Organizational Knowledge – Are you dead in the Water?
If one of four people didn’t show up, projects would stall at my previous employer. One guy ran the back-end/operations, another constructed the prototypes, I did programming and IT support, and my boss did programming and sales. All the passwords and network configurations were located in the operation’s guy’s palm (I didn’t set-up the network, I just inherited it and would write down stuff as I worked with it).
I soon discovered that we could live without a programmer for weeks, without an IT person as long as the infrastructure didn’t break down, without a prototype person for days, without a sales person for a few days, but never without operations. The operations guy had probably only taken a handful of sick days and even fewer vacation days in the 10+ years he worked at the company. Every time he was gone, due dates got moved back, customer orders were late and we lacked the passwords and information to fix IT issues. It was insane, and very stressful for the operations guy when he returned. It’s almost as if he had to make up on nights and weekends, the hours he took off.
As I look back on the situation, I note there was a lack of Organizational Knowledge. Every person had their fiefdom and when someone was gone, the people who covered had to make it up as they went. Organizational Knowledge is the howto of the business world. It is the time saver and organizer of the company. It’s the encyclopedia of how things get done around here.
My friend, who was the operations person had to order supplies and parts, gather production kits from inventory, ship orders and debug prototypes. Not only did this require knowledge of the production planning software and store, it required knowledge of SED’s (export declarations) lead times, parts distributors, channels of contact for the distributors and a process to complete each task. It was overwhelming to jump into his shoes for a day (and I was next in line!).
The problem was that we never took the time to write down the process. There were so many other things to do. Yet, we would have been far better off, had we known how to cover for him. The hour of process mapping would have saved at least a half day of thinking through it (and still getting it wrong). We need organizational knowledge.
Some companies take it to the other extreme. A handbook/manual is only as good as it ability to communicate. I’m not going to read 200 pages of how exactly something was done unless its a project that requires significant investment. Give me the guiding principles and bullet point summary.
When I google on how to fix something, if it is a multi-page article or string of text, I skip it. The knowledge of how to fix the problem has to be clear, concise and organized. The company Organizational Knowledge should be the same way. The better the access, the more people in the organization will use it.
Think of Organizational Knowledge as the path of the least resistance. If it is accessible, understandable and digestible, people will use it. Most people do not like to reinvent the wheel unless they think there is a better way.
We make Organizational Knowledge by giving the people in the know the tools, the motivation and the time to create it. The tools can be anything from a blog to a content management system. The motivation can be monetary, recognition or both. The time taken must be encouraged and rarely, if ever, punished as a bad decision. What’s more is that a content review before publishing can be given as a positive because the company cares about what is being written and cares enough to read the organizational knowlege before publishing.
Organizational Knowlege gives employees the tools to succeed, be recognized and feel good about their legacy. Organizational Knowlege gives employers an increased productivity and employee satisfaction, when implemented correctly. Sounds like a win-win to me.