Working in the consulting industry for a year instantly changed my view on knowledge. Previously I though knowledge is like a book I can read to make me more savvy. After a year I know that most of the actual and valuable knowledge is in the brains of the experts surrounding me.

Knowledge and Knowledge Holder
First, when you hire a new employee and he has valuable knowledge, this is worth nothing without good communication and articulation capabilities. It's in there, but can't be transferred to someone who needs it, if these skills aren't present.

Second, knowledge definitely has a half life. It's value will decrease over time, because it is replaced by new knowledge or the demand for that particular knowledge fades away. So the employee should also have a good learning aptitude and comprehension.

Therefore we have to distinguish the value of the knowledge itself and the capabilities of the knowledge holder. Both are equally important.

Are your employees good authors?
If you want to keep the knowledge in your company in case that the employee pics up other prospects for career you could force him to write down his valuable knowledge. Then you have instantly a bunch of problems.

Assumed that the employee has lots of valuable knowledge, what time would it take him to write it all down on? You wouldn't think about a complete dump for an employees with broad knowledge. How long should it take? And the ones with less knowledge you might not ask, because it's not worth the effort. So you have to decided which parts of their knowledge they should conserve.

After that you should trust that he is a good author in terms of didactics. Otherwise you will get the low ended screenshot-with-one-sentence type of documentation that no one will read. And if you try to solve this by adding educational skill requirements to your recruitment policy, you won't find the number of people you need for your business.

But when both comes together (expectably not more that 5% of your employees) this might work.

The Knowledge Map
At the daily work you might come to a point where you need to know something you don't have in your mind yourself. Then you should at least know, whom you could ask for (naturally not before your Google search failed ;-)). Then you will realize that you have a very small map on your mind of whom you could ask for what.

The problem with this map is that it only shows a tiny section of what is really out there. You're not aware of the knowledge of all your colleagues and even with the ones you think you know, it is surely only the part that appears during interaction with him up to now. Updates to your personal map are therefore unsystematic and unpredictable.

This led me to my first knowledge management concept that maps the knowledge present in the company. It is a nice piece of work to build a suitable knowledge taxonomy. Keep it simple and static. If it is to granulated you'll mess up during the assessment of the existing knowledge and if it's to dynamic, i.e. based on current product names that will constantly extend the taxonomy over time, you will fail in keeping the assessments up-to-date.

If you consider this, you can end up with an easy to use knowledge map that enables all employees to find required knowledge instantly.

Transfer the Knowledge
In my opinion the best way to retain knowledge within your company is to transfer it to as many colleagues as possible that can make use of it for their daily work on a regular basis.

Therefore these experts should have some extra time (by decreasing their working time) to spread the knowledge within the company. The amount of time can be determined by the value and demand of the knowledge and the number of employees requesting it. This is a small invest related to a loss of knowledge, when the knowledge holder has left the company and you have to rebuilt it from scratch or invest the time to find a comparable employee.

And the knowledge should stay connected to the work of your company. When an expert can be directly involved into some problem solving session or innovative discussion, then his knowledge will be permanently glued to that context in the brains of the colleagues. You will never reach a comparable learning curve with some kind of presentation or with a document that an expert has written some months ago (and is probably already outdated).

At the bottom line knowledge management is about knowing what knowledge you have and what knowledge you need in your company. If you want to retain the knowledge you have to transfer it and there are different ways with varying outcomes. Writing it down is surely the worst. And when it comes to the recruitment of new employees have the required capabilities of the knowledge holder in mind.

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  • andrew mcbay 
    andrew mcbay
    Johns Perspectives ...

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