The magic of knowledge retention

Last week, Tel Aviv hosted the 20th anniversary of the launching of the first book in the Harry Potter series. Much praise written and spoken regarding J.K. Rowling's series and the magical world in which it takes place.


Why link magic and knowledge retention? Simply because I view knowledge retention as a sort of magic.
The central challenge of knowledge retention is extracting the knowledge concealed in workers' heads (tacit knowledge). This knowledge is rarely documented, is based on years of experience, considered to be an asset to the organization. If it is remains tacit, this knowledge will be lost with said worker's departure. The organization might lose valuable knowledge that is usually unrecoverable. If only we had a magic wand!

In the real world, the process is mostly based on gaining the worker's trust, leading them to agree to participate. This seemingly easy task is actually quite difficult. Workers leave for various reasons: transferring to another position in the organization could be one, retirement could be another. The worker could also have been fired. Each of these reasons dictates a different position in the process of both said worker and whoever wishes to retrieve the knowledge.

Hereby are some tips that can assist such an attempt:
• Before you start the process, fully understand the background and motivation for the worker's departure and understand that their level of cooperation might be affected by these reasons.
• Formulate a list of subjects the worker handled so to focus on the central issues.
• Prioritize the subjects according to the following criteria: importance to the organization, level of documentation and uniqueness of the retrieved knowledge to the worker. The key to prioritization is a combination of high level of importance, low level of documentation and high level of uniqueness to the worker. With the right key, you're on the right path.
• Try to delve into the prioritized subjects. This is the time to try to get the worker to reach meaningful insights on these subjects. These insights may serve the organization's future generations. While this process might require several meetings, it is best to keep them as concentrated as possible. A concentrated effort beats a long and intermittent process, as the element of time is at our heels due to the worker's pending departure.
• At this point you might feel you know the worker and sense their level of commitment of the process. Trust is of key importance to the process's success. It will also improve the worker's feeling, knowing that they leave a legacy behind that will serve the organization even when they are gone.
• At the end of each meeting, it is best to process the accumulated knowledge, structure it in an orderly file so that it can be easily navigated. It is best to use a file in process, one that allows the worker to optimize the content and point out issues that require elaboration.
• Now that the document is complete, formulate a plan to make this now explicit knowledge accessible and available to all workers to whom this knowledge may be relevant.
In conclusion, knowledge retainment is a challenging process for both workers and those performing the process. However, it is highly profitable and therefore certainly worthwhile.

Knowledge Retention, from ROM's online glossary
Handling challenges in retiree knowledge retention, 2Know Magazine, July 2010