Volume 12, Number 1
Hamilton Beazley, Ph.D., Jeremiah Boenisch and David Harden
Beazley is Chairman of the Strategic Leadership Group, Captain
Boenisch is a communications officer in the U.S. Air Force, and
Captain Harden is a pilot in the U.S. Air Force.
They are authors of Continuity Management (Wiley,
New York, 2002).
the Information Age, knowledge has become the key to increasing
productivity, enhancing innovation, and building competitive
advantage. But most
corporations aren’t very effective in managing this knowledge.
Data gets recorded and information gets filed;
but the Delphi Group finds that about 70 percent of a
company’s knowledge resides solely in the minds of its
employees. In this era of impending baby-boomer retirements and
high job turnover due to downsizing, job-hopping, and increased
use of the contingency workforce, knowledge loss has reached
critical proportions. The
loss of 70 percent of an individual’s knowledge can be
devastating and amounts to a wholesale asset give-away.
Preserving knowledge continuity between employee
generations has thus become the new management imperative of the
Information Age. By
implementing knowledge continuity procedures, a company can manage
specifically to preserve and enhance its knowledge asset.
Ask yourself if your organization is plagued with any of
the following crises created by knowledge discontinuity from the
loss of departing employees.
crisis develops when only one or two employees understand the
procedures, processes, relationships, and systems that are
essential to the work of a team or department.
If they leave, and their critical operational knowledge has
not been captured, a knowledge vacuum results.
A simple test for a potential knowledge vacuum is the Bob
test: When “Bob”
is out, can anything get done?
If not and Bob leaves, his replacement will inherit a
knowledge vacuum and have to start from scratch.
someone, or some document, in the organization holds the knowledge
the new hire needs, but nobody knows who it is or where it is, the
result is knowledge panic in the new employee. The required knowledge may even be in the predecessor’s
files, but the filing system is quirky, or there’s no index. Imagine the new employee’s frustration as she tries
frantically to meet a deadline and hears only, “I know it’s
around here somewhere” or “I’m sure I’ve seen it.”
situation is similar to Knowledge Panic, except the new hires do
have some knowledge. It’s
just not enough to do their jobs.
Desperate for knowledge, their only hope is to waste
precious time hunting down information and the people or documents
that presumably can supply it.
Overload, Knowledge Deficiency
knowledge crisis develops when the new employee encounters an
overload of information, but can access no real knowledge.
Furthermore, the information itself is worthless because it
was organized and transferred in a format that rendered it
unusable or indigestible. Poorly
organized, misclassified, or nonprioritized information may as
well not exist. In
that state, it cannot be transformed into knowledge or used as
information by successor employees.
crisis develops when huge amounts of information and knowledge are
dumped on the successor employee, but the knowledge is obsolete,
incorrect, or immaterial. Highly
relevant operational knowledge has been omitted. Much of it may be in the form of dusty continuity books.
Some of it may be valuable, but who knows?
Such knowledge is time-consuming to analyze, integrate, or
reject. It is not
worth tackling. Rather
than being productive for the successor, the knowledge is
crisis, which develops out of insufficient knowledge, is likely to
emerge in varying degrees as a companion to other knowledge
develop false assumptions, fallacious theories, and mistaken
principles to guide their decisions and actions as they wander
through the labyrinth that operational ignorance creates.
In place of data, information, and knowledge on which to
base their decisions, new hires rely on knowledge fantasies and
knowledge guesses about what might be true.
Winging it is no basis for operating with confidence.
Errors are made, progress is stalled, and productivity is
rigidity is somewhat different from the other crises. It results
from an organizational culture that is closed to change and
resists any modifications of the way things are done. Innovative approaches, new solutions, and imaginative
responses developed by incumbent employees to deal with the
exigencies of a rapidly changing environment go unharvested,
unreported, and unshared. Critical
operational knowledge decays in relevance and applicability as new
knowledge is ignored or twisted to conform to preconceived forms.
Knowledge rigidity leads to corporate decay and extinction
as the organization denies or ignores the changing demands of its
environment that pressure its established products, markets, or
knowledge lost from a departing employee is a long-term problem
that breeds other problems and reduces an organization’s
raises costs, decreases productivity, undermines competitive
advantage, and erodes organizational competence.
On the other hand, effective knowledge continuity
management creates a powerhouse organization that is responsive,
innovative, and a step ahead of its competitors.
By using the principles on continuity management, you can
prepare yourself and your organization to succeed in the turbulent
business environment of the new century by retaining the critical
operational knowledge that is 30% in the records and 70% in the
minds of your employees.