Knowledge is vital to every business. But even in the most organized of organizations, it’s leaking through the figurative cracks. Businesses are losing knowledge left, right, and center, but most executives don’t even know where, when, or how their most valuable asset is disappearing.
Since the first step to remedy a problem is to identify it, here are potential ways knowledge may be escaping from your business.
Knowledge Escapes With Your Staff When…
1. Employees Walk Out The Door. Of all the ways businesses can lose their knowledge, this one is the most dangerous. There are virtually limitless reasons why knowledge holders (e.g. employees) leave – and when they do, the knowledge leaves with them.
Whether employees move on to other jobs, fall ill, take leave, get promoted, or leave for a competitor, one day they’re here, and the next, they’re gone. Even if that “gone” is just to another part of the building, they aren’t in the same role, or at the same desk as before. It becomes impossible (or very difficult) to access them should anyone need that person’s knowledge.
2. You’ve invested in talented Subject Matter Experts. You’ve hired a best-in-class employee. A veteran of their trade. Someone with decades of experience, lots of education, and a ton of expert knowledge. For a time, you have access to this database of information; they become key to your operation. But when they go, they take with them not only what they’ve learned about this role in your organization, they also take their expert knowledge with them. Expert knowledge that was once at your fingertips…
Key Takeaway: If a business does not have a system to capture and record the knowledge of its staff, the knowledge will invariably “leak” as employees leave. Sometimes this is a relatively unnoticeable loss. Other times, it’s a loss of thousands of dollars’ worth of time invested and knowledge gained.
Knowledge Escapes With Your Leadership When…
3. There’s no succession plan in place. Capturing knowledge extends far beyond updating process docs and org charts to train junior-level employees. It’s also about the leaders who steward the organization and drive its success – and what happens when they retire. Without a succession plan to package up their knowledge and get it into the right hands, the whole business loses the benefit of those years of experience; often benefits that the whole company relies on.
Key Takeaway: You lose a precious type of knowledge when the visionaries and leaders of the business move on. “Passing the torch” needs to be about passing on knowledge, not just job titles or responsibilities.
Knowledge Escapes With Your Training When…
4. You conduct training verbally. Verbal training rapidly becomes a game of “he said, she said” because it’s inconsistent and open to misinterpretation. People (usually) do not intentionally mislead or misunderstand; it’s simply the fact of human memory, which is highly unreliable. Whether the listeners misinterpret, or the teachers are distracted, biased, or misinformed, the result is that the learner has only a partial understanding – and the rest of the knowledge meant to be conveyed didn’t make it. Worse, people do not remember what they’ve learned verbally – the knowledge has vanished into thin air.
5. Real accountability isn’t possible. How well has the training sunk in? Does an employee understand and use the knowledge they were supposed to have gained? Verbal training means there’s little to no record of what a person was taught or when. It means managers can’t monitor their employees’ progress, correct their errors, spot gaps in knowledge or understanding, or optimize their processes. Accountability hinges on captured knowledge – a lack of it means knowledge could be left behind or forgotten unbeknownst to the learner or the teacher.
6. Your business is based on variables. Does your business offer complete custom solutions? Is every customer, every scenario, unique? This complicates relaying information to your staff and teaching them how to think critically on a case-by-case basis; if they aren’t present for that particular scenario, they’ve missed valuable problem-solving training, which they can’t apply to future projects.
7. Training doesn’t take place. Verbal training hinges on the knowledge holder’s ability to be front and center with the trainee; if either party gets sick, takes a holiday, has to respond to a crisis, or otherwise isn’t there with the other half of the equation, training comes to an abrupt halt. Sometimes it gets rescheduled or rushed-through. Sometimes it gets deferred permanently.
Key Takeaway: Knowledge escapes your business when you transfer it verbally. Whether your employees misunderstand, or you can’t prove that they’re using what they’ve learned, that leaves your business open to knowledge leaking and distortion as it gets misinterpreted, changed, forgotten, or simply not transferred in the first place.
Knowledge Escapes With Your Records-Keeping When…
8. Your business evolves. Employees are constantly “creating knowledge” in their roles, every time they learn something, optimize something, or an aspect of your business gets updated or changed. For instance, maybe your staff know that the QA process has 15 steps – but the out-of-date process doc from a year ago still says only 12. Your business has evolved, but there’s no record of the progress to pass down to others.
Key Takeaway: You lose knowledge when nobody records it. Everything – from relatively small discoveries, changes, or additions to large and complex training programs, plans, and operations needs to be recorded, updated, and accessible – and that responsibility belongs to more than just one person.
So, that’s where your knowledge is slipping through the cracks. How do you stop it from disappearing? Make it a mandate for every role in every department to contribute to the organizational knowledge base – one central, permanent, accessible, end-to-end environment where every concept of organizational knowledge is recorded and organized. The company’s knowledge base isn’t just for the leadership team or any one department; it benefits everyone, and everyone needs to collaborate. It’s the best guarantee to guard against losing your most valuable asset bit by bit.