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February 18, 2016

Stemming The Flow: How Enterprises Can Hold On To Their Knowledge

Posted by Dr. Jayan Sen (View Profile | View All Posts) at 1:08 PM

"...The fog of information can drive out knowledge." - Daniel J. Boorstin

This is the story of today's enterprise, awash in information stored within its systems, processes and people. Because this information is trapped within individual silos, a huge opportunity to share knowledge across the enterprise is lost. Permanently, when employees quit or retire.

For enterprises trying different ways of transferring and retaining knowledge, it is best to make this part of a coordinated, proactive and enterprise-wide approach to knowledge and human capital management. That being said, the impact of long-term demographic trends in the labor market is forcing businesses to deal with knowledge attrition as a top priority.

But to do that, enterprises need to first develop a deep understanding of the value, accumulation and dispersion of knowledge resources within their organization. So, the ideal starting point is to define the 'when, where and what' of knowledge attrition. The focus here is on mapping the potential loss of knowledge by assessing how much talent is scheduled to retire, identifying the areas of the business that will be hit the hardest, and determining the skill sets that are at maximum risk.

The second step is to quantify the consequences that this knowledge drain will have on the various aspects of the business. This enables enterprises to prioritize their knowledge retention strategies with a view to ensuring business continuity, minimizing value loss etc.

The final phase of the exercise calls for drawing up strategies and plans to stem the impact of attrition. There are a number of combinations of tools, activities and programs, which can drive knowledge retention. But four key components have been identified as being critical to the success of any strategy.

Recognition and reward: This framework allows HR managers to use a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators to build employee engagement with retention and sharing programs and also to recognize new milestones in mentoring and learning.

Bi-directional knowledge flow: This is critical to ensuring that knowledge retention and transfer does not remain a one-time exercise, but becomes part of the continuous learning culture of a company. Knowledge has to flow up, down and across the hierarchy so that specialized skills can be captured and transferred throughout the enterprise.

Personalization and codification: Personalization enables employees to make new connections in the workplace and usually involves approaches such as mentoring, job rotation, knowledge fairs, etc. Codification is a more systems-oriented approach that accelerates knowledge sharing by converting tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge. This typically involves setting up best practice systems, intranet knowledge repositories etc.

The Golden Gem: This approach helps companies slow down the exodus of talent through practices, such as phased retirement or employing retired talent on a part-time or project basis.

The ultimate objective of any knowledge retention and sharing strategy should be to create a culture of continuous learning within the organization. So by definition, it cannot be run ad-hoc or in isolation, but rather, should be orchestrated with the enterprise's long-term knowledge management and human capital development strategies.

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