When I was leading our knowledge management strategy development at SmithKline Beecham in 2000, and then, briefly, part of the team driving GlaxoSmithKline’s KM strategy in 2001, there was a lot of talk about conducting exit interviews to capture people’s knowledge before they walked out of the door.
Reading Melissie Clemmons Rumizen’s very good and comprehensive “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Knowledge Management” brought this back to me and yet, whatever’s happened to this concept? She describes how the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) adopted a very structured approach to identifying in advance who was going to retire, and then prioritising interventions for immediate action based on the business impact of the knowledge that would be lost. Presumably, exit interviews are equally worth considering in the case of maternity / paternity leave, and of course in the current climate in the case of redundancy. Yet I’ve heard very little about any organisation addressing the need to capture knowledge before it ‘walks out of the door’.
I wonder how far organisations have really come in recognising that people are knowledge assets, rather than expenses? Karl-Erik Sveiby first raised this in 1979 when he left Unilever and started a business weekly: he recognised that the most important assets in an organisation had no value. The knowledge that is held within people is a very intangible asset, as opposed to physical buildings or computer equipment, and yet this asset is so important to an organisation’s success.
As Melissie says, the difference between the book value of an organisation, and its market value can be very revealing about this intangible asset: IBM bought Lotus for $3.5 billion, whereas its book value was a fraction of that at $500 million.
Tony Buzan, in “The ultimate book of mind maps”, maintains that it would cost well over a couple of billion dollars to make a machine that could do everything that a human could do.
Of course the best solution is to capture, share and re-use knowledge within the organisation on a continuous basis. My slide set on learning reviews in http://www.linkedin.com/in/elisabethgoodman give quite an in-depth overview of how to do this. Other excellent approaches are through the use of Communities of Practice, and best practice repositories.
However, it would be reassuring to know that organisations are not only taking note, but acting on the need to conduct structured exit interviews to make the most of the tremendous knowledge resource available to them before people retire, go on maternity/paternity leave, are ‘let go’ or otherwise leave the organisation. Again, there are some excellent tools and methodologies available to help people to do this. I’d be more than happy to discuss..