At Knoco we receive many requests from clients to conduct knowledge capture and transfer projects for them but this one was a bit special.
I will use the term ‘EVP’ to describe the head of the organisation and ‘VP’ to describe those in the level below that.
The person on the telephone described how the EVP had over the last couple of years transformed the organisation and its financial performance but that the EVP was about to retire and they wanted to capture the knowledge of how the EVP had achieved that.
As I listened a couple of thoughts went through my mind;
- Why hadn’t the EVP shared this with the VP’s over the last couple of years?
- Were the VP’s afraid of the EVP and hence afraid to ask question about what the EVP was doing?
- Would the EVP trust me and honestly tell me what they knew?
- Why aren’t they using an internal resource to undertake this work?
The last thought was covered by the person on the telephone who explained that the knowledge of the EVP was so strategically valuable to the company that they couldn’t take the risk that an employee might leak it. They were trusting me not to leak commercially sensitive information, not the first time that a client had placed such trust in me, a considerable responsibility.
I agreed to conduct the interviews and package the material. Some ground rules were put in place;
- No members of staff were to be present in the room when I conducted the interviews
- I could audio record the conversation but only I could listen to it and then only when I used headphones and not speakers
- All notes had to be shredded at the end of the interviews
- The completed ‘knowledge asset’ was to be vetted and approved by the EVP
- Once the knowledge asset had been approved by the EVP, an copy was to be created for each VP, personally delivered to them by hand
In order to use our time productively I did the following;
- I asked the EVP what topics we should cover during the interviews
- I asked each of the VP’s what topics they would like to see covered during the interviews
- I asked each VP; “If you had a private audience with the EVP, what specific questions would you like answers to?”
Once I had all that input I created a compiled list of themes, by priority that I submitted to the EVP as the agenda for the interviews. I didn’t send the specific questions, but ensured that they would be covered within the themes we would be discussing.
The time of a EVP is not always their own so while we had a schedule of one hour sessions in the diary, we had to be flexible depending on what was happening in the company and the outside environment.
The first interview was spend on getting to know each other and building a level of trust that would allow the EVP to comfortable share the most intimate, commercially sensitive knowledge with me. Only once that was established did we move onto the first theme.
After that the project followed the familiar Knoco knowledge capture process but within the ground rules established at the beginning of the project. In due course I delivered the knowledge asset to the EVP for review, edit and final approval. Once that was complete, a copy was made for each VP (which I hand delivered) and all raw materials destroyed.
The thought process of the EVP had been captured and was now available to the VP’s. It is highly possible that the specific circumstances in which the EVP applied that knowledge will never occur again but at least the VP’s have a knowledge asset in which the EVP shared in detail how things were approached, the risks considered and the approach that was taken and why. Knowledge at this level of seniority is very seldom tactical or of a transactional in nature but rather insights, suggestions, things to think about.