Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Retaining organisational knowledge

I am about to embark on a trial program for knowledge retention at work. I have been thinking about this for some time and have recently (for the first time) been asked to try to capture some of the knowledge of a staff member who is leaving.


I am in two minds about an approach that attempts to 'capture knowledge' when staff leave. My focus has been on making knowledge more visible within the organisation by encouraging knowledge sharing and transfer from one to many. I am not convinced of the value of asking key staff to identify 'what they know' and think others 'may need to know'. What happens if I can capture and codify this 'information'? How does it become knowledge (that is useful to others) and for how long is it relevant?

I love the idea of retaining ex staff as experts, on a retainer, or as part of an alumni who can provide mentoring or advice as needed. I have found leaving speeches to be great tools as experts naturally summarise their greatest learnings and experiences and also tell interesting stories and anecdotes.

For this particular person I will be asking about what worked and what didn't in her role and in specific circumstances. It would be useful to know about the networks she has established and how she did this. Maybe advice for someone replacing her or new to the team?

Has anyone done this successfully in their workplace and been able to develop a set of questions that seem to work? I love the idea of storytelling, but am unsure how to initiate this in a one on one interview.

I know I will need to take a more holistic view of the knowledge in my organisation before I can successfully manage a program to retain it. Identifying what knowledge we need and want to retain may be the first step. Establishing a risk matrix and then putting in place a strategy to combat knowledge loss would be my next steps. We rarely, if ever have the luxury of having a replacement appointed before the knowledge leaves, so knowledge transfer from one expert to the next isn't possible.

Anyway, I am gathering some resources so will get reading and give it a go! I'll report back on my progress.

Some early reading on knowledge retention:
Nick Milton
Arshad Ahmed  
Knowledge Management Tools (KMT)
Jack Vinson

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Librarian to KM


I have been thinking lately about the skills I gained as a librarian that have assisted me in my move into a knowledge management role. It is interesting that knowledge management practitioners come from varied backgrounds - HR, IT, business improvement, libraries and information management.
The role itself changes depending on the organisation, industry and job description. From my perspective, it was good luck that I had had some new experiences* in my previous role in a large government agency in addition to my library training and experience and these new skills, matched what my new employer was looking for. 

These are some of the library-related skills and experience that have been useful in my new role:
  • information management - I have an odd desire to manage information: to identify, classify and provide access to it. This is somewhat easier in a library where the information you are managing is generally externally sourced or purchased (books, articles, subscriptions, online databases etc). As a knowledge or information manager the range of information, systems and knowledge is broader, and often more difficult to quantify and even to identify. Of course there are exceptions to this and it depends how broadly the libraries responsibilities extend in an organisation and how widely an information manager's control extends. However there are fundamental challenges or tasks associated with managing information in any form; such as quality, access - providing a federated search or one-stop shop for information, mediation - managing information overload and providing appropriate tools and processes around information. Sound familiar? Acquire, organise and disseminate? 
  • records management - record keeping obligations under the Archives Act are also part of my role as a knowledge manager in a government department. As a librarian I wasn't aware of the extremely complex and stringent guidelines set by the National Archives of Australia (NAA), I was, as all librarians would be, aware of the importance of information and it's value as a record for legal proceedings, as a historical record and a record of business transactions and also in some cases just for their intrinsic value.
  • customer service - I guess working in retail helped also, but librarians definitely benefit from this skill. Good communication skills, understanding what people need, being approachable and helpful, all of these are key in libraries. 
  • Basic IT and systems experience. My current role includes content management for a website and intranet. In my previous library role I worked a lot on an organisational wiki and was able to build skills in basic html.
I know there are lots of opportunities for librarians looking for a career change and km is just one option. In this climate with special libraries being reduced in size or closed altogether, it may be important to start looking at what skills are best to cultivate. I can see a future for academic and public libraries, not sure about other special libraries, they appear to be slowly diminishing?

*User testing, social media experience, change management, project management, systems and IT basics