It’s becoming increasingly rare to find an employee who has spent their entire career in a single organisation. It’s even rarer for their parents or grandparents to have spent their respective careers in the same organisation. Consequently effective knowledge management has become an increasingly critical element of an organisation’s strategy.
During the time that an employee spends with your organisation, they accumulate knowledge and experience, they acquire new skills and refine those skills and they build relationships with individuals outside your organisation.
If you do not manage knowledge pro-actively in your organisation, you risk experiencing great disruption in your business when your access to all of this knowledge suddenly disappears along with that employee. This risk is not only significant when an employee resigns or retires, but also when they accept an internal promotion or transfer.
As tempting as it may seem to shackle your employees to their office chairs so that they can’t go anywhere, the reality is that any illusion of security you have created for yourself with a contract is still no real guarantee of safety. So what can you do?
1) Processes and standardisation
Thorough and accurately documented processes and procedures should enable almost anyone to take over a specific task at a moment’s notice. Often when an employee creates such a document for the first time, they unintentionally leave out certain steps that already come naturally to them. It is therefore a good idea to have a draft document ‘tested’ by someone completely unfamiliar with that specific task to ensure that all the steps are included and that the instructions are clear.
Ensure that processes are standardised as far as is possible across multiple functions and departments. If all the buyers in a procurement department follow the same purchase order processing, document marking and filing system, it will be much easier for any one of them to pick up where another has left off, if need be.
Conversely, if everyone follows their own unique system, it will be almost impossible to figure out where to start if you need to try and take over from where they have left off.
2) Data management
Make regular back-ups of data and ensure that these are stored centrally and work reliably. Once an employee is no longer in your service, it is still recommended that you keep a complete back up of their computer. We have on multiple occasions seen how valuable it is, even a number of years after someone left a specific company, to be able to run a search on their documents and find what you were in dire need of at that point in time.
Although it’s important to ensure that your employees are multi-skilled and able to take on additional tasks whilst you recruit for a currently vacant position, it is even better if you are able to avoid a situation like this entirely.
Effective succession planning could even put you in a position where a successor is trained on the job by an employee for an extensive period of time before that person retires from a critical role within the company.
If you are unable to identify a single appropriate successor, consider whether you could instead have the responsibility linked to that single role, shared by more than one individual so that it becomes a team’s responsibility instead.
Effective knowledge management should be a standard practice within your organisation and your strategy should be reviewed regularly to ensure that it is still effective. Ensure that your business has a culture of agility that can be sustained.