The Problem When Knowledge Isn’t Shared

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Has this ever happened in your organization where you discover that because departments don’t capture and share their knowledge, they do the same process completely different? What was the outcome? Which group followed corporate or operational guidelines? Who didn’t? Was there an inherent flaw on the way one group performed over the other? Why in the world would one group have one process or protocol for doing something and another department or division have a totally different one? Even if it varied only a little from one department, process or protocol from the other, why isn’t there a standard procedure to follow for everyone?

When organizations don’t capture the tacit/tribal knowledge their employees have and use, along with the procedures in which they do their job, then there is no way to share that knowledge with the rest of the organization. This is especially true if that department or division is in a different location. The cost to the organization can be enormous, in the loss of sales, productivity or even customers.

Let’s take a different view of this problem. In their recent Pulse of Engineering360 Report, IHS stated that “80% of the problems that companies are currently handling are repeat issues! So, a lot of time and effort is wasted, really, on trying to resolve issues over and over again without getting to the root causes.” They went on to say that “It’s also recognized for every dollar of prevention, you can save $10 in rework costs and $100 in failure costs within the field. So there’s a times ten (10x) element at every stage of production through to the time you deliver the product.” How does that relate to the knowledge sharing problem you ask? Well, when those repeatable problems happen over and over again, clearly no one is attempting to capture any knowledge about: what causes the problem in the first place, and nobody is sharing how they went about solving it. They just continue to deal with it every time it happens and who knows which way is more effective.

In his article for Industry Week- Gary Cokins stated: “There is only 47% of the required knowledge in the average organization that is needed to make timely and accurate decisions. Executives, managers, and employee teams already know many of the risks that should be mitigated in an organization and also which risks that should potentially be leveraged to solve a problem or pursue an opportunity. However, capturing, understanding and leveraging the existing KEP (Knowledge, Experience and Performance) and the missing KEP into improved enterprise performance is achieved by far few organizations.”

In his article Tribal Knowledge- A Sufficiently Large Problem? Greg Meany wrote: The issue is that this information never gets stored anywhere but in people’s heads, so the same questions get answered over and over through oral tradition. By never capturing this information or making it easily available the speed and productivity of these organizations is negatively impacted.”

IHS further stated that within most organizations “A knowledge drain is occurring, while knowledge management is lacking. Thirty-two percent (32%), of the 2,162 organizations they surveyed, lack formal knowledge management systems/processes to identify, capture, manage and share critical data, documents, knowledge and information.” The knowledge drain comment was referring to the fact that “The loss of employees will mean the loss of institutional knowledge at these companies. Forty percent (40%) of those surveyed said that they lose specialized knowledge and expertise faster than they gain it.”

“Every month, more than a quarter-million Americans turn 65 and head towards retirement. These are the most experienced employees in the organization and they are taking irreplaceable, tribal knowledge with them. Saving this knowledge will be essential to avoiding large expertise gaps.”

– Greg Meany Haydle Enterprise Q&A 09/2014

So, in short, when knowledge isn’t shared among other employees, departments or divisions, it has a negative impact on them and the organization as a whole. When repeatable problems are identified that continue to happen, there needs to be a way in which to not only capture the knowledge around the problem, but to also dig deeper into what the root cause is to that problem, so it can be prevented. Then that knowledge needs to be shared with everyone involved with fixing the problem, so it doesn’t repeat itself again.

Also, there is clearly a problem in that a lot of organizations don’t have a formal plan in place to identify and then capture the knowledge they have so that it can be shared with the rest of the organization. This is especially true around the aging workforce that is scheduled to retire in the near future and taking valuable intellectual capital, about the organization and their jobs, with them. So, if their knowledge isn’t captured, then it can’t be shared.

Getting back to what happens when knowledge isn’t shared; there are plenty of examples that I’m sure you can think of that have happened within your own organization which might have been prevented if the knowledge had been captured and shared. So, those organizations that have a process in place to capture and share the intellectual capital of their employees will be a much stronger organization than those that don’t. At least that’s the way I see it, what say you?

About the author:

Chuck Carey is an accomplished sales, marketing and business executive with more than 40 years of experience in the information technology industry. Chuck’s vast knowledge of the problems facing all types of organizations around identifying and capturing corporate knowledge makes him ideally suited to work with and consult in that area. If you would like to see if Chuck can help you and your organization please contact him through this website.

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