Critical knowledge retention processes
1 May 2022
‘Organizational forgetting’ is an undesirable loss of organizational knowledge. For example, knowledge regarding strategy led to success, work processes that established a project or enabled continuity, principles of thought, professional considerations, rules and regulations, properties of organizational culture, professional connections and relationships between workers and teams, etc.
Organizational forgetting may contribute to innovation, creativity, and change processes, yet also might lead to loss of critical knowledge and harm the organization’s ability to leverage successes and learn from mistakes.
Dr. Eli Meron defines organizational knowledge according to its essence and location:
The essence of the knowledge
Declarative knowledge (know-what): explicit knowledge, such as facts and terms.
Procedural knowledge (know-how): procedural knowledge which serves as the basis for action, such as machine operating skills and handling malfunctions and exceptional cases.
Where the knowledge resides:
Tacit knowledge: usually not documented, it resides in the heads of experienced senior knowledge experts in a specific area.
Explicit knowledge: found in documents and the organization’s databases
Expert knowledge retention allows organizations to discover and document knowledge that relates, for example, to work processes and thought processes, questions that must be asked during a project’s run or in specific situations, professional issues to be considered before any decision, and problem-solving methods, etc.
Knowledge is the key to professional success and should serve the organization when handling similar situations. The retention process is complex and vital. Its complexity is due to the following reasons:
Difficulty in defining the knowledge needs
Difficulty in charting fields of expertise and the uniqueness of the professional experts’ knowledge
Difficulty in retrieving the knowledge
Clunky Documentation focused on the trivial and familiar
Disregarding the importance of knowledge, hence the risk of it not being used
Focusing on critical knowledge retention:
There are several definitions of critical knowledge:
“Practical knowledge enables the success of the mission, encourages creative thinking, and defines the questions that must be asked during the project’s various stages.” (NASA’s knowledge manager)
“Knowledge that the loss will serve as an intra-organizational threat on nuclear facilities' security and operative reliability aspects” (International Atomic Energy Commission.
“Valuable tacit knowledge which serves as the organization’s competitive edge retains relevance over time and justifies its being documented and retained” (Mercy Harper)
“Performance capability that meaningfully impacts organizational knowledge.”
“Identifying critical knowledge assists the organization in developing and prioritizing the knowledge management system’s requirements.
Critical knowledge varies between organizations, sectors, and types of organizations.
Critical knowledge can appear in any format, including workers’ insights, task know-hows, and coded knowledge (ISO30401:2022, 1 Amendment).
An expert knowledge retention process should focus on knowledge located “at the edges of the bell curve”.
Dr. Moria Levy suggests focusing on the following aspects:
Uncommon work processes
Decision and their motives
Changes and development
The expert knowledge retention process can serve to discover the keys to success, if executed according to schedule, will focus on the critical knowledge, will be conducted via an orderly retention methodology, and will be efficiently documented. This process might contribute to discovering the keys to failure and thus serve as a tool for lessons learned and insights.