lost_knowledge_book.jpgI'm sitting in the Leadership & Learning Center at Rocketdyne - I've been invited to attend a KM presentation by Dr. David DeLong, author of Lost Knowledge. I recently purchased Dr. DeLong's book, however, I had not even opened it when I received the invitation to attend his presentation. I've brought along my X61 and my folding table so that I can live-blog this event for the benefit of my Knowledge Management cohort and anyone else who wants to learn... Here we go...

Kiho Sohn, Chief Knowledge Management Officer at Rocketdyne, is introducing the speaker...

Opening question: "How many of you remember where you were, July 20, 1969?"  [That's easy, I was sitting in front of my parents B&W TV watching the first moon landing.]

We are getting ready to go back... but are we doing everything we can to capture and retain the knowledge and experience gained in the first mission so that we can do it again.

Much of society assumes that because we were there [the moon] once, we can go back immediately. Unfortunately as you [rocket scientists] know, that's simply not he case...

Understanding the changing workforce

Example: NRC. 3K employees, 70% technical staff, 50% execs will retire in < 6 years, Oh, and we have to build dozens of new reactors but the people who built the last ones are on the way out. [By the way, we are building those just to replace the existing fleet which is reaching the end of its useful life. This isn't about adding new nuclear capacity. This is just to keep the lights on.]

So, what is the cost of this looming brain drain?

A discussion of knowledge loss must take place in the context of performance goals - what will we/wont we be able to do?

Potential and strategic impact of knowledge loss:

Workforce changes [Retirements, mid-career turnover, reoganizations, etc.] lead to knowledge loss which leads to decreased innovation and reduced efficiency/increased costs and reduced capacity for growth.

Shared frightening story of an explosion at a chemical plant; when they did the post mortem, they found that no one on duty at the time had been with the company for more than a year! He shared that when he reads of accidents/disasters he first asks himself "I wonder what the skill/knowledge level is of the people who were present?"

Shared story of electronics assembly line being shut down when a key worker retired - could not meet quality standards. (Share story)

"Lost knowledge" is defined as...
"... the decreased capacity for effective action or decision making in a specific function, team, or role."
It is NOT the same as failing to share knowledge with other parts of the organization.

Think about when a business says that there's a coming labor shortage. WalMart can train a worker in a week, but these people do not have the knowledge worker skills to be productive in a knowledge intensive society.

Do you know where your critical knowledge is that is at risk within your organization?

Dr. DeLong asked us to "list people in your organization who have unique knowledge critical to the future of this business. These should be people whose sudden departure would really hurt organizational performance." We then had a discussion on this topic.  I'm a guest here, but it was really interesting to listen in on the conversations as people realized that for so many functions, there may be only one person in the company who had the knowledge...  One engineer in the audience shared that the scary thing is that the time it would take to transfer knowledge to the next generation is much more than the time available before those with the knowledge are expected to walk out the door. (e.g. retire.) We can't do it the way we did it before. We need to find new and innovative ways to effectively transfer knowledge in less time.

Essential components of organizational knowledge

Capacity to collaborate
- Human Knowledge
- Social Knowledge
"It's one thing to have someone's Rolodex after they leave... it's another to get those people to call you back."

- Structural Knowledge

Knowledge capture is only valuable if it leads to knowledge reuse

Eight keys to more effective knowledge transfer

These are things you can do.

#1. Recognize the high cost of lost knowledge and re-learning

Re-learning does not get into anyone's budget because no one wants to admit they lost knowledge.
Link efforts to  business outcomes, objectives.

#2. Find short and long term benefits [to implementing a knowledge retention program]

 needs overwhelm future concerns
Recognize and invest in social networks; become more aware of others' expertise
Will cost-driven decisions today make critical knowledge unavailable tomorrow?

#3. Get over it: Most essential knowledge transfer occurs person-to-person

Personal information deepens relationships (expertise locators [blogs] etc.)

#4. Experts learn how to teach and Proteges how to learn

Remember your worst professor? Experts can't always teach.
If you are the mentee - always ask "how is this going to help me?"
Invest in mentoring and learning skills.
Two tips:
- Clarify communication preferences
- Use a 5-Minute meeting plan
     1. Define purpose of meeting
     2. Explain relationship to the job
     3. Outline the main points
     4. Note jargon
     5. Identify practice opportunities
     6. Provide additional resources
     (Adapted from Trautman, peer mentoring.)

#5. Confront generational diversity, differences that block learning

Who says "Today I'll go to work and be difficult?"
Don't confuse different learning styles for generational gap.
Two-way mentoring, both can learn

#6. Create Time: Knowledge retention is both Important and urgent

This is the most common barrier to knowledge retention.
(See knowledge sharing loop diagram.)
Use GVG method (Gravity - Velocity - Growth) to help identify where to pay attention.

#7. Involve future users in all knowledge capture efforts

Objective is re-use of knowledge, not capture.

Think about how the knowledge will be accessed or used. Begin with the end-user.
Example: Rolls Royce will not start a KM project without a novice user on the team who can carry the knowledge forward.

Build commitment to future use.

#8. Acknowledge barriers to knowledge sharing

Undiscussable barriers cannot be addressed.
(see www. cognitivedesignsolutions.com for knowledge chart.)
Mentoring is an evolving practice. (You cannot command that it happen.)

Lessons from the leading edge...

Dr. DeLong shared that we have not had enough serious events (tragedies) that focus attention on the true cost of knowledge loss.  Hopefully those tragedies won't be too costly.
Building coaching and mentoring into all engagements between workers. Don't bring a retired expert back into the organization unless part of the contract is knowledge transfer. Adapt to the needs of the new generation. The annual review doesn't cut it.
Nothing drives people out faster than feeling that they are not being heard
It's not about knowledge capture, it's about knowledge reuse.

Action planning:

What can you do differently to transfer or retain critical capabilities at risk?

In the end, personal commitment makes all the difference in knowledge sharing

Get started now!

- What's your legacy? Identify where your unit is most vulnerable.
- Lost knowledge is a strategic business issue! Articulate changing workforce threats to your management team. Don't assume they get it!
- Evaluate current processes & practices for transferring critical knowledge. What can you do to help promote improved knowledge retention?
- Get started now! Waiting only reduces your options for knowledge transfer!

My key takeaways:

The containers of knowledge have feet
Knowledge loss is real
The solution is more than technical. IT is part of the solution, but you don't lead with it.
I need to read Dr. DeLong's book.

Finally, to rephrase a Ziglar quote on training: From a knowledge management perspective, the only thing worse than having employees, sharing your knowledge with them and losing them is having employees, not sharing your knowledge with them and keeping them.

This was an outstanding lecture and I'm thrilled that I was able to attend. Based on the presentation and my intellectual grazing of his book, I recommend that anyone interested in KM buy and read Dr. DeLongs's book, "Lost Knowledge."

Lost Knowledge

Discussion/Comments (3):

Knowledge Retention ... a Framework for Action

An interesting study would be the Knowledge Management program of Noah, and the loss of knowledge as a result of the Flood.

Posted at 10/02/2007 20:29:33 by Wayne MacKirdy

citation for the Gravity, Velocity, & Growth method

I wrote to Dr. DeLong to request the proper citation for the Gravity, Velocity, & Growth method. He responded:


Here is the proper citation for the Gravity, Velocity, & Growth method:

The Unofficial Guide to Power Managing by Alan Weiss, Foster City, CA: IDG Books Worldwide, 2000, pages: 220-221.

Sorry, I should have footnoted that in my presentation. GVG is buried in one of Alan's many useful books. I am sure you can find it on Amazon. Thanks.


Posted at 10/20/2007 17:14:09 by Eric Mack

GVC Method (Gravity Velocity Growth)

Thank you Dave and Eric,

I was able to find a description of the GVC method using Amazon "Search Inside ! (tm)" feature.

[..] to find the logical starting point among the true priorities [a quick way] is to use the "GVC" method: gravity, velocity and growth.

Gravity is the seriousness or impact of the concern. Whait is its effect on people, profit, resources, image, repute, market share, etc.?

Velocity is the urgency or acceleration of the issue. What is the consequence of doing nothing? What is the degree to which superiors, the public, the regulators, the shareholders, and other stakeholders may become involved?

Growth is the stability of the issue. Is it getting worse, staying the same, or improving?

{ Link }

Best regards,

Alain Savard

Posted at 10/22/2007 11:51:09 by Alain Savard

Discussion for this entry is now closed.