Knowledge is vital to an organization’s success – but business leaders often fail to spend much time assessing how and when the correct knowledge is disseminated to the appropriate audiences. How do employees learn what they need to learn to do their jobs effectively? Even if employees do manage to get the information they need, how long did the process take? Was it effective?
Let’s examine the five main ways a knowledge transfer process (or lack thereof) can fail an organization.
A shoddy knowledge transfer process is:
1. Inefficient when it serves only individuals. When an employee gains information from another person – say, via email or through a conversation, this knowledge has been transferred to a grand total of one person. It takes time and diligence to convey knowledge – and to go through that effort for one person alone is completely inefficient. There are likely dozens, if not hundreds or thousands of others who might be in need of the exact same information. That’s a lot of emails or phone calls.
2. Reckless with employees’ time because it’s repetitious. In most cases, employees will get answers and information in a one-on-one conversation (For instance, an employee asks a colleague a question). This knowledge transfer process is hardly even a process; it’s disruptive and time-consuming. When a handful of Subject Matter Experts are heavily relied upon to verbally provide information, they’re interrupted frequently to answer the same questions over and over by different people – they spend their time repeating the same information, when they could be doing more value-added work.
3. Ineffectual because it’s impermanent. According to research, it’s extremely difficult for humans to remember information they have learned even just a few days ago. This problem – illustrated in the Curve of Forgetting – is exacerbated if the person learned this information verbally. That’s just a reality of the human brain. So not only was the process to acquire the information time consuming and wasteful, it wasn’t even effective. The person probably has forgotten some or most of the knowledge, and will be forced to seek it out again.
4. Uncontrolled because no one is accountable. A non-existent or ill-thought out knowledge transfer process means that no one can be held accountable to be sure the information they have is accurate and up-to-date. When managers and company leadership don’t know:
- What they need their staff to know
- What their staff already know and if it is correct
- What their staff do not know
- If the correct information is readily available to all relevant staff
No one can hold employees accountable to be in possession of the correct knowledge and to leverage it appropriately. This means staff can be wasting time looking for answers, providing incorrect, incomplete, or outdated information to prospects and customers, not following the wrong processes and guidelines – and there’s no proper way to assess their work, correct them, or monitor their improvement afterward.
5. A self-fulfilling prophecy that’s bound to reoccur. Though employees may be willing to go to some effort to find and learn the knowledge they need, when the process stops after they’ve gotten the information they want, the organization misses out on a fundamental opportunity to streamline their process, reduce repetition, and better serve others. Aside from the knowledge giver and recipient, no one else is aware of the gap that existed in the first place – thus, no one can prevent this situation from reoccurring.
Unchartered Knowledge: A Colossal Waste of Resources
An unchartered knowledge transfer process fails both the organization’s internal and external stakeholders. If people can’t get the information they need quickly, easily, and in a format they can retain, organizations lose more than just employees’ time; they lose potential sales and opportunities for growth.
Think of it this way: when a business orders 100 pallets of valuable products, a manager or executive knows where those pallets are at all times. He or she knows when the goods were shipped, when they arrive, and who has the key to the warehouse where they’re delivered.
The way we store and transfer merchandise is a secure, monitored, clear-cut process that minimizes error, increases efficiency, enables action, and ensures accountability. Yet many businesses do the exact opposite with their most valuable asset: their collective knowledge. It’s time for that to change, starting with these 4 ways to capture your company’s knowledge today.