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Continuity Management - Book Review

1 June 2011
Dr. Moria Levy

The book "Continuity Management: Preserving Corporate Knowledge and Productivity When Employees Leave," authored in 2002 by Beazley, Beoniseh, and Harden, remains highly relevant today. While it primarily addresses preserving organizational knowledge in the context of employee departures, its significance extends beyond that focus. The methodology outlined within facilitates intergenerational knowledge transfer, creating an organizational environment where knowledge is retained from when a new employee joins until their departure. This benefits the successor and serves the departing employee and the organization throughout their tenure, offering numerous added values.

The proposed concept differs from traditional knowledge management as it emphasizes the personal management of knowledge, sharing it to a limited extent with colleagues. Despite this distinction, the book presents an intriguing approach concerning retention and continuity in the realm of ongoing knowledge management.

In summarizing the book, the authors advocate combining continuity management and knowledge management, coining the term "knowledge asset management." They assert that organizations that manage both aspects will gain a competitive edge in the knowledge economy era.

The book explores the following topics:
  1. Why managing continuity is essential?

  2. Driving organizational activity for continuity.

  3. Infrastructure construction.

  4. Managing continuity in the organization.

  5. Case studies.

Presented mainly as a diary chronicling events within an organization, the book is easily digestible and recommended for those interested in knowledge preservation within an organization and those involved in knowledge management more broadly. This summary is a brief overview and is separate from the entire reading. Happy reading!

Why managing continuity is essential?

Organizations must actively manage knowledge continuity, recognizing that relying on outdated processes is no longer sufficient in today's dynamic landscape. Two converging factors drive the imperative to manage continuity activity:

  1. A high number of people leaving organizations:

    a. Elevated annual turnover across various organizations, with a notable percentage dissatisfied with a lifelong commitment to a single job.

    b. Nonlinear change processes, particularly downsizing, are prompted by economic shifts.

    c. Substantial retirement of the baby boom generation.

    d. Diverse employment structures, including consultants, subcontractors, outsourcing, and various employee types.

    e. Frequent role changes within organizations due to organizational shifts.

  2. The significance of knowledge for employees' success:

    a. The emergence of the knowledge economy and the information age, where intangible assets hold substantial value.

    b. Transition from organizations with a defined process structure to functional roles.

    c. Advancements in computer systems lead to an influx of data, information, and knowledge.

    d. Aspirations for higher professionalism encompassing organizational learning, quality improvement teams, and innovation that hinge on prior organizational knowledge.

The concept isn't on managing all knowledge but on focusing on operational knowledge. This task is deemed worthwhile and achievable, unlike many knowledge management projects. Five factors contribute to the feasibility of continuity management:

  • Relevance: The content remains pertinent, defined around specific roles and functions.

  • Context: The context remains consistent for both departing and recipient individuals, ensuring practical knowledge use.

  • Format: The ongoing construction of knowledge streamlines access to information within the continuity process.

  • Added Value: The value is clear to the knowledge recipient as the content and context align.

  • Recipients: Knowledge recipients are well-defined based on job descriptions and accompanying profiles.

Even if not all knowledge is transferred, the importance of operational knowledge is so substantial that each transferred segment holds value and is worthwhile.

Why manage continuity?

Beyond averting knowledge gaps, continuity management offers numerous advantages, including:

  • Shortening the onboarding time for new employees.

  • Enhancing training methodologies.

  • Improving decision-making for both new and seasoned employees.

  • Preserving organizational memory and knowledge networks.

  • Helping employees focus on critical work components.

  • Enhancing organizational performance and competitive advantage.

Driving organizational activity for continuity

Firstly, the authors assert that continuity management is not merely a plan or project; instead, it is approached as a new management paradigm. Understanding their proposed method for managing continuity provides context for this assertion.

To instigate the activity, one must grasp the fundamental guiding principles and anticipate challenges while delineating strategies to address them. The principles underpinning continuity management are as follows:

  1. Continuity can be managed in any organization, at any organizational level, and with any desired number of employees. Managing any level of continuity is preferable to not managing it at all—more is better.

  2. Continuity management should be tailored to each type of role.

  3. The process should be easy to comprehend and implement.

  4. The continuity management process should reward veterans (who document knowledge) and their successors.

  5. Continuity management can be implemented at various technological levels.

Anticipated challenges and recommended strategies for addressing them include:

  • Not recognizing the problem: Address this by illustrating the problem using employee departure statistics.

  • Not recognizing the existence of a solution: Convince that even a partial solution is preferable to completely ignoring the problem.

  • Clutter and lack of time for the subject: Persuade through a time-consuming approach that ultimately saves time elsewhere, emphasizing the focus on operational knowledge.

  • Lack of resources: Implement a design-to-cost approach, limiting the scope of activity to existing resources.

  • Personal Affordability (WIIFM - What's In It For Me): Explain the benefits to the documenters during their work, emphasizing improvements in effectiveness, focus, and appreciation.

To propel the activity, the following steps are necessary:

  1. Conduct an audit to assess the state of knowledge continuity within the organization and the roles where it is required.

  2. Define goals and parameters for activity, particularly for those holding positions where continuity will be managed. Convince stakeholders of feasibility based on the assessment and garner management support.

  3. Designate individuals at the organizational level responsible for promoting and implementing continuity management.

After establishing a suitable infrastructure (outlined in the next chapter), it is advisable to commence with a pilot and subsequently expand.

Note: The book includes guiding questions that can be incorporated into the assessment process.

Infrastructure construction

Before commencing operations, each organization must establish the methodological and technological infrastructure tailored to its needs. This infrastructure revolves around three key components:

  1. KPAQ - Knowledge Position Analysis Questionnaire: A top-level organizational checklist encompassing all knowledge categories. Specific categories for each position are derived from this checklist. While the book provides a sample checklist, it emphasizes that organizations should create customized lists based on their unique needs.

  2. KQUEST - Knowledge Questionnaire: A set of questionnaires developed for each position within the organization based on the KPAQ. For every role, continuity managers decide which categories to manage, defining a set of questions guiding the ongoing documentation of knowledge by the veteran employee. A shared bank of questions facilitates the creation of new questionnaires for additional positions when needed.

  3. KPROFILE - Knowledge Profile: A position holder's specific profile derived from the overall KPAQ, containing the knowledge entered by an employee when responding to the corresponding questionnaire (KQUEST). They are used by both new and veteran employees and by organizational management (primarily human resources) for additional managerial purposes.

The checklist can be constructed through questionnaires distributed to managers and employees or by interviews. It is recommended to structure it as a set of questions indicating knowledge categories, marking areas likely to appear in each questionnaire (KQUEST) for various roles. The book provides a list of sample questions.

Construction of specific questionnaires (KQUEST) is prioritized for critical roles identified through the initial test. Each questionnaire is developed with the input of relevant employees and subjected to sample testing for suitability. Including general questions at the end ensures comprehensive coverage of information.

The questionnaires suggest ready-made answers for common aspects of a role to streamline the process. Clear instructions for completion are also advised.

A computerized system automatically generates specific profiles (KPROFILEs) from answered questions, serving as a central tool for knowledge retrieval. Technology should facilitate easy questionnaire completion and response retrieval.

Key considerations for creating knowledge profiles (KPROFILEs) include:

  • Reference to critical operational knowledge only.

  • Built-in flexibility.

  • Adaptability based on various employment methods.

  • Reflection of the prioritization of knowledge importance.

  • Incorporation of the role's SWOT analysis.

  • Establishment only for critical roles with vital knowledge.

  • Accessibility, meaningfulness, classification, and restricted access.

Four chapters within each knowledge profile can encompass different knowledge categories:

  1. Operational data - performance reports, news, people, and procedures.

  2. Current operational knowledge - critical decisions, issues, key customers, projects.

  3. Basic operational knowledge - job objectives, functions, activities, reporting, SWOT, innovation.

  4. Supporting operational knowledge - knowledge networks, required skills, evaluation processes, completed projects, unimplemented ideas, and details from veterans in the position.

This structure can be adapted and organized differently in each organization.

Note: Alternative partial solutions requiring fewer resources can be developed for roles where continuity is managed in a different format.

Managing continuity in the organization

For each position and group designated for continuity management, the following activities should be executed (following the establishment of the infrastructure):

  1. Orientation Day for Employees: Conduct an orientation day for employees in the designated positions, explaining the need for continuity management, outlining the method, and allocating time for completing questionnaires. The book does not explicitly state whether it's possible to complete the questionnaires on this day or if the initial filling must be managed over some time.

  2. Profile Updates: Regularly update profiles at predetermined intervals.

  3. Quarterly Meetings (PEAK Meetings): Hold quarterly meetings (peak meetings) for small teams of employees in the same position. These forums discuss issues, knowledge, and dilemmas arising from questionnaire updates. Allow teams to provide comments and suggest improvements to the questionnaires, in some cases, fostering the development of knowledge communities or communities of practice.

For new employees, who are expected to leverage existing knowledge while contributing fresh perspectives:

  1. Upon Arrival: Familiarize new employees with the knowledge profile of their predecessors gradually, starting from simple to complex knowledge. Acquaint them with the details of the position.

  2. After One to Two Weeks: Request adding frequently asked questions to the profile (at this point, still unanswered).

  3. Ongoing Engagement: Encourage managers to utilize the knowledge profile.

  4. After Two Weeks and After Two Months: Request criticism of the process of acquainting themselves with the profile.

  5. After One Month, Two Months, Three Months, and Six Months: Request audits of processes, systems, and procedures, documenting recommendations in the profile.

  6. After Three Months: Reevaluate the authorization mechanism, deciding who else in the organization can view specific profile parts.

  7. Quarterly Meetings (PEAK): Join the quarterly meetings (PEAK). It's worth noting that the team at these meetings also mentors new employees.

Overall methodological notes for ongoing management:

  1. Partners: Key partners in this activity include the body coordinating continuity, knowledge management (if not responsible), human resources, and managers.

  2. Change Management: Immediate operation should not be anticipated after establishing the infrastructure. Change must be managed by providing extrinsic rewards (such as promotion, bonuses, and recognition) and intrinsic rewards (like the ability to share, a sense of belonging, leaving a legacy, etc.). Any acceptable approach to change management can be chosen, with the authors recommending using John Kotter's eight stages of change management as one possible method.

Case Studies

The authors provide several examples of organizations that uphold continuity, noting that these examples may not align with the method proposed by the authors themselves. The showcased organizations are:

  1. Northrop Grumman: Focus on preserving expert knowledge, precisely that of B-2 experts. The approach involves identifying areas of expertise, documenting knowledge, and managing a map of experts.

  2. Pfizer:

    a. Implements a four-category knowledge management system for intergenerational transfer:

    b. Tasks

    c. Processes

    d. Set of behaviors (essential for success in the role)

    e. Environmental model (how elements relate to each other)

  3. TVA (The Tennessee Valley Authority): Enforces a three-stage program for preventing knowledge loss within the organization:

    a. Identification of knowledge that needs retention from departing employees.

    b. Capturing knowledge, whether in writing or transferring it to successors.

    c. Knowledge retention through existing knowledge management programs.

  4. U.S. Army: Executes a program for liaison with dissidents, involving lifelong military mail.

  5. U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO): Emphasizes knowledge documentation, mainly focusing on required contacts, processes, and skills.

These examples represent just a fraction of the numerous organizations implementing knowledge continuity. The authors recommend adopting this new management method in every organization, asserting that its adoption will confer a competitive advantage in this era of the knowledge economy.

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