Knowledge Retention via a role-starting documentation kit
1 February 2009
The idea of a role-starting documentation kit
The loss of organizational knowledge leads to loss both in the short and the long run. In the short run- work efficiency is harmed; in the long run- the promotion of the relevant subject. We all agree that knowledge is an organizational asset and acknowledge the fact that with time people leave the organization, and with them the knowledge they hold. Knowledge Management offers, as a solution to this need, a process of organizational knowledge retention. One adaptation of this solution in organizations is the role-starting documentation kit.
This kit is usually the responsibility of the organization's HR unit and mainly involves orientation and introduction to the organization and its organizational culture: procedures, values and norms. The kit is mainly a professional file that includes the core professional, operational and managerial knowledge and information including the work interfaces required for fulfilling the worker's new position (in this case, the worker can be either new to the organization or merely new to the position).
The documentation kit, like many KM solutions, requires a project in itself and requires executing an orderly methodology: planning, mapping, managing and monitoring. The kit includes documentation both the core subjects required for the position and the work processes required when dealing with a position strategically vital to the unit's operation.
A classic knowledge retention activity would be an initiated attempt to capture the knowledge valuable to the organization, explicitly performed with the retiree's cooperation. The seniority, professional experience and of course time are critical factors. For the same reasons, senior workers facing retirement play a vital role in transferring the unit's knowledge via the position entry file. Firstly, the mapping and prioritizing of subjects dealt with in this position is performed in conjunction with the senior workers. Secondly, management and monitoring report to the senior workers, and equally important: the senior workers are credited with contributing to the cultural envelope of values in the organization (e.g. knowledge sharing values).
What is the uniqueness of the role-starting documentation kit?
An empowering activity for senior workers that harnesses them to assist in preparing the next generation
An activity that requires, besides the senior and managerial level, the participating of another level: the middle generation for training purposes. The result is a cross-unit project which also contributes to its internal cohesive structure.
An activity that includes learning methods (using various means of learning) that commit the learner to an active learning process. The new worker is thus given responsibility which contributes to their personal development in their training.
An activity that structures and defines an orderly process of transmitting knowledge in the unit that is practical and simple to operate.
A case study
The solution was implemented, among others for on one of our clients: a prestigious department of a large bank appointed the bank strategic client segment. A few years ago, this department suffered from a loss of valuable knowledge when a number of senior workers retired.
A glance at the department's workers' stats shows that most workers have worked in the organization for more than 15 years and that the retirement expectancy in recent years requires preparation.
We faced challenges in several areas:
In terms of culture, the unit's operation is totally based on personal, continuous relationships with clients. In terms of technology: most of the documentation lays in personal notes and notepads. In terms of content: most of the professional knowledge is concentrated among the senior workers. In terms of the process itself, there is a lack of cooperation with the R&D department which by definition deals with training, turnover, promotion, replacement, etc.
And so, we set on our journey.
We began by defining our objectives: setting up an array for retaining and transferring banking knowledge in the department (by institutionalizing the position's entry processes) while involving and empowering workers. All 'generations' of bankers are to be involved: new, medium, and senior.
We then prioritized the core knowledge subjects of the position's world of professional content, the position's main tasks, its required skills and the personal traits a banker must possess.
The next stage involved preparing a detailed work plan for the knowledge transmitters and the knowledge receivers. The plan included:
Instructions for using the file for all parties involved: the manager, the instructor, the professional party and the banker
Learning accessories in form of templates developed for accompanying the knowledge documentation process (for example, studying, viewing, instructed reading)
Work forms for following and monitoring the process (e.g. a personal learning program)
Finally, we validated the role-starting documentation kit (all content included) with the department's senior managers and received a "green light" from the department manager. This green light allowed us to execute the pilot, implemented among three units in the department.
The pilot was deemed a success, also due to the readiness and cooperation on behalf of the units. A lesson learning process was implemented based on the feedback received from all parties involved in the pilot itself and its preceding process; all lessons were incorporated into the documentation kit.
At the end of an arduous year, the kit was ready for use in the department's ongoing activity.
Comparing the product to the challenges we had faced, we can conclude that in terms of culture the supporting utilities created conversation and sharing of knowledge between new and senior workers; in terms of technology: the file and all the information it contains, including the templates found on the website, are all available and accessible to department bankers; in terms of content: the professional knowledge is held not only by the senior workers rather is transmitted to other bankers in the department in a structured manner; in terms of process: work interfaces with have been created with Recruitment (defining an employment profile for a banker in this department) and Direction (bridging professional knowledge gaps and structured tutorial processes).
Furthermore, the file was defined as a tool to be used when a new banker arrives at the department.
Knowledge Management isn't a goal but a means to attaining the organization's strategic objectives. Implementing the solution described above which involves infrastructure, planning and monitoring of organizational activity to retain the knowledge in a strategic unit in the organization reduces the chances knowledge will be lost when the seniors become retirees, which can in turn harm the organization's abilities to create and compete.