Development Dimensions International (DDI) in Toronto created a program years ago where all important knowledge areas within the organization were identified and put into a matrix.
The matrix is used to map knowledge areas to various positions within the company and it ensures there is some overlap, so each knowledge area is well covered if there are shifts within the organization, said Greg Leskew, operations manager at DDI, which has 1,200 employees globally.
“The HR department does an audit every year where they partner with the management team and assess where there are gaps in certain knowledge areas and then they look for a solution, whether it’s job shadowing, mentoring or sharing experiences, to make sure those gaps are filled,” he said.
This commitment to knowledge continuity is something organizations are divided on, according to the latest Pulse Survey. More than one-third (35.7 per cent) have made a commitment to knowledge continuity in the workplace while 32.2 per cent have not and another 32.2 per cent are unsure, found the survey of 227 Canadian HR Reporter readers and members of the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA).
The electricity sector is anticipating a huge volume of retirements in the next four years so a commitment to knowledge continuity is absolutely critical, said Michelle Branigan, executivedirector of the ElectricitySector Council in Ottawa. The sector is made up of 100,000 people across Canada and is looking to replace 45,000 retirees by 2016, she said.
“You have one person who is the go-to person, who always knows how to respond to issues in this area or has specific knowledge. Or if there’s an emergency you always go to Joe — what happens when that person all of a sudden is no longer there?” she said.
“You can have policies, manuals and all the rest of it but that critical information, that instinctive how-to, if that’s not captured in a knowledge transfer process then your organization is in trouble.”
Organizations with knowledge continuity programs in place will be better suited to deal with the large volume of retirements expected within the next five to 10 years, said Leskew. And more than three-quarters (76.1) of survey respondents think knowledge continuity is important because it creates a stronger leadership pool.
Nearly one-third (31.3 per cent) of survey respondents prefer to fill senior management positions by promoting internally. One-fifth of employers (21.1 per cent) prefer to hire externally while nearly one-half (47.6 per cent) treat each case on its own merit.
“(Firms that hire internally) have stronger leadership, they cut down on recruitment costs, which also tends to soak up resources, time-to-productivity is shorter… there’s better engagement, better retention and lower turnover,” said Leskew.
To launch knowledge continuity processes, 63.8 per cent of survey respondents have identified the knowledge holders within their organization and 58.6 per cent are motivating knowledge holders to share information.
Create co-operative, not competitive, culture
Organizational culture plays a big part in whether or not knowledge holders will want to share information, said John Butler, president of HR consulting firm the Agora Group in Markham, Ont. The culture needs to be co-operative — where individuals understand it’s advantageous to them and the organization if they share their knowledge — rather than competitive, where individuals don’t what to share their knowledge because they fear it will give another person a leg up, he said.
“It’s about both thanking people visibly, publicly and, if necessary, repeatedly for sharing information but also profiling for everyone within the organization how that knowledge on (an employee’s) part has been successfully applied to the benefit of the entire organization,” said Butler. “Frankly, that often gets overlooked.”
More than one-half (57.6 per cent) of survey respondents have put mentorship programs in place as part of their knowledge continuity strategy.
“If someone has been identified as a high potential and they have a career path that leads them into a certain area, we’ll try to set them up with a mentor within that area and make sure they have a clear eye on what they need to learn, what types of things they need to experience and so on,” said Leskew.
Employers are also implementing work shadowing (43.3 per cent) and designing mechanisms to facilitate the transfer of information (41 per cent) within their knowledge continuity strategies, found the survey.
Videotaping retirees telling stories about their job is one effective mechanism for capturing information, said Branigan.
“They talk about examples of when they had to deal with difficult issues or situations,” she said. “It not only makes them feel valued, it’s a wonderful opportunity to transfer their knowledge to new recruits.”
Retirees also make great mentors, so new employees can call them for expert advice, and exit interviews can be set up to retain portions of a retiree’s knowledge, said Branigan.
More than one-third (38.5 per cent) of survey respondents said they have not experienced a positive return on investment with their knowledge continuity strategy.
Less than one-quarter (22.5 per cent) have seen a positive ROI and 39.2 per cent are unsure, found the survey.
The key to a successful knowledge continuity strategy is to gain buy-in from senior management, said Leskew.
“People need to be held accountable for actually seeing this program be successful,” he said. “Our managers are very supportive of that and we’re held accountable to make sure we do carve out time for mentorship or some sort of job shadowing or to do these knowledge transfer programs.”
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