You may or may not be familiar with the term ‘Knowledge Retention.’ However, you – and your team – have likely experienced frustration caused by its absence:
- Time and energy wasted as each new employee struggles to understand their role and responsibilities.
- Lost productivity and overall disruption to the business as those new hires slowly get up to speed.
- Mistakes caused by a lack of information, practice, feedback, or experience.
- Deliverables and deadlines missed due to employee absence and turnover.
These are just a few examples of what happens when institutional knowledge isn’t captured and managed in an intentional, proactive way. They may seem like small issues that can be overcome in the moment, but at scale they create significant negative business impact. The real issue is the lack of an information roadmap, and building one is an intentional step that pays off in more ways than one.
The difference between storing information and retaining knowledge
In its simplest form, knowledge retention involves capturing organizational information so that it can be used later. This enables employees to efficiently build on the experience and expertise of each other through access to organizational information, strategies, and best practices. This is a key competitive advantage, and it differentiates leading companies from their competitors, helping them keep promises while adding value to their customers.
Many people regularly backup their devices to minimize the risk of losing their personal data and information. Knowledge retention provides a similar level of security to companies by capturing and protecting their employees’ knowledge, because while employees may not ‘crash,’ they can definitely leave. And they do. According to a study by the Future Workplace, 91% of millennials expect to be in jobs for less than 3 years. And in a strong economy, the job market tends to favor talented employees. Every time an employee transitions, their organization risks losing their valuable knowledge. The companies that excel at employee retention are at an immediate advantage.
Over time, employees learn to navigate their work environments. But, unlike backing up a phone or computer, employee knowledge isn’t all centralized or discrete, making it harder to backup. And while making that information accessible – through a repository like SharePoint or Dropbox – is a great start, it isn’t retaining knowledge. The knowledge that connects all of this information and uses it for decision-making is what keeps a company running. Knowledge retention focuses on preserving this information roadmap.
Companies need to be proactive to protect knowledge
In theory, knowledge management should be integrated into the daily operations of every organization, proactively protecting what employees know long before they leave. It should create and foster an environment of knowledge-sharing, from detailed, role-specific onboarding to reward structures, job rotations, mentoring programs, and company procedures. Building an employee training plan out of shared knowledge is infinitely easier when an organization takes a proactive approach.
The reality, however, is that most businesses take a more reactive approach to knowledge capture, typically triggered after an employee announces they’ll be leaving or transitioning. At this point – without proper succession planning – the company has an uphill battle. They are trying to pull information out of an employee who has checked out. There is limited time, and few guides or resources in place to help the manager or interim backfill identify what needs to be retained. The result? That knowledge, which was accrued over years of tenure, is lost and business is disrupted.
Recognizing the true value of employee knowledge is the first step. The cost to back up employee knowledge is far less than the time, money, and relationships wasted trying to recreate it. And while it may require more initial effort, the key to knowledge retention is preparation.