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Retaining corporate knowledge

November 20, 2008

What separates older workers from the newer ones. You could say it is experience and you would be right of course but what is it about experience that makes such a difference? It’s all about choices. The experienced worker has the ability to evaluate the working environment and make reasonably informed decisions. The experienced worker:

  • can identify the crucial components – where to expend the effort, how much and why;
  • knows the critical turning points – knows the breaking point and how to avoid pitfalls; and
  • can evaluate the most probable outcomes – knows whether or not success is likely and whether the return is worth the effort.

In essence, they know that ‘why things are done’, can effect ‘how they are done’.

Why is this important in a training perspective? The key element is motivation. I refer back to the golden multipliers – learning multiplier number one says “that we learn better when we are motivated”. This extends beyond just a desire to learn. Understanding why helps the student understand their part in the process as well as the consequences of their performance.

How often have you asked why something is done in the organisation and been greeted with “that’s just the way we do it here” or “its always been that way” (or worse – someone struggling to come up with a reason so as not to look foolish for never questioning it themselves). That’s not to say there isn’t a reason, its just that they have been forgotten or left with experienced team members who moved on to better things.

How much effort do you put into those tasks compared to the ones whose consequences are clearly understood?

When a worker leaves the organisation, they take with them the accumulated knowledge and experience that has been gained during their time with that organisation. Not only that, the leave with some of the organisation’s ability to impart this knowledge and experience to new members.

This leaves the training team with a list of facts or standards as their training material. Its a great start because the standards can become the training objectives but what about the steps in between? We need to know the specific skills and knowledge to be targeted and use the appropriate techniques and exercises that hone these to the required standards.

Ironically, this ends up being most common reason that training suffers a disconnect from operations. If the training team is lacking in hands-on operational experience all trainers have to work with are the operational bench marks. Students then need to be retrained by experienced operational staff on “how things really work around here”.

Documenting what we do, how we do it and why we do it alleviates this very problem. There is a comment on the previous post that hits the nail right on the head – It is a great way for you to reference back to what you did on a particular task or project, or it can be used for other team members in the future. (thank you training blog). Don’t think of your team just as your immediate co-workers. There are trainers, policy makers, auditors and recruiters that need this information from you, usually when you are not around. Would you rather they make their own assessments?

It also raises another interesting point – should you document (publish) your mistakes as well as your successes?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 29, 2008 5:38 pm

    Absolutely you should document when things go wrong – just so you and others can see what went wrong and what you did about it. So much information is lost as the high staff turnover in jobs in IT increases that it is better to report on as much as possible for future reference.

  2. November 30, 2008 7:10 am

    Thanks Sammie, I agree wholeheartedly. In safety conscious environments this is critical to avoid mistakes being repeated and in some cases can be the basis for creating whole new procedures.

    In any organisation, failures carry lessons with them. Not promoting these to the rest of the team means that the lesson will need to be learned over and over again at the expense of time, safety or service quality. What business can afford that in this economic climate?

    Credibility also wanes very quickly.

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