Can the intranet help mitigate knowledge loss?

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In working with a large 5000+ employee utility client recently, I learned that 30% of its staff was eligible to retire in the next 5 years, 56% eligible in the next 8 years.

This staff turnover is apparently not unusual in certain sectors. Estimates for the oil and gas sector referenced in a 2006 MIT Sloan Management Review article state that was many as 60% of experienced managers will retire by 2010, now a mere 12 months away.

These facts are dramatic. What happens when half your workforce disappears? And not just any half, but the most experienced and knowledgeable staff?

The loss of these employees has a wide reaching effect. The knowledge loss is two-fold:

  • what they know disappears
  • who they know (and how to get things done by using those connections) disappears

We lose the knowledge of practice and process with their departure. And we lose the social relationships that once previously held together the organization and allowed information and knowledge to flow amongst staff in productive ways.

How can the intranet help? I think there are many ways. For a start:

  • making the organizational structure explicit through good company directory design,
  • allowing for the emergence of implicit social structures through non-anonymous commenting and favoriting of content,
  • providing staff with the tools to let narrative flow freely about how they do things (blogs, relaxed standards around content creation)
  • incorporating these features into something that happens in the flow, as part of their daily jobs, instead of some artificial knowledge capture process above the flow, as something they have to do after the fact

I’m skeptical that knowledge is something that can be captured, at least the deep smarts or tacit knowledge that really creates value, but I’m optimistic that intranet 2.0 type tools like ThoughtFarmer can have an impact on this problem.

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  1. Miko Coffey

    Interesting point, Gord. I think it’s also relevant in light of the recent economic climate: with so many companies issuing redundancies, there have to be some ramifications in terms of knowledge loss.

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