Who holds the institutional knowledge in today’s work environment?
There was a recent survey that stated that 43% of millennials intend to leave after only 2 years at any one company. Not job, but company. Now the other shoe dropping, 61% of Gen Z intend to leave after only 2 years at any one company. The reasons given in the Deloitte Millennial Survey 2018 relate to a lack of leadership, morals, ethics, and world view. I will return to this valuable topic another time because right now I want to address a real problem of “Who will hold the institutional knowledge of the company when a major part of the employees will not be there in 2–5 years?”
First, what is institutional knowledge/memory?
One definition I like is that institutional memory is a collective set of facts, historical data, concepts, experiences, and knowledge held by a group of people. Some people think of this as when a “new” idea is presented, some curmudgeon says “we tried that 10 years ago and it didn’t work.” Yes that is part of it, but more realistically it is understanding the trends that have driven the business, a perspective on how the business has changed with different economic times, what industry regulations have changed over time to impact the business, using the established contacts in an industry, understanding why something didn’t work 10 years ago and what is different now.
Second, why is institutional knowledge important?
Knowing the trends of the industry over time can point to an inflection point happening now that can help the business. Understanding the changing customer preferences of a previous product so that undesirable features can be eliminated from product development or changed to the new tastes. In short, institutional knowledge can serve as a short cut to new product development. The shorter the development time, the sooner to market, the higher probability of market leadership. Some pretty solid reasons for the benefit of institutional knowledge. The hard part is effectively analyzing the data to be of real use to the organization. And sometimes the curmudgeon is right — it was tried and didn’t work and we need to avoid that at all costs.
Third, what can you do to save AND RETRIEVE institutional knowledge?
In order for data to be used it needs to be preserved. I love technology. The ability to store information today compared to a couple of decades ago is absolutely astounding. It is estimated by Domo that there is 2.5 quintillion bytes of data stored each and every day by every one everywhere. We do a lot of storing, but retrieving meaningful knowledge from all of that data is the trick.
Customer Relation Managment (CRM) software is great at recording customer interactions and the information collectively is known as “big data”. Business.com and other publications have been reporting that there is a shortage of data analytics people. These are the people that try to spot trends within the data that is reported for each company. But CRMs lack the ability of a sales person to collect a series of notes from different trade shows she has attended that describe the happenings in the industry, off the wall conversations while at dinner with a peer group, the overall shift or tipping point with a technology.
For me one of the best apps to come along is Evernote. There is One Note and seems like it has equal capabilities but I started on Evernote. Early on with Evernote I didn’t really like to use tags. The note is in a topical Notebook, how simple could it be? I have come to see the error of my ways. I have lots of tags. Searching with tags has made the searches easier, more relevant, even though I have lots of notebooks for the various notes. I have scads of information from news articles, books, interviews, trade shows, conferences, sales meetings, agency meetings, websites, products, and more. Some of it dating back years.
But the information just sits there waiting to be utilized. John Naisbitt wrote “We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge.” Could I get some data analytics person to write some algorithm to go through my stuff? Yes, if I could find one and if I had the money. Here is the alternative — take time to reflect, take time to just go through your notes on a regular basis. Do some searches. Peruse. Great word — peruse. This does several beneficial things. Going through your post trade show notes for the same show for the past 5 years you can see if there are recurring themes, product ideas that struck you back then and see if they are around still or how successful they are now, which customers are showing up on a regular basis, what topics are gaining attention with attendees. Compare notes with colleagues that were at the same shows over time. Do you see the same things they are seeing?
This is institutional data being turned into institutional knowledge or wisdom and now becomes actionable for strategy and product planning. Does gathering information and turning it into knowledge take time — YES. Is it worth it — ABSOLUTELY YES. This process then saves the institutional data, which can be turned into institutional wisdom and action even though people may leave after 2 years or 5 years or even 20 years.