3 Ways Knowledge is Leaking from your Business (and how to stop it)

In an economy where knowledge is as valuable as labour, the constant loss of knowledge from businesses has become a major dividing line between companies that succeed and lead, and those constantly running just to stay still.

“There is no wealth like knowledge,
and no poverty like ignorance.”


Like a dripping tap, knowledge can leak from several places in any organisation, but there are three major culprits that I’ve seen working with businesses that represent the most harmful loss of the wealth of vital business knowledge.

In an increasingly digital world, technology can offer great tools to stop the dripping, but used wrongly, can actually have the opposite effect and turn a drip into a flood.

Here are the top three places knowledge leaves your organisation, and some practical tips on how you can apply some DIY plumbing.

People Moving Job

Let’s get the most obvious one out of the way. A large amount of knowledge is leaking out of your business every time people move job.

Whether people are leaving your company, or moving into a new role in the company, they’ve built up significant skills and knowledge of not only how to do their job, but why it’s done that way. When they move role, that is lost.

It’s sometimes possible to have someone provide a detailed handover about how to do things, but such handovers almost never cover why. To make it worse, for skilled jobs that are harder to recruit, a handover usually comes in two stages. The first handover is usually to someone who will be covering the role temporarily, before a permanent replacement is found.

In these cases, the flow of knowledge looks like this:

  1. Person Leaving – Knowledge of how to effectively do the job, and knowledge of why doing it in this way befits the company, creates opportunities, and serves customers.
  2. Temporary Cover – Knowledge of how to do the job, experience in trying to get the job role to take as little time as possible (this person usually has taken on the extra responsibility without loosing any of their own responsibilities, so is always trying to optimise).
  3. New Person in Role – Knowledge of how to do the job with some tips passed on about how to save time doing it.

I’m sure the above sounds all too familiar.

So what can be done about it? We’ll the reality is that handover is the worst time to capture knowledge, and sitting with someone to show them what you do is the worst way to do it.

If you want to really capture knowledge from people, you want to do it while they are most engaged in the role, while they are engaged in it:

  • Use a knowledge base (Learn with Mobile is great for this) and give each person their own area in the knowledge base to capture things that help them in their role. Encourage them use this to not just document what they do now, but also ideas on how they might improve on it, then coach them while they try those ideas (they might just revolutionise the role).
  • Use this knowledge base whenever a job needs to be covered for holiday or sickness. If something is found missing in there, have the cover record it in the same area, and the person whose main role is being covered correct it if needed later (or explain why it’s not a good idea if needed).
  • When a “sit down” handover is required at any point, record it. We all have phones with video cameras and microphones with us now days. Record the session and put it in the same knowledge base. This takes no extra time and creates an invaluable resource.

It’s also worth keeping in mind when someone starts a new role, their previous employer is having to cope with the knowledge they left with so:

  • Have everyone new in the role record their own ideas in the knowledge base about how they think the role can be improved. In time as they settle into the role, let them try out those ideas and encourage the continuous improvement that brings.

Project Collaboration Software

When a team needs to work together on a project, they need somewhere to collaborate. This might be SharePoint, it might be Basecamp, it might be Slack, or might just be emails. Whatever technology is used however, a space is create to unite people around the project goal, and technology is used to connect the project team in meaningful ways.

Then, the project ends…

For a little while people involved refer back to the project collaboration area, and pull out key information, or direct you to the “right person to speak to”. But, at some point the project space isn’t up to date any more, and people stop being the right person to speak to as they are on new projects, and everything captured during the project get lost.

Then, we start a new project and repeat!

This is a great of example of where good technology is absolutely enhancing the ability of the project team, but sadly making it more efficient to lose the knowledge generated by the team too.

It can be avoided though, if the organisation understands that knowledge generation rather than knowledge capture and put a few, very simple knowledge capture rules into the project:

  • Step 1. – Have a “What you need to know” and “Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)” page for each project on your Knowledge Base that’s aimed to communicate to those outside of the project team important things that will mater when the project is complete. This should not be a “project status” report, it’s about life after the project not life during the project.
  • Step 2. – Whenever someone’s name is given post project for you to get more details from, capture that detail into the same “FAQ” or a related article.
  • Step 3. – Accept that anything in an email, Slack, Basecamp, etc. has not life after the project completes. Remove all the files and discussion at the conclusion of the project so nobody is fooled into thinking they can refer back to them. If you feel uncomfortable with this (I did the first time I adopted the policy!), repeat steps 1 and 2 until you don’t.

Telling people what to do instead of coach the best out of people

In addition to recording the knowledge a good protection against loosing knowledge is to spread the vital information and idea generation throughout all your team instead of keeping it only at the management level.

The worst way to do this is telling everyone how to do everything.  The best way I’ve ever seen to do it is coaching. Coaching encourages people to find their own answers, build confidence in their own abilities, and helps them know the why behind tasks, not just the what. A good coach provides constant support without having to be responsible for making all the decisions or owning all the ideas.

Coaching empowers your employees like no other form of personal development and can really help in motivating people to feel pride in contributing to your knowledge base as well.

At Ambidect we’ve helped Vodafone do exactly this. We could also help you do the same.

A Final Thought

“An investment in knowledge
always pays the best interest.”

Benjamin Franklin

Your knowledge is just as important to your business as your labour force, and when you employ someone, you are employing them to get access to both. Make sure you make the most of the knowledge you’ve got. Make sure you encourage building on good ideas. And make sure sharing is one of your company’s core values.









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