Don’t Let Knowledge Walk Out the Door or Escape Through the Window

Established companies as well as startups too often underestimate the value of reusable knowledge, fail to capture it, to secure it and to share it. “Don’t Let Knowledge Walk Out the Door” is the title of an October 2018 IndustryWeek article by Norbert Majerus urging companies to “Take steps to gather and share your employees’ expertise well before they retire”. I’d like to add more generally before employees leave, thus “Escape Through the Window”. Regardless of the reasons employee leave, many of them may take valuable knowledge with them.

At the time writing these lines, I am involved in a project helping a startup to scale-up to an industrial manufacturing company. While very few employees there are close to retirement, this company has already lost significant knowledge through employees turnover. And despite suffering serious consequences of such loses, it was not enough to prevent more loses.

The reasons for not capturing, securing and sharing knowledge are manifold. Sure, writing memos and feeding databases is no big fun for the experts. Digging through manuals and databases neither is fun for those who could benefit from reusable knowledge, while reinventing something is. But that isn’t always the main reason for failing to secure knowledge.

Some companies simply don’t understand the value of reusable knowledge, others have no clue how to capture it. Some experts still believe they can secure their position or increase their value by not sharing what they know.

In the case I witness, everyone including the knowledgeable experts are crash-and-burning, exhausting themselves in the “creative” and informal chaos of an immature young organization. Some are giving up and leaving in what indeed can look like an escape through the window. They escape tremendous pressure, high workload, resource scarcity, constantly changing priorities, lack of clarity and some more reasons to get fed-up.

Those who stay have no time nor will to interview their resigning peers, as some newcomer will take over the soon vacant position and the related problems altogether. Why diverting scarce capacity to capture knowledge that will only benefit someone else? This of course is short-sighted if not a wrong assumption.

Mentor/mentee relationship for sharing knowledge is seldom considered and too often people resigning are gone before replacement come in, no overlapping. This can be blamed either to the inability to manage the overlapping or to the will to limit the costs.

What solutions?

In a (French) video capsule inspired by this startup case, I suggest to formally capture knowledge in a concise way, convenient to share and retrieve with trade-off curves, properly populated causes-and-effect diagrams or A3 reports. Video capsules can be a way, with the advantage to offer more room for creativity.

I also suggest to have short presentation routines in an in-house “academy”. All knowledge holders should take turns in order to share but also hone their presentation skills. Such exercises should be ROTI-assessed (Return On Time Invested) on both perceived value and mediation skills.

More suggestions about how to capture and share knowledge can be read in Mr Majerus’ article.

View Christian HOHMANN's profile on LinkedIn

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