I was reading an article on artificial intelligence when I came across this interesting paragraph:
“…electronic connectivity certainly has had a huge impact on the way that many humans go about their daily lives, and even on the way in which we problem-solve and think about any new question or challenge. Who of us in the connected modern world hasn’t Googled a question before even trying to work through the answer, or before asking another human being? Part of our collective wisdom is now uploaded, placed in an omnipresent cloud of data.”
I had a couple of different thoughts about that statement, the foremost being about knowledge retention in companies.
Knowledge retention is a big deal, or should be, in companies today. Unfortunately in many smaller companies knowledge retention is only an afterthought. Knowledge retention can only occur when there is documentation and documentation is often neglected. By knowledge retention I mean all sorts of business information. We train employees but seldom is what is learned noted in a system. Managers and HR practitioners have interactions with employees yet little documentation is made of that interaction and what was learned as a result.
We rely on the retention of information inside someone’s head. What happens when that manager or HR rep leaves their position or leaves the company? The knowledge of how employees were dealt with leaves the company.
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The Learning Organization
Peter Senge, in his book The Fifth Discipline, talks about the “learning organization.” We talk about that in our SHRM lessons, too. A learning organization has to have five parts to exist. These are systems thinking, personal mastery, mental models, shared vision and team learning. Team learning occurs from the accumulation of individual learning.
A good learning organization has a way to accumulate knowledge which allows the organization to acquire, disseminate, and use this knowledge in creative ways. However, this cannot occur if there is no system to accumulate or retain this knowledge.
Companies need to have a knowledge retention system that allows employees, new managers, new HR people to “google” internal information to help them learn about how situations and employees have been dealt with in the past. Why try to recreate or reinvent the wheel every time someone new starts in a position?
Unfortunately too often I run into situations where there is no consideration given to such a system. I did provide some tips on how this can be done in a 2012 post called Three Tools for Knowledge Retention for Your Workforce. Today there are a number of automated and cloud based systems that a company can use to retain, store and recall questions and answers about how the company operates. These allow companies to get new employees, managers and HR people up to speed.
If you current company does not use knowledge retention techniques then it cannot be considered a learning organization. Helping create an environment for effective use of such a system is an excellent way to have a positive impact on your organization.