that critical knowledge, if so design and implement knowledge handover interviews?

·        Update the documented material with the new material.

May 22, 2014

Knowledge Capture

When considering knowledge capture from an expert (a retiring person is a sub set of this) you might wish to put the following three steps in place before moving forward

·        The expert is made accountable for the knowledge that they possess

·        The expert is provided with someone to assist them to record their knowledge

·        Internal staff are training in knowledge capture to assist the expert

If you make the expert accountable for their knowledge you should ensure that they understand that they are being made accountable for the content quality as well as its availability.  Availability is important as the expert might produce the best quality content in the world but if the people who need to use it can’t access it, then it fails in its objective.

The expert has become ‘expert’ because they are very good at something.  It might be something in engineering, marketing, maintenance, HR, legal, procurement, it doesn’t really matter, what matters is that they have become very good at that activity but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are very good at capturing what they do and why they do it that way.  You may wish to consider providing them with a ‘shadow’ who observes and records what they do and perhaps more importantly for the people who will use this knowledge in future, why they did it that way (the context).

This later point is a great opportunity for you to develop internal capability in your own organisation by training a group of staff in the skills of observation and recording, they become the ‘knowledge capture experts’ who work with experts to capture and record their knowledge for use by others.

May 21, 2014

Lots Of Time For The Transfer

In a previous blog we looked at how knowledge can be transferred from staff who are about to retire and how the length of time that you have before they leave plays a vital part in deciding the approach to take.  In that blog entry we looked at the situation where the time was short, in this entry we will look at what might be done when you have a considerable period of time before they leave.

Again you can split the ‘problem’ into two components;

·        Lots of knowledge to be transferred but you have lots of time in which to do it

·        A small amount of knowledge to be transferred and plenty of time in which to do it

The first point above is the more difficult of the two in that while you a significant amount of time before the person leaves the company, the amount of knowledge that you wish to transfer from them is significant.  In situations like this it is advisable to use a combination of methods to transfer the knowledge.  You might consider one on one interviews; audience with the expert; on the job shadowing; coaching; delivering training courses etc.

The second of these two is the easiest; you have lots of time available to you and you only need to transfer a small amount of knowledge; life couldn’t be easier.  Time to focus on all the other things you have on your ‘to do’ list.  Wrong, this is not the time to become complacent.  In addition to transferring the knowledge it is worthwhile considering putting in place CoP’s to keep the knowledge current.  You might also take the opportunity to review training materials and update if required.  The introduction of coaching to support the staff implement their newly acquired knowledge is also a useful thing to consider.

Again, take the chance to ask if you really need to continue to do the task or process that this knowledge is being used for.  I find when I work with clients that there is a tendency to continually ‘add things’ without stopping to reflect on what can be removed or reduced.  We live in a rapidly changing world, sometimes the knowledge that was vital and so valuable a few years just isn’t necessary any more.





May 19, 2014

Taking The Knowledge With Them

In many organisations, much of the key knowledge is in the heads of a few key individuals.  These are often the older individuals, approaching retirement age so what do you do when they leave, taking that knowledge with them?  This is the challenge facing more and more companies.

This challenge has a commercial cost, for example, after a maintenance technician retired from a plant producing soybean oil, large batches of oil suddenly started to go bad during production. It took the company two years to rediscover the simple trick that this retired technician knew made the difference. Losing this veteran employee’s knowledge cost the company millions of dollars in lost product and sales revenues.  The risk profile in each company will be different but it can still amount to a significant sum of money.

So what can be done about it?

The key question is – how long do you have?

If you have more than a year until they retire, get proactive, start planning your activities right now, start to put things in place before the situation gets urgent. 
If you only have a few months then you need to get reactive right now.

If the situation can be summarised as; too much knowledge, too little time – then the focus should be on identifying the priority knowledge to be transferred and retained.  Interviews and debriefs are excellent tools in this situation. 

If however the situation can be summarised as; little knowledge, little time – then your strategy should be to prioritise on content and method.

One other thing to consider is; can we eliminate this task or process?  Perhaps there is a new technology or piece of equipment that could be used that would require less knowledge than is currently required.  Perhaps you don’t need to do that activity in future at all, perhaps it is no longer required but just done because we have always done it that way.  Eliminating the task or process will remove the need (and urgency) to retain the knowledge of the person retiring.





May 14, 2014

I Want To Be You

I want to be you.

This may seem like a rather strange statement but it is as a result of thinking about a speech I am going to be giving at a forthcoming conference.  The topic of the paper (check on the Knoco web site for copy) and speech is, “Innovations In Lessons Management” and I was wondering what I could say during the conference that would be of most benefit to ‘you’ the audience at the conference and ‘you’ the reader of this blog.  What would be the most valuable thing for you to take away from the conference or reading the paper?

I could tell you about the innovations and who was doing what but while that might be of interest would it really be valuable to you?  Probably what would be of more value would be an understanding of why they were doing what they were doing and then you could decide within the context of your organisation whether it would be applicable to you or not.  So here goes;

The leaders in the field of lessons management use lessons management systems rather than databases


A lessons management system takes the experience (the lesson) and then enquires as to what the organisation should do to embed that learning for the future


It does this by identifying actions that would embed the learning from the lesson into the organisation


It then assigns each action to a person or job title and tracks each action until it is closed out eg completed


By assigning each action to a person or job title, senior management or functional leaders as part of the governance process can monitor to ensure that each action is implemented and eventually closed out


Governance is necessary to verify that what was supposed to happen, actually happens and in within the expected timeframe


Leaders in the field of lessons management systems include the military, big oil and emergency services


They know that the value lost by not learning from lessons is huge including the potential loss of life


The military have an extra governance step which is to convene a board of senior managers every six months to review actions that have been recorded in the lessons management system as closed out, to verify that the action has been closed out and that the learning is now embedded in the organisation.  If they are not satisfied that it can be proven that the learning is now embedded in the organisation, the actions is re-opened and reworked.



May 7, 2014

Who Needs Social Networks?

I was having coffee with someone that I have known for many years. As the conversation progressed we drifted onto the topic of social networks, who want them, who needs them and what they use them for.

The person that I was meeting with suggested that older workers already have their networks established so they don't need social networking technology to either create or keep in touch with their network. By default, it was suggested that social networking technology was only required by younger or new workers who didn't already have a social network within the organisation.

They went onto to describe how they didn't subscribe to social networks and if asked about their lack of involvement in them always replied, "I use the telephone."  Now I happen to believe that the audio component of the telephone is in danger of becoming an under used means of communication and collaboration.  Texting or tweeting seems to be becoming the norm.

As you read this blog entry consider the following;
  1. how many hours have you spent this week on social networks?
  2. of that total what percentage were 'social' and what were 'business'?
  3. what would be the impact on your life if the batteries went flat or you lost the network connection for an extended period of time?
I don't have any answer for you but it might be an interesting exercise to see how much time you are investing in social networks and what the return is.

May 5, 2014

What’s The Best Mistake You’ve Made?

“What’s the best mistake you’ve made?”

I had just switched the radio on so didn’t understand the context of the question but nevertheless the question got me thinking.  What was the best mistake that I have made?

Mistakes are a necessary part of the learning cycle and while I agree we don’t want to repeat mistakes, making that first mistake is an integral part of learning and innovation.

So why don’t you pour a cup of tea or coffee and reflect on what might be the best mistake you have made.  Once you have done that you might want to reflect on how you would assist others to avoid repeating that mistake while benefiting from the new knowledge that you now have.  In doing so you might want to using the following process;

  • What was supposed to happen?
  • What actually happened?
  • Why was there a difference?
  • What have I learned and who should I share my learning with?