Complexity and Knowledge Management Navigators…
I’ve often blogged about the complexities of KM and the need to treat KM activity in a holistic way, but what about some of the micro-KM activities? This blog looks at a specific issue for KM, succession planning, and reveals the depth of complexity that our (KM) activities encompass as we pull in complimentary concepts to solve our problems.
What do a Scottish police force, a major US pharmaceutical and a Middle East gas company all have in common?
Okay, yes, we have or are working with them on KM projects, but beside that…
They are all preparing to lose a significant percentage of their senior management or executive management team to retirement in the next five to six years. The other thing they have in common, they didn’t have a plan to capture their knowledge before they exited the company – basically, forget a knowledge-leak, they are facing the potential stream of knowledge loss. How many of you, reading this, have plans in place to capture the knowledge of your staff as the age out of the company – to say nothing of forced-redundancy brought about as organisations ‘right-size’ to meet the challenges of the current economic climate? You don’t know what crisis is around the corner or which member of staff will walk out of your company for the last time today, their knowledge lost forever, or, worse still, they sell their personal capital, and their knowledge along with it, to your competitors.
Scare mongering? You might say that this happens all the time and that it is impossible to legislate against ever scenario that could contribute to knowledge leakage or loss. You’re right, of course. However, you can work to minimise your risk and you can plan to embed the knowledge of people that are ‘aging out’ of the organisation or vital operational knowledge that exists within a limited pool of people. KM has a role to play here and, by the way, there isn’t an IT solution to manage you out of this one, this is about people processes and developing a framework where people are motivated to share and absorb the knowledge-giving being afforded to them. One aspect of the solution is succession planning, which requires you to work with HR partners to justify a KM intervention.
I’ve already blogged about the value of people and the need to link KM to the strategic needs of the organisation, so, I am hoping we can take this as read. What we are interested in here are ideas that can capture the knowledge of senior staff, motivate potential successors, contribute to heightened decision-making capability, and stimulate the illusive dynamic capacity that knowledge-intensive organisations crave. By now you are probably waiting with bated breath for a new revelation, consulting fad or academic concept removed from the reality of operational need. Sorry to disappoint you. This is as simple as two old concepts, two old friends if you like: Communities of Practice and Action Learning.
I’ll give you an example of what we are talking about. The way we develop solutions obviously depends on the needs of the organisation, but ultimately we look to bring together people who are exiting the organisation within the next 5 years with a pool of succession candidates. This knowledge-network* is organised to embed the exiting knowledge within the remaining staff through shared decision-making processes – the network, which we hope, through leadership and motivation, can evolve into a Community of Practice, is not limited to the exiting staff and succession pool, with other participants being invited from the wider organisation according to the remit and needs of the community. The key is for the organisation to recognise the potential knowledge loss, liaise with HR to identify potential succession candidates and then provide the time and space for these key people to work together. Obviously, this is a very simplistic overview and the actual solution will have to be tailored to the specific needs of the organisation, but this said, it is a fairly simple solution to a costly problem.
*We purposely label this as a ‘network’ as we believe, to begin with, the community will function through knowledge transactions, motivated through personal needs or gain; we work to evolve this into a ‘community’, where people interact without the primary thought of ‘what is in this for me’ – yes, we know the argument surrounding altruism, but our evidence suggests that this can and does happen.
The second part of this process requires the organisation to stimulate the transfer of knowledge through learning opportunities and this is where we use the Action Learning process. Again, using the network or community, the organisation poses problems to the network that, if facilitated correctly, requires the exiting staff and succession pool to take an agnostic approach to organisational problems in order to develop new solutions.
Seems too simple? Sometimes that’s all that is required. Obviously, restating the obvious, it will all depend on variables, such as the needs of the organisation, culture and the personality types that operate within the network – see the organizational zoo for an example of what I am speaking of here – and in that sense it is anything but simple.
Hopefully, this gives you an insight into how KM can solve problems of knowledge-leakage through people processes that work to embed knowledge within the wider organisation… now, the next question is how do you motivate people to connect with these processes – too much to address here, but take a look at, “For KM’s sake, get the people factor right” for an idea of how we start to tackle this.