Pocketing & Knowledge Retention

Two of the most frequent communication failures for organizations are pocketing and knowledge retention.

Pocketing occurs when an employee - anyone from an entry level hire to the CEO - learns something new and does not share the information. This is most frequently unintentional. In many cases, they may assume that what they have just learned is something that everyone else already knows. Even if they do share this knowledge, it is unlikely to travel beyond their immediate working group or hierarchical strata. As a result, their knowledge exists in a pocket. Unfortunately, oftentimes this knowledge is something that would have helped the organization make or save more money.

Knowledge retention works like this: You spend a great deal of time, money, and effort training new hires. The longer they stay, the more they learn on their own. Because of pocketing, when layoffs occur or when a knowledgeable employee leaves the organization for other reasons, their accumulated knowledge goes with them. The loss of this information often costs the organization money, if for no other reason than that anyone new is likely to make many mistakes learning the same lessons on their own. Leaving aside the cost of having to train someone new from scratch, why in the world would you want to keep reinventing the wheel?

There are two solutions, and both are necessary: First, run your organization as lean as you possibly can - especially mid-level and senior management staff, where costs and knowledge tend to pool. Second, invest in a shared knowledge base.

Originally, knowledge bases were the province of technical support. Today, any organization without one operates at a serious deficit. Whether a full-blown wiki, intranet, or something as simple as a collection of Google Docs, encourage everyone to contribute (and I do mean everyone), and make sure that everyone has access to view everything (but limit edit rights to each document's author or work group). Make it a living, breathing resource, with someone in charge of keeping it organized, up to date, and eliminating redundancies.

Think of it this way: What would happen to your organization if you were hit by a bus tomorrow? What if it was your head of sales, marketing, product development, or a key member of your sales, customer service, or technical staff? The amount of information that goes into your knowledge base should be complete enough that if this actually happened, your replacement (or theirs) could walk in tomorrow and immediately take over, with minimal impact on the organization.

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