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Knowledge Retention – keeping the best on a budget

What is the organisation’s end game? In the context of the workforce, it’s dignity and respect for each employee. Says Simon North, co-founder of Position Ignition.

In terms of costs, it’s about systems and about time. Saving time by creating systems where written knowledge is stored in a digitized format is very useful, but very dry and one-dimensional from the learner’s point of view. When it comes to more interesting forms of knowledge retention, time should be created to enable face-time creating the right sort of environment for people to share knowledge with one another.
To keep costs low, it’s essential to be creative and innovative with knowledge retention, because you haven’t got the wherewithal to throw lots of cash at the process. When short of resources, cash particularly, you need to be creative. A flexible contract at the end of older employees’ working lives is one option to consider. Instead of having an elder individual continue to work five days a week, give them time each week/month to go and mentor someone. In this time they are responsible for handing over data and information, knowledge acquired from years of experience and not easily captured on computer. This is about gradually changing someone’s day job. It’s not something that can or should be done overnight.

Support the worker as they make this transition and they’ll not only get used to it, but they’ll probably enjoy it. Eventually they will give up full-time work and you are in a position to offer them the chance to spend time each week mentoring. Before you know it, you may have an employee working less hours who is providing value to you: utilising their knowledge whilst working at a level that’s manageable for someone of their age and physical condition. You’ve retained the value of that individual’s knowledge without making unrealistic demands on their stamina.

Knowledge retention is also about working across-boundaries. One of the great things about knowledge retention is that you can actually have older people moving across the organisation and external boundaries, i.e. going and picking up knowledge from suppliers. Using your wise and experienced workers in this way may lead to you achieving better service and lower prices for the same quality of service. Daniel Pink in his book “Drive” writes about the individual’s desire for mastery. He defines this as wanting to be better tomorrow than today. Every one of us seeks this the chance to be better. In so many occupations and organisations we have the opposite. The organisation has taken the interest out of jobs by stripping them back so far that there is nothing of interest in there and certainly no chance of growth. Individual workers are also capable of giving up on a job and just doing the bare minimum. No wonder boredom is so often quoted as a key reason for moving jobs and organisations.
It is a waste. It is costly to hire someone and always costly and risky to hire new. Knowledge is a shareholder asset. To sustain an organisation’s legacy, its brand, its market position, its PR, knowledge has to be protected, retained and handed on. It is a strategic issue. In coming years so many workers will be reaching the end of their full time working life. The effects of the baby boomer demographic leaving work will be felt by organisations. With the removal of the Default Retirement age there is a chance that many older workers will be pleased to take on part-time work in their later years. An opportunity will emerge for organisations to re-contract with these work colleagues and engage them in activities which hold knowledge.

Mentoring is a well-known process. This is usually done 1:1 but it is possible to find other ways – group working and/or putting more information on to film or audio. Now we have such convergence in our technologies, it is possible for younger people to learn through these media – even when they are travelling to work. Organisations should also learn to celebrate what they know and make sure that they value and appreciate those who hold key data and information. It will encourage colleagues to want to share and want to learn.

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