Collectively, you and your staff hold the knowledge of your organization. From the frontline workers to the leadership team, your knowledge expands from granular tasks to the most high-level concepts. As a business leader, it’s vital that you understand the importance of knowledge. Company knowledge is your most precious resource, but chances are, you don’t know where exactly all that knowledge exists – and that puts your most valuable asset at risk.

For the vast majority of businesses, knowledge is an intangible, untracked part of the company fabric. But this laissez-faire approach costs companies untold thousands in decreased productivity, squandered time, human error, and wasted potential.

There are two ways organizations fail to leverage their knowledge: the way they store knowledge, and then in the knowledge transfer process. Let’s start with storing.

Someplace You Can’t Find: Where Your Knowledge Typically Lives

Let’s say your employee, Jo, is helping a customer resolve a problem she has never encountered before. What are her options to find the company knowledge she needs, how long will it take to find it, and how accurate will it be?

If it still exists at all , the knowledge she’s looking for might be stored:

    1. In previously published content: For example, Jo might dust off her old training manual or search on the company intranet to look for the answer. The problem? This is time-consuming – especially since the information may not even be there, or could be outdated. Worse, the information might actually be present in other materials of which Jo isn’t aware or to which she does not have access. For instance, perhaps there is a booklet on the subject, but it was only given to employees in another department.

    2. In somebody’s brain: Jo’s fastest option is to ask one of her colleagues. She might email, call, or have a conversation with a co-worker. But if the particular expert she needs is out sick, too busy to talk, or simply makes a mistake, Jo either has an incorrect answer, or no answer at all. In addition, she has also disrupted that employee from his or her tasks.

    3. In the flotsam and jetsam: Sometimes, the knowledge exists in a sub-space that isn’t formally published content, but has been recorded. For instance, Jo might find the answer sifting through her archived emails, memos, company updates, or notes. Chances are its obscure, ill-explained, and hard to find.

In short, the company knowledge might exist in any number of places: the first hurdle Jo encounters in completing her task is to determine where to find the knowledge in the most efficient way possible – but the truth is, most searches are inefficient, time-consuming, and yield imperfect answers.

The other major way organizations leave their most precious at risk is the way they transfer – or fail to transfer – knowledge. The third part of this series covers how the knowledge transfer process fails.