Knowledge continuity both daunting and critical (Analysis)

Resources, commitment and culture needed
By Alice Kubicek
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 01/13/2012

This is too complicated and no one will know what you are talking about” — that’s what one respondent to the Pulse Survey said and that’s exactly how I felt when I first encountered knowledge continuity.

A consultant told me CEOs were concerned about the corporate knowledge that walked out the door with departing senior managers, especially when it was unplanned.

All the investment in their learning disappeared and the synergy created through their work activity came to a screeching halt, hurting competitiveness and, ultimately, the bottom line.

No matter how brilliant their replacements, the learning curve would entail review, rethink and perhaps even reinvention of what was already being done successfully.

The survey results indicate the ultimate returns on investment from knowledge continuity are a strong leadership pool, seamless continuity of operations and managed turnover. Also significant are shorter learning curves for new hires, diminishing corporate brain drain, lower burnout and stress costs, and less reliance on a contingent workforce.

Overall, respondents shared a number of common challenges, including lack of time, expertise, budget, senior management commitment and a general resistance to giving up the power of knowledge. They often find themselves at an impasse in pushing a knowledge continuity strategy.

Many respondents cited a “knowledge is power” culture where “job task hoarding and information squirreling” are common. The “unwillingness of knowledge holders to share information and transfer skills” translated into an obvious resistance and fear “someone may replace the knowledge giver.”

Finally, there was this point on the complexity of the concept: “In order to get this, all the managers need to participate in putting this information together and then determining what is priority for knowledge-sharing and what can be stored at a later date.”

Without the resources, commitment and culture, this seems to be a daunting task.

However, 63.8 per cent of respondents are intent on pursuing the development of a database of knowledge holders within the organization and 58.6 per cent are pursuing tactics to motivate knowledge holders to share information.

In Continuity Management: Preserving Corporate Knowledge and Productivity When Employees Leave, authors Hamilton Beazley, Jeremiah Boenisch and David Harden provide a template of six steps to create a knowledge continuity culture:

• Conduct a knowledge continuity assessment.

• Determine the objectives and scope of the continuity management initiative.

• Establish co-ordination responsibility.

• Plan the continuity management implementation initiative.

• Create the methodology to harvest and transfer the critical operational knowledge.

• Transfer the operational knowledge.

Or perhaps, in light of the challenges, we should go back to the basics such as performance management, employee engagement and talent management practices. After all, if these were truly successful, would we even be talking about knowledge continuity?

Alice Kubicek is a consultant who focuses on the motivations and behaviours underlying the human dynamics of leadership teams. She is also a director on the Human Resources Professionals Association’s board of directors and a senior fellow at the Centre of Governance at the University of Ottawa. She can be reached at akps_ott@sympatico.ca.

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