Day 18 – R: Retention of Critical Knowledge

“If a person had a memory like the average organization, we would think he was very stupid, or suffering from a neurological disorder. Organizations routinely “forget” what they have done in the past and why they have done it.”– Jeff Conklin

Many organisations around the world today comprise employees who belong to multiple generations, namely:
• Traditionalists – born before 1945
• Baby Boomers – born between 1945 & 1965
• Generation X – born between 1966 & 1985
• Millennial – born 1986 & after

The patterns that define these generations with regard to use of technology, modes of communications, and perceptions about the world differ to a great extent. How do we then leverage their collective knowledge to achieve competitive advantage? How do we ensure that the Web 2.0 tools that are fast becoming synonymous with knowledge management do not isolate employees in the first three categories (especially 1 & 2), many of whom probably possess decades of expertise and ‘know-how’ of doing things? The key question here is: do we allow these employees to leave the organisation without tapping into their tacit knowledge i.e. do we settle for the loss of knowledge that might be difficult to replace? In other words, as noted in the quote above, can organisations allow themselves to forget the knowledge around what they have done in the past and why they did it?

Shell is one of the few organisations which have attempted to address this challenge. The much acclaimed ‘Retention of Critical Knowledge (ROCK)’ programme attempted to transfer skills and knowledge from one generation to the other. The programme is conducted in conjunction with strategic sourcing which tries to recruit people not just for today, but for tomorrow.

Under the ROCK programme, the HR function of Shell identifies employees who are scheduled to retire and who possess skills that would be hard to replace. Post identification, these employees are interviewed (structured interview where the questions are well thought out and prepared in consultation with other managers). The output from the interview is converted into a detailed guidebook where the individual’s technical knowledge is documented. The output is then made accessible to the successor.

This simple yet effective technique has ensured that knowledge that has been developed over years doesn’t disappear overnight. To know more about the programme, you may try doing a Google search.

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