Magazine article New Zealand Management

Well ... What Do You Know?

Magazine article New Zealand Management

Well ... What Do You Know?

Article excerpt

It is a serious question--and one likely to be asked more frequently and in more varied ways as more organisations recognise the importance of capturing and managing knowledge.

Knowledge can be an ephemeral sort of quarry. Sure there's all the grunty, practical stuff of how widgits fit into whatsits and the copious process manuals or detailed databases. But what about the stuff that sits in people's heads--experiences, tactics, relationships, networks, intuitive learning or tacit understanding.

Take "Peter". He's been in a sales management role at company X for a decade or more, has developed great customer relations and is the first port of information call for both his senior and junior colleagues. Now he's about to retire.

That will leave a big hole in what IBM's global expert in critical knowledge retention and author Eric Lesser calls the social network fabric. "Companies spend a lot of time on the formal networks--the box and arrows reporting relationships--but from a knowledge perspective it's the informal networks and how they are supported that matters most," says Lesser.

"Mature workers who have built a lot of relationships--people who may not always have the answer but know where and how to find them--are the knowledge brokers who get threatened in an environment where people are retiring. They leave holes in the social fabric that make it difficult for knowledge to pass through."

Lesser was in New Zealand last month explaining why "grey matter matters" and why there's a lot of it walking out the door. There will, he says, be a whole bunch of "Peters" inadvertently draining vital and valuable knowledge from their organisations as the baby boomer generation starts retiring over the next decade. An aging workforce is one of the trends set to seriously affect the supply of organisational knowledge. "It's a problem hitting at both global and local levels and it's one that kind of sneaks up on people. There may be a couple of defections, then they're suddenly asking 'where did everyone go?'"

Estimates suggest nearly one fifth of America's middle and senior managers will retire by 2008 and more than half all federal employees (71 percent at executive level) are eligible for retirement in 2005. To that rather sizeable knowledge drain can be added other workplace trends like less loyalty, higher staff turnover and increasing numbers of self-employed contractors or leased employees, and you have a growing supply side problem.

Then there's the demand side of the equation: globalisation, outsourcing, the rise of partnerships, joint ventures or alliances (ie, greater scattering of organisational knowledge), and increases in both product and service complexity. …

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