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REVEALED   Leave a comment

REVEALED, THE INSPIRED WAY TO TACKLE HR’s COCKEYED WAY TO FIX HI STAFF TURNOVER

By Arnold Kransdorff, aka Mr Corporate Amnesia

Covid-19 will be making things much, much worse but it’s still puzzling enough to question the resourcefulness of employers and management education, in particular their HR and KM specialists.

Staff turnover has been uncomfortably high for at least three decades but business, which depends on workplace continuity to maintain its momentum, stubbornly continues to think that the solution is somehow to find ways to encourage employee retention. Yet, when all efforts to slow it down have failed, the experts persist. Is the Idiom ’flogging a dead horse’ appropriate when employers consciously disregard the potential of addressing the single biggest effect of so much workplace discontinuity?

Typically, high staff turnover – pre-Covid it was around 25% a year in the UK, higher in the US, including among important decision makers – is generally seen as a reflection of organisational inadequacy such as poor management, an uncomfortable working environment and/or low remuneration, among others, issues that standard exit interviews are designed to disclose. They are – but the reality is that high turnover’s biggest impact is the loss of much hard-won organisational-specific knowledge and experience and the attendant institutional inability to effectively learn from one’s own practice. As organic development is the largest contributor to underlying organisational progress, this lost intellectual asset must be re-learned by replacements, who typically take up to a year and more of their average four-to-five years’ tenure to be inducted/onboarded. At this rate – and except for a handful of stalwarts – employers have been replacing almost all their staff every four to five years; hardly a formula for corporate stability. It’s not been greatly noticed because such workplace movement does not all happen at the same time but the net effect on corporate self-identity and underlying productivity is nevertheless dramatic – and wasteful; after all, the acquired knowledge and experience has already been expensively paid for. And don’t forget, the pandemic is throwing the workplace out even more. 

Continuing to try and lower staff turnover OR ….

The usual focus of this continual stop-start scenario is to somehow discourage employees from leaving but even where this has not worked, little or nothing is done to address corporate knowledge loss other than at some senior levels, departees personally brief their successors. Replacements are also expected to depend on employers’ voluminous written archives such as emails, which typically record only the explicit-type operational side of what happened. Few new bloods refer to old emails anyway, employing the time-worn attitude of their profession that ‘we know better’ besides instinctive behaviour to disclaim ownership and responsibility for others’ previous practice. Alongside this survives another knowledge gap, arguably the more important – the employer-specific know-how that facilitates procedure-governed skills to work more efficiently. It’s known as tacit knowledge, the ‘how’ of getting things done (or not) in a new environment that employers expect their employees to acquire through their own resources over time. Garnered from personal involvement and context, both these types of knowledge are buried in the experience of standing employees; that is until they take their leave when individuals, and particularly skilled individuals and important decision makers, realise that they can improve their remuneration and career prospects by jumping ship.

With Covid-19 shortening employee tenure even further, it’s impossible to see how this nomadic behaviour makes any sense for employers. No sooner than individuals start to be useful, so they leave. And every time this happens, corporate momentum slows in consideration of the extra fistfuls of money  immediately offered to their replacements and the lost buckets of knowledge and experience that have to be re-learned. It used to be called the Brain Drain. Now it’s The Great Resignation, The Great Reshuffle or The Turnover Tsunami. It’s cockeyed, it’s unproductive and it’s not clever ….

So, as employee churn is variously difficult to reduce, is now solidly embedded in the psyche of the working population and expensively unavoidable, what’s the answer?

Instead of vainly trying to only reduce staff turnover, employers could more profitably concentrate on skilled knowledge transfer between important exiting individuals and their replacements, a provision that would allow new employees to receive the full complement of otherwise lost knowledge not offered by conventional induction. The technique is called oral debriefing, a more specialised application of the humble exit interview. Delivered to important incoming employees in either transcript, audio or video format, it provides an up-to-date and quicker way for short-tenure generations to inherit their predecessors’ experience. Without individuals having to remember details of any prior discussions with predecessors, the permanent record would – importantly – also offer a first-hand and thus more reliable account for unacquainted individuals to apply the evidence to their own knowledge and experience. It’s a big way to further professionalise HR and KM, give the two disciplines an additional string to their bows and raise their low profile among the corporate hierarchy whilst continuing to retain the benefits of the flexible labour market. Crucially, it also provides the means to better learn from actual experience.  

The pathway

The problems to solve? How to persuade employees to share their knowledge and experience? What are the legal requirements? When to orally debrief? Which is the best medium? How to do knowledge capture properly? Whether or not to use an external facilitator? When to share it? And how to learn from it? A step-by-step TOOLKIT (http://mrcorporateamnesia.com/) is now available to help employers do the job in-house.

Done well, oral debriefing is a history-aligned approach that is acknowledged as a tool for serious scholarship, first championed by the Pulitzer Prize winning author/historian Studs Turkel and Professor Allen Nivens, who started Colombia University’s Oral History Collection in 1948 that other universities have copied. The Toolkit has been customised to accommodate today’s short-tenure employment.  

Postscript:  The BBC is reporting that 38% of UK employees are threatening to move away from their employer in the next 12 months (https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20210629-the-great-resignation-how-employers-drove-workers-to-quit). In the other big flexible labour economy, the US, the mid-Covid quit rate is now 24% higher than it was before the pandemic (https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZMkc-yuqTgrGtBKbZxOgpyPxy9s_N_3SfoJ), a 20-year high. In April alone, almost four million US employees left their employer, the highest total ever and double the number a year earlier. Elsewhere in the US, the Work Institute, which specialises in providing employers with employee engagement programmes, including advice on how to conduct exit interviews to research why employees leave, was questioning the candour of CEO’s in addressing the popular narrative that high staff turnover was a priority (https://workinstitute.com/hr-priorities-are-misplaced/?utm_medium=email&_hsmi=136868858&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-9YtObEGKjXtlMiDxkMprOkUguvF_oOMtqi70ExcvW_1F98X3wAmIo30HoDpKS4lePYvopQD0CKO_yY3uQGLtTh8ogaOw&utm_content=136868858&utm_source=hs_email). In its latest Retention Report – the Covid edition, President Danny Nelms reported feedback from HR leaders saying that non-retention projects were being tackled instead, a suggestion that CEO and HR practice “do not appear aligned in practice.”  Speaking to his audience directly, he said: “Hopefully your organization is currently working to retain employees otherwise it might be too late.” 

No Sir, there is another way to handle low retention in today’s nomadic workplace – skilled knowledge transfer between key exiting individuals and their incoming replacements. It’s more decisive and practical.

Posted July 12, 2021 by Knowledge Management in Uncategorized

THE NO-BRAINER   Leave a comment

EXCLUSIVE: THE NO-BRAINER FIX FOR BORIS JOHNSON’S BIG PROBLEM – HIS POOR DECISION MAKING

Why “Data, not dates” is fundamentally flawed & how other managers could also profit 

By Arnold Kransdorff, aka Mr Corporate Amnesia

Stand back from Boris Johnson’s main decisions around Covid-19 and his strategy is obvious. Caution reigns, as the Prime Minister’s reaction to almost everything pandemic has illustrated. Except for a successful vaccination drive, he has set the UK apart with a proportional performance that compares poorly alongside other countries near and far. Has the astronomical cost in lives and hard cash been a sensible strategy, especially in a fast-moving situation?

“Data, not dates” has been his standard stated approach to almost all his determinations, chalking up recurring difficulties with the country’s infection rates, his imposed lockdowns and the catalogue of attendant issues ranging from foreign travel corridors, education, care homes, mass testing, PPE, contact tracing, masks and eat-out-to-help-out, among others. Throughout the outbreak, advice has been taken from a small group of chosen experts whose decisions have been similarly circumspect. This shared approach would seem rational but how so?

Consider the less obvious evidence of this common position ….

Reactive vs proactive

The fact that Covid-19 infections rates were, and are still, changing daily, means that ALL delays in addressing it and related events are – by definition – automatically behind the curve. Unavoidable might be the obvious retort but the outcome is nevertheless fatally flawed, an approach to decision making that is described as reactive in nature – i.e., based on responding to events after they have happened. But reactive decision making on its own encompasses several unhelpful features. Rigidly sticking to it limits the opportunity to introduce good judgement or common sense and it works to prevent the most valued of all managerial and decision-making skills – the ability to effectively learn from corporate experience, self-evidently called experiential learning (EL). This form of decision making is associated with proactive decision making, which focusses on eliminating problems before they have a chance to appear, a skill that provides the valued ability of would-be good managers and decision makers to be ahead of the curve. With proactive decisions entirely dependent on the skilled reflection and application of the familiar evidence from which defensive decision making stems, there has been precious little of this crucial way of turning ordinary decision making into good and better decision making. In Covid-19’s case, this should also have included more deliberate scrutiny of pre-Covid-19 plagues and others’ continuing experiences. Perhaps the most neglected was the detail of the UK’s sponsored dummy run of an influenza epidemic in 2016 – codenamed Exercise Cygnus (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exercise_Cygnus) – and the largely unheeded biological security strategy that was published in 2018 to specifically address a pandemic threat (https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/730213/2018_UK_Biological_Security_Strategy.pdf).

“….. English exceptionalism?”

The necessity of more immediate good and better decision making is a clear pre-requisite in any situation but the fact that many of UK’s fast-moving Covid-19 decisions were taken too slowly and without much proximate experiential learning confirms a fundamental weakness in governance and specifically in decision making  – and, according to Sir Chris Ham, the immediate past chief executive of the independent public health think tank, the King’s Fund – “a misplaced belief in English exceptionalism” (https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.n284). Mr Johnson has stubbornly insisted that the process of learning the lessons of Covid-19 would be left to a Public Inquiry at a later time. Sadly, too late for that which has past but what about the rest of Covid’s on-going activity, the next pandemic and what’s been happening in the rest of the economy for decades ….?

Not uncoincidentally, the UK’s learning deficit with Coronavirus also resonates with the country’s non-public sector, where decisions in wider commerce and industry are generally made only when problems become acute. Occasioned by the very flexible labour market, employees now have tenures averaging only around five years (less in the US) – and equally absent memories/awareness of their new employers’ unique and hard-won practices. Like the management of Covid-19, this means little or no experiential learning at the corporate level.

Corporate amnesia is surely the business equivalent of long-Covid. So, what price the best way to fill the irregularly-imposed knowledge gaps? To continue the allegorical virus depiction, the so-called herd immunity fix can come from skilled knowledge transfer between key exiting operatives of important divisions and their un-familiarised replacements (http://mrcorporateamnesia.com/). It becomes a timely first-hand, straight-from-the-horse’s-mouth, record that can keep on reminding new bloods that they have a responsibility to address their employers’ otherwise missing prior experience. It’s the way to do experiential learning in the very flexible, flexible labour market. 

Posted June 25, 2021 by Knowledge Management in Uncategorized

WHY, OH WHY   Leave a comment

WHY, OH WHY, IS THE UK SO UNPRODUCTIVE? An updated explanation and its logical, so simple, solution

 “We’ve carelessly unschooled ourselves by becoming forgetful

By Arnold Kransdorff, aka Mr Corporate Amnesi

Given that weak productivity growth is the conceded most important problem facing British industry, the most exasperating business-related question haunting the UK must be why we rank so low on its international league table. We’re the oldest industrial nation with the most business experience. So, having travelled the business road many times before, it would be logical to suggest it would be easier for us to make good and better decisions. But no, there are other developed countries that out-produce us – and they’ve been doing it for more than a few decades. France, for example, our nearest big competitor – similar populations, comparable modern developmental history – can do by Thursday afternoon what the UK can only produce by Friday evening. Only Italy under-performs us.

The prevailing explanations have been around for ages – poor business education without a focus on much historical, lower skills, an unhelpful infrastructure, subdued investment in research, development and innovation, even because our national culture is not proactive, all of which can perhaps be bunched around the broad doctrinal heading of politics and managerial arrogance. Over the years Governments have spent billions on upgrading skills, infrastructure and more, but output still lags for want of an unaddressed and crucial impact on a factor of production that’s been compounding ever since it took hold in the 1980s. Its knock-on effect is big enough to impact every single employing institution all the time, yet it is barely acknowledged even among the futile attempts that employers make to reduce its effect.

That factor of production is labour whose workplace has been changed out of all recognition by the seemingly innocuous flexible labour market to which we’ve become so accustomed as to be blindly tolerant. Introduced to help employers better cope with the fast-moving marketplace, the rising staff turnovers first initiated by employers are now supplemented by employees themselves, including professionals and top decision makers, who are increasingly using it to improve their remuneration and prospects.

Dropping the baton

Consider, then, the business of business as a marathon made up of multiple relay races, each dependent on smooth decision-making to encourage continuity for best forward movement. Discontinuity, such as dropping the baton, is the enemy within. It slows everything down. For commerce and industry, ‘discontinuity’ comes from flexible working’s short employer tenure, running at average staff turnovers of around 26% a year in the UK, higher in the US (and that was just before Covid-19). So much hard-won institute-specific knowledge and experience – both explicit and tacit – departs its host that decisions at all hierarchical levels at both top-level strategy and lower-down operational determinations are less than rigorous as replacements try to play catch-up with their new employers’ tried-and-tested practice and special way of working. Without such corporate awareness – the equal of dropped batons – many new entrants make decisions based on their previous employers’ experience rather than also taking account of their new paymasters’ special environments and circumstances.

Now run your calculator over the numbers of every departee and every replacement across the economy all the time. Then, picture this impending scenario; no sooner than the replacements for every single 26%-er clock in, another 26% gets ready to clock out. In five years the entire workforce of every employing institution could be replaced, although the likelihood is that there’ll be a handful of stalwarts who will be expected to remember everything. Fat chance ….  

By letting so much of their main intellectual asset go walkabout, employers have unschooled themselves and acquired what’s called corporate amnesia, the other name for being forgetful. That means it’s more difficult for them to learn from their own special experiences which, in turn, explains the repeated mistakes and other unlearned lessons that plague the workplace. Organic progress stalls and along with associated continual jobs disruption at all levels and increased employment costs, it accounts for our difficulties with productivity growth.

The traditional approach to providing relevant corporate-specific awareness has been through little-used apprenticeships, some mentoring and minimal conversational access with exiting senior individuals, while standard induction processes usually only provide terms of employment-type information and formal introductions to future colleagues. While these approaches could be escalated and/or improved, the endemic effects of short, selective and defensive memory recall of both contributor and beneficiary in which everyone participates subdues any potential advantage. This is often accompanied by individuals’ instinctive behaviour to disclaim ownership and responsibility for others’ previous practice.

The knowledge transfer solution

There IS an unorthodox and disarmingly simple solution, however; replace what flexible working removes by transferring the knowledge and experience of important exiting employees to their replacements. Delivered in either transcript, audio or video format, the most effective way to do this is through oral debriefing, a technique that – done well – can more than substitute for the absence of its owner by providing first-hand detailed familiarity not available in traditional tutelage and/or standard induction processes. The technique is acknowledged as a tool for serious scholarship, first championed by the Pulitzer Prize winning author/historian Studs Turkel and Professor Allen Nivens, who started Colombia University’s Oral History Collection in 1948 that other universities have copied.

There are several alternatives for such capture, the most unpredictable being departing individuals writing or recording their own experiences either on a regular basis or before they depart. As a general rule, individuals, even senior decision makers, are notoriously poor communicators when it comes to autobiography and especially with difficult-to-appreciate and identify important tacit knowledge. A more reliable way is to outsource the capture to an experienced interviewer/facilitator with the ability to ask pertinent questions when the narrated answers are imprecise. When employers/managers find this too personal or private for an outsider, another option is to train up an internal individual to do the job. For this, there is a step-by-step TOOLKIT (http://mrcorporateamnesia.com/) which explains the issues around knowledge ownership, knowledge sharing and how best to capture and learn from short- medium- and long-term organisational memory (OM). The recognised tools used have been customised to accommodate today’s short-tenure employment.

Imagine replacements having personalised and detailed access to their predecessor’s knowledge and experience within days of their arrival?

Flexible working may well have turned in the unintended consequence that medicine calls dementia but the reality is that the UK’s short-term employment workplace is, fait accompli, the adopted choice of employers and the popular occupational journey for much of the workforce. At the end of the day productivity is a hands-on business and the skilful determinations of both senior and lesser decision-makers, including and especially nomadic ones at all occupational levels, are important to keep the corporate bus moving and allow new employees to efficiently apply their own experience to their employers’ special environment and circumstances. Stop-start multiplied by the number of departees and replacements requires a different and better way for the workplace to do its business.

Posted June 4, 2021 by Knowledge Management in Uncategorized

UK’S VACCINE ROLLOUT CARRIES A POTENT MESSAGE   Leave a comment

UK’S VACCINE ROLLOUT CARRIES A POTENT MESSAGE
FOR OUR PRODUCTIVITY WOES – ELSE WE’LL BE LIKE ITALY

“Knowledge transfer, knowledge transfer, knowledge transfer”

By Arnold Kransdorff, aka Mr Corporate Amnesia

Like the rollout of the Coronavirus vaccine, the priority has been to deal with the most vulnerable communities first – and then ratchet the strategy to the lesser exposed groups in sequenced order, the objective being to address the pandemic problem at source. In this, there is a compelling message for business, which is trying to address its own long-time pandemic of low productivity growth, famously characterised by the Economist’s editor Emma Duncan that Britain’s workers are so unproductive that the French could take every Friday off and still produce more[1]. Just last year – in 2020 – the Guardian was reporting academic research showing productivity growth was the worst since the start of the Industrial Revolution 250 years ago[2]. Just as illustrative is think tank Resolution Foundation’s warning that, without improvement, the UK risks per capita incomes closer to Italy than Germany by this decade’s end[3]. And just to confirm what’s wrong, weak productivity growth, according to one of our top economists Professor Sir Charlie Bean, a former deputy governor of the Bank of England, is the UK’s “biggest problem“[4].

To gain maximum traction on the Covid-19 jabs solution, the strategy has been to treat a pervasive problem with an exhaustive fix at the point of distress, i.e. where the issue potentially resides in the wider population – with everyone. In the case of the UK’s equally problematic productivity growth, remedial energies have been largely confined to top-down fiscal efforts, little of which has had any effect on the wider workforce where competitive output ultimately lives and breathes. Topping up skills and infrastructure are not unwelcome in a disadvantaged workforce but there’s also a systemic issue that’s been automatically removing much of this planned benefit. It’s been ignored for decades and impacts the decision-making skills of almost everyone in our offices and factories.

The issue is that staff turnover at every hierarchical level is now so high – around 25% a year in the UK on average, higher in the US (and that was before Covid) – that jobs disruption at executive, managerial level and the shop floor is, like the virus, continuously overwhelming. This level of corporate upheaval means that UK employees have at least 10 different employers in their working lifetimes while the US is on track for 14. So much corporate-specific knowledge and experience – both explicit and tacit – is walking out of employers’ front doors on a regular basis that both top-level strategy and lower-down operational decision-making is less than rigorous as walkabout replacements try to play catch-up with their new employers’ tried-and-tested practice and special way of working. Without such corporate awareness, new entrants risk making decisions based mostly on their previous employers’ experience rather than also taking account of their new paymasters’ special environments and circumstances. Widespread flexible working disadvantages almost everyone, impacting effective learning, hampering incremental progress – and helping to explain the UK’s productivity woes.

It’s gutting our CORPORATE experience

Another way of looking at it is that something as routine and supposedly beneficial for employers as flexible working (it provides workplace flexibility in a fast-changing marketplace) has been unconsciously and progressively gutting our employing institutions of their main asset, their own hard-won and expensively paid-for experience. This has been going on for more than 40 years, the approximate time when our productivity has been increasingly under strain. While new employees might be providing useful awareness of their previous employers, it’s also given us a rootless, disloyal and insecure workplace where jobs are constantly being disrupted, where employers’ re-employment and training costs are sky high, corporate amnesia is widespread, there’s a very high incidence of repeated mistakes and other unlearned lessons, and, for an advanced business education system, an embarrassing and deafening mantra “we must learn the lessons.” These latter consequences clue up the answer – replace what the flexible labour market removes. In management speak it’s called knowledge transfer ….

Apprenticeships, mentoring and conversational access with exiting senior entrants are evident and useful familiarisation devices but their usage is uncommon and they additionally suffer from several endemic traits of recollection – short, selective and defensive memory recall of both the donor and the recipient. While these approaches could be escalated, there is another knowledge sharing approach that is more rigorous because it provides a more explicit and permanent record. It’s from skilled oral debriefings of important exiting individuals and delivered in either transcript, audio or video format to replacement employees, even to other in-situ colleagues. The two types of otherwise lost knowledge are complementary, explicit providing evidential sequence and the context of what happened while tacit’s character is derived mainly from personal experiences around the ‘how’ of know-how, which would suggest that the departed individuals’ non-presence would make it extraneous. Oral debriefing, however, provides a permanent and first-hand record, which negates the need for replacements to re-learn shared corporate features. The combination of the explicit and the tacit allows new bloods to apply their own experience more productively.

Done well, oral debriefings can provide the detailed familiarity not available in traditional tutelage and/or standard induction processes. The technique is an acknowledged tool for serious scholarship, first championed by the Pulitzer Prize winning author/historian Studs Turkel and Professor Allen Nivens, who started Colombia University’s Oral History Collection as far back as 1948 that other universities have copied – and now a potent device for offsetting the modern walkabout workplace.

Must be able to “peel onion skins”

The discipline provides for several options. Departing individuals, either on a regular basis or before they depart, pen or record their own personal experiences. As a general rule, individuals, even senior decision makers, are notoriously poor communicators when it comes to autobiography and especially with difficult-to-appreciate and identify important tacit knowledge. Experience relates that the most effective way of documenting this type of testimony/legacy is to outsource the exercise to a specialist interviewer/facilitator who has the ability to “peel onion skins” when the narrated evidence is imprecise. When employers/managers find this too personal or private for an outsider, another option is to train up an internal individual to do the job, whose prime qualifications would be a critical awareness of management process and an ability not to be intimidated by authority. For this, http://mrcorporateamnesia.com/%5B5%5D provides a step-by-step TOOLKIT for employers to do the knowledge transfer themselves. It explains the issues around knowledge ownership, knowledge sharing and how best to capture and learn from short- medium- and long-term organisational memory (OM). The recognised tools used have been customised to accommodate today’s short-tenure employment.

Even though knowledge sharing will never be as extensive as Covid’s vaccine reach (it will not be necessary for everyone, nor will everyone agree to it), its lesson for employers nevertheless rhymes loudly; address a key solution to our productivity problem more widely and, in terms of retrieved content, collect it more professionally.

Flexible working may well have turned in an unintended consequence but the reality is that the UK’s short-term employment workplace is, fait accompli, the adopted choice of employers and the popular call for much of the workforce, who are, in their own responsive way, using it to improve their remuneration and job prospects. At the end of the day productivity is a hands-on business and the determinations of both senior and lesser decision makers, including and especially nomadic ones, are important to keep the corporate bus moving, allow employers to efficiently apply their own experience to their new paymasters’ special environment and circumstances, even to better monitor the better-sourced decisions of the top-down strategists. Stop-start multiplied by the number of departees and replacements requires a different and better way for the workplace to do its business.

[1] https://stag.prospect.pbc.io/magazine/britains-greatest-problem
[2] https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/feb/03/uk-productivity-slowdown-worst-since-industrial-revolution-study
[3] https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/may/18/uk-economy-could-resemble-italy-by-end-of-2020s-covid-brexit-climate
[4] https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/may/18/uk-economy-could-resemble-italy-by-end-of-2020s-covid-brexit-climate
[5] http://mrcorporateamnesia.com

Posted May 20, 2021 by Knowledge Management in Uncategorized

WHAT OUR SHORT-TERM EMPLOYEES TAKE AWAY   Leave a comment

WHAT OUR SHORT-TERM EMPLOYEES TAKE AWAY – YOUR COMPETITIVE EDGE

An everyday story of our old-fashioned workplace and knowledge transfer

By Arnold Kransdorff, aka Mr Corporate Amnesia

Employers and senior managers, picture the situation of many of your departing employees. If you’re a UK employer, the individuals – and this includes almost all ranks in the corporate hierarchy – have been with you less than five years on average and that’s before the casualties from Covid-19. The US position is even shorter. During their short time with you, you’ve likely benefitted from their diverse experience but against this you’ll sustain a period of discontinuity and an induction period when their replacements’ productivity will be low. You’re also probably going to pay for additional training to update their skills and likely endure several repeated mistakes per individual while tolerating their reinvention of a corporate wheel or two due to their unfamiliarity of your prior practice.

As the swing doors revolve behind them, consider what else they’re taking with them – the singular way they’ve learned to do the things that’s relevant to your business and your industry. Less to do with their technical skills, it comprises the unspoken, mostly subtle, obscure and intangible issues that reside under the broad heading of your cultural values, all of which dictate their unconscious and spontaneous reactions. Among these unique reflexes come from mindsets such as your belief system, which can include your corporate insights, perceptions, customs, rituals, prejudices, distinctive language, the special way of doing specific things and your company politics. They’re what’s known as tacit or cognitive knowledge, otherwise described as the of ‘how’ of know-how, different to explicit knowledge’s the ‘what’ of know-how covering the more formal type of operational know-how that can be easily codified. In truth, their combination represents the most important of all the corporate assets, so their regular and incremental loss will be impactful.

The source of your competitive advantage

Conceptually, explicit and tacit knowledge are recognisably exclusive but their interaction provides for two opportunities for added value that flexible working’s short tenure turns loose. In the first place their awareness facilitates a smoother rollout of output for employees, a passageway that, in transportation language, embodies the grease that allows the corporate wheel to run more efficiently and what academics describe as the source of competitive advantage[1]. They’re Important because every employing organisation is different and the understanding of their variances dictates employee behaviour and ultimately their decision making. Several recent Harvard Business Review studies have reported that about half of externally hired leaders fail – and not for lack of ability. They crashed because they did not mesh with company culture or the people on their teams[2]. Elsewhere, a study of 240 organizations in 2004 was conducted by TalentKeepers, which found that the greatest impact of employee turnover was lost knowledge, which had negatively affected a staggering 78% of the organisations[3].

The second add-on value refers to the interaction of the tacit with explicit knowledge, which provides the evidence and opportunity – through reflection – to reposition decision-making to accommodate both the mistakes/lessons and the employers’ new circumstances. It’s how conventional decision-making works, the academics describing the process that turns old knowledge into new knowledge. It’s the incremental way that underpins almost all progress.

But hang on. Reflection, and especially accurate reflection sufficient for better decision-making, requires an accurate memory recall – and modern short tenure employment has ensured that many employees have walked out of the front door. Without the intimate awareness of their actual experience, effective deliberation – and of course good decision making – is a non-starter across the departmental hierarchy. It is surely disconcerting to realise that in today’s flexible labour economy, the mindfulness of individual employers’ experiences doesn’t extend beyond its longest-serving employee – and then sparsely. Is this not a precursor to employers progressively losing much of their raison d’être – and then becoming almost exclusively dependent on others’ dissimilar experiences? Thenceforth, where does viva la difference, the backbone of choice and competition, stand? In fact, short-tenure employment across the corporate community has been ongoing for more than 40 years – and our competitiveness/productivity has been in crisis ever since? A real-time association?

Dealing with the dispersal of corporate know-how is the most unmanaged of the important assets in the corporate armoury, mainly because of the difficulties in recognising much of it and the difficulties employers in recording it. In reality, the distinctiveness of both the explicit and tacit elements are opportunely buried in its actual corporate-specific experience. So, what to do?

The way forward

Replace what high staff turnover displaces, NOT for the purpose of repeating past experiences, but for enabling employees, and especially replacement employees, to learn from those prior experiences, however they turned out.

Where such recollections can be most effectively retrieved in a short tenure environment is in the application called oral debriefing, which focuses on the skilful capture of short- and medium-term organisational memory (OM) delivered in either transcript, audio or video format to replacement employees, even to in-situ colleagues. Done well, they can provide the detailed familiarity not available in traditional tutelage and/or standard induction processes. Oral history is already an acknowledged tool for serious scholarship; it was first championed by the Pulitzer Prize winning author/historian Studs Turkel and Professor Allen Nivens, who started Colombia University’s Oral History Collection in 1948 that other universities have copied.

But, for this to happen requires a positive cultural change in attitudes to knowledge sharing in the modern short-tenure workplace among employees and their employers/managers.

Employees, for one, generally feel proprietorial about their knowledge. It’s been especially self-evident ever since the flexible labour market took hold in the 1980s – and arguably justifiable in our competitive job marketplace. It’s given the workforce much more leverage and opportunity in their employment – but at the expense of their employers. While gaining wider experience, employers sacrifice their own knowledge and the advantage of jobs continuity. It’s not insupportable for both to have robust constituent bodies.

Two things need to happen – employees have to be persuaded to share their knowledge and employers/managers will need to acknowledge that knowledge sharing goes to the heart of how to better survive in a flexible labour economy. Without it, the intimate parts of the employers’ prime intellectual capital just spin off uselessly, benefitting neither, especially if employers are disadvantaged.

The big question: Who owns your knowledge?

There is a strong – and obvious – argument to support a collaborative culture change. Just settle the question: who owns the knowledge and experience that employees acquire in their employers’ service? Up to now, employers have not generally challenged employees’ presumption that it belongs to them, a likely hangover from the days when a job-for-life was commonplace and employees’ corporate knowledge would invariably be accessible. Today, it’s both relevant and decisive to ensuring efficient continuity in today’s merry-go-round workplace, in which case knowledge title can be addressed with the simple argument that by paying for it, employers also have proprietorship. In other words, the knowledge and experience acquired during employees tenure is JOINTLY owned, a reality that can be reflected in conditions of employment by allowing the employer the right to capture and share it.

The truth is that not everyone is going to cooperate with knowledge sharing, among them dismissals and those individuals who are made redundant. But the number of employees who leave of their own accord, including retirees and individuals who don’t mind sharing their knowledge – usually the more important decision-makers anyway – is high enough in today’s flexible labour market to make a difference.

Ordinarily, knowledge capture can be timed ahead of departures and delivered to replacements immediately after induction/onboarding. Or it can be done at regular intervals, say once a year at a quiet time, after important events or, in the case of long projects, during the project cycle. And even if it becomes necessary to offer some sort of disbursement to encourage full cooperation, it is good value to smooth jobs and workplace disruption, provide the lost evidence to allow proper reflection, improve decision making and prevent new hires from having to reinvent the corporate wheel

How to do it?

Having addressed the WHY of knowledge sharing comes the HOW to do it.

There are several options against the endemic background that everyone suffers from short, selective and defensive memory. The first is that individuals, either on a regular basis or before they depart, pen or record their experiences. As a general rule, individuals, even senior decision makers, are notoriously poor communicators when it comes to autobiography and especially with difficult-to-appreciate and identify tacit knowledge. Experience relates that the most effective way of documenting this type of testimony/legacy is to outsource the exercise with a specialist interviewer/facilitator, who has the ability to “peel onion skins” when the related evidence is imprecise. When employers/managers find this too personal or private for an outsider, a third option is to train up an internal individual to do the job, whose prime qualifications would be a critical awareness of management process and an ability not to be intimidated by authority. For this, http://mrcorporateamnesia.com/[4] provides a step-by-step TOOLKIT for employers to do the knowledge transfer themselves. It explains the issues around knowledge ownership, knowledge sharing and how best to capture and learn from short- medium- and long-term organisational memory. The recognised tools used have been customised to accommodate today’s short-tenure employment.

The state of the modern workplace is acknowledged to be dire. Its nomadic character has brought with it rootlessness, disloyalty and insecurity. Short tenure employment now demands a different approach to getting things done. Corporate-specific knowledge transfer across the generations is one constructive approach, with consideration given to wider legacy handover across the departmental spectrum.

[1] https://eprints.bbk.ac.uk/id/eprint/22775/
[2]https://hbr.org/2014/01/for-senior-leaders-fit-matters-more-than-skill#:~:text=Outside%20hires%20take%20twice%20as,a%20leader%20promoted%20from%20within.&text=And%20ultimately%2C%20of%20the%2040,within%20the%20first%2018%20months
[3] https://www.thecompetencygroup.com/blog/the-effect-of-corporate-knowledge-loss/
[4] http://mrcorporateamnesia.com/

Some Blue Sky   Leave a comment

SOME BLUE SKY THINKING TO DEAL WITH TODAY’S OLD-FASHIONED WORKPLACE

By Arnold Kransdorff, aka Mr Corporate Amnesia

Picture the pre-Covid-19 workplace. Workers, including professionals and senior decision-makers, were changing their employer every five years on average, requiring businesses and other employing organisations to rehire and induct continuously high numbers of employees, at least in the UK. In the US, staff turnover was even higher. Such short-tenure employment, which was widely reducing individuals’ higher productivity periods for their employers, was already providing a continuous drag on efficient output.

Now, just one year later alongside Covid-19, there’s a huge number of employees working from home. Some are calling them hybrid or furlough workers, all of whom are now even more disconnected from their employers and colleagues. Linked to a corporate base by wi-fi, their new relationship with their employer is disjointed, more confusing and without much hands-on support from their bosses or colleagues. Individuals are now their own supervisor having to make many of their own unfamiliar work decisions. Importantly, there is little or no main office connection, no shared cultural signposts on which to depend and no toe-to-toe leadership or feedback. Many employees are on their own for the very first time. With independence, the environment might seem sweet to some but corporately and personally, isolation is the new reality and the reinforcement of a collegial business ethos is almost as rare as hens’ teeth.

What’s happened to home workers is that employee remoteness is removing the intimacy of the employers’ cultural environment and the awareness of corporate practice, both staples of co-operative progress. This, in turn, impacts the organic journey that depends on building one experience on another. In truth, the mainstay of evolvement has disengaged itself, even for those short termers who don’t end up working away. Both types of individuals are working with just their acquired skills and prior experiences – and, crucially, NOT alongside their current employers’ special and hard-won knowledge and cultural environment. Flexible working and Covid-19 are transforming almost everything by helping employers to largely lose their unique raison d’être. In effect, both employers and employees are working with only a half deck of cards.

However change comes about, uninitiated employees still have to be relatable to their new employer’s pertinent resident differences and particularly their special circumstances. This is usually attempted through piecemeal induction/onboarding that takes up around a fifth of employees’ remaining tenure – and often more – to become fully productive. As it is, it doesn’t mean that because workers are more mobile or remote, an employers’ past or organisational memory (OM) is any less important, or even irretrievable.

Just replace what’s lost

So, what to do? Or to put it better, how to continue to take advantage of being more fully incremental? Instead of having to completely reinvent the workplace, how can an employer make continuous what has become discontinuous – and then provide an organic way of sustaining that change? In management speak it’s called experiential learning (EL), a much-overlooked way of more effectively learning from experience in today’s highly flexible labour market, where the loss of established practice through departures has given our sophisticated workplaces its own pandemic of repeated mistakes, re-invented wheels and other unlearned lessons. For proof, the vaccines rollout notwithstanding, just refer to Covid’s stumbling beginnings that has put the UK’s pandemic deaths and costs at the bottom of the G7 barrel. And where conventional decision making hasn’t yet tried to deal with the departed detail of short-tenure’s exited knowledge and experience.

The most powerful way of doing this is to provide that which both home and flexible working removes. 

Important employees can be provided with professionally constructed and detailed oral debriefings of their departing predecessors that go way beyond conventional exit interviews, typically constructed to try and learn why employees leave. For the more specialist approach, the required debriefing skills have generally been unskilled or outsourced but because of the private and intimate nature of corporate debriefing, a new Toolkit is available for employers to train up suitable in-house individuals to carry out the debriefings themselves (http://www.mrcorporateamnesia.com/). It’s backed up with a mentoring service. 

To accommodate remote working, such evidence could be collected, for example, after 12 months in the first instance or when all short tenure employees are replaced. Delivered to replacements via audio, video or transcript, continuity could then be efficiently replaced for learning to address the missing knowledge and experiences of both employers and their employees. Productivity depends on it.

OUR CHANGED WAY   Leave a comment

OUR CHANGED WAY OF WORKING NEEDS BUSINESS EDUCATION & TRAINING TO FILL A VERY BIG BLACK HOLE

Are modern managers history phobic?

By Arnold Kransdorff, aka Mr Corporate Amnesia

Stand back from business education and there’s an uncomfortable observation that there’s one glaring aspect of how we DON’T prepare the next generation of businessmen and women to do business. It’s an area articulated by the older group of successful businessmen, management consultants and academics, many of them deceased, but, puzzlingly, not by their modern equivalents.

It’s history, the study of past events. Without it, there’s limited organic progress, imperfect learning from experience and difficult productivity growth.

The coal-face situation is being made even worse by the endemic change in the workplaces from the flexible labour market in which specialist operatives and senior decision-makers are increasingly participating. Since its advent in the 1980s, which the big Western economies have championed with gusto, staff turnover has mushroomed to levels that individuals can have 10 different employers in their working lifetimes, with authoritative forecasts in the US suggesting its number is on its way to 14. In truth, average pre-Covid staff turnovers of up to 28% a year and corporate tenures of less than five years have better accommodated the original motivation for dealing with the fast-moving marketplace – but with a sting in its tail. Employers continually lose the awareness of their own special and hard-won knowledge and experience, which then has to be re-taught by employers and re-learned by new employees. With such high levels of discontinuity across most of commerce and industry comes incessant workplace disruption, the expensive appearance of repeated mistakes, reinvented wheels and – crucially – the inability to efficiently learn lessons, making short-tenure employment a major encumbering factor of production. It explains the difficulties of achieving organic and productivity growth.

Rootless and disloyal workplaces

Such nomadic employment, which represents the single biggest change in the physical workplace for more than 50 years, has produced working environments that are also rootless, disloyal and insecure, places where work-a-day jobs are constantly being disrupted, where employers’ re-employment and training costs are sky high and, because of inherent corporate amnesia, decision-making is less than rigorous. Both Covid-19 and, in the UK’s case, Brexit’s additional staff churn, is only going to make things worse.

Almost without noticing it, what the flexible labour market has done is to dramatically disrupt the workplace at every occupational level across commerce and industry, leaving employers and soon-to-move-on resident employees with no long-term corporate memory, no medium-term memory and only a disconnected short-term memory. And because every employer is different – they’re dissimilar in their culture and special way of doing things – this miscellany needs employees to more quickly and better understand the singular ways each employer works. As it is, short-changed induction/onboarding reduces new employees’ non-productive periods of their short tenures by up to 12 months. Imagine quicker induction and even more productive periods of employment?

In the UK’s educational sector, the history discipline is represented by several associated professional bodies while there are small groups of academics who turn to business to find subjects on which to base their research; also, there is a larger community that focusses on the allied field of economics. But little business history filters down to general business or tertiary education, even post graduate instruction, with the result that the working community at large is essentially bereft of much awareness of their broad business or even sectoral past. The closest UK business history gets to any true business curriculum are references to Britain being the forerunner of the industrial revolution, snapshot accounts of real-life business scenarios known as case studies, usually of well-known non-UK companies, and whatever the media provides. And in the US, one of the several main flagship business educators, Harvard Business School, has removed its former compulsory business history coursework from first-year students.

Alongside this wide absence of economic and business history, corporate history and oral history, which would otherwise be ideal vehicles for HR and KM practitioners to implement effective knowledge transfer to new employees, are similarly neglected. In the UK, for example, more corporate histories were produced at the beginning of the 20th century than at its end. And with a few exceptions like London Transport’s special efforts with its West Indian workforce and a project called “City Lives” that interviewed about 100 men and women from financial institutions who lived through the changes since the Second World War, oral history’s usage is confined to museum exhibits and public relations.

It is instructive that politics, the military, music, art and other professional disciplines, even some crafts, use their generic history in the education of their professions, yet not business. It surely appears that modern managers are history phobic, raising the question why? Are we short of suitable business historians? Have we been taught not to look back, only forwards? Do employers really believe that if they retain one or two of their employees over the long term, their corporate memory is preserved? Has short tenure working reinforced our short-term perspectives? Are we embarrassed by our business performance, so don’t want to be reminded? And/or has business and business education become estranged?

“History provides experience cheaply”

For whatever the reasons, history does have the support of many distinguished achievers, a random selection of UK opinions being illustrative; Sir Peter Parker, a former chairman of British Rail (“ … a missing dimension”), Sir Alistair Pilkington, the late chairman of glass makers Pilkington (“Lack of awareness must put us a disadvantage”), Sir George Blunden, a former deputy Governor of the Bank of England (“Why reinvent the wheel”) and many others. All advocated history as a necessary component of the education of businessmen and women, possibly best espoused by the words of the UK’s first Professor of Business History, Leslie Hannah, “History provides experience cheaply”.

In the learning stakes and without it, the positive transition out of both failure and success is, bluntly, out of sight ….

To address this, employers need only replace what flexible working, time and individuals’ short, selective and defensive memory removes, and allow replacement employees to apply retrieved knowledge and experience to changed circumstances. As a practitioner, my work with oral debriefing has included the ‘how’ to capture tacit knowledge and with corporate history, how to mitigate the largely unavoidable problem of subject company financing around and perceived credibility. Once upgraded, oral history provides employers with their short- and medium-term memory while corporate history delivers their long-term memory. Both smooth workplace discontinuity, reduce corporate amnesia, replace the evidence that would otherwise be lost and provide the opportunity to improve decision making and productivity.

To take advantage of our rich inheritance, business educators at all levels also need to reconsider their aversion to economic history and business history. The reality is that for commerce and industry, and especially in a highly flexible labour market, tomorrow begins with a keen awareness of yesterday.

Ordinarily many managers are reluctant to allow outsiders to capture unique corporate knowledge, so an internet link provides a step-by-step DIY TOOLKIT for employers to do knowledge sharing themselves. Supported by coaching and mentoring, it explains the issues around knowledge ownership and how best to capture and learn from their short-, medium- and long-term organisational memory (OM). The recognised tools used have been customised to accommodate today’s short-tenure employment.

Posted January 6, 2021 by Knowledge Management in Uncategorized

A DISCUSSION PAPER: KNOWLEDGE SHARING IN THE AGE OF HIGH STAFF TURNOVER   Leave a comment

THE MIGHTY MANAGEMENT TOOL THAT EDUCATORS AND EMPLOYERS SURPRISINGLY SNUB

By Arnold Kransdorff, aka Mr Corporate Amnesia

Mention the subject to a business academic and you’ll get a full-throated acknowledgement of its value, yet knowledge sharing gets only marginal usage when it comes to applying the most obvious – and potent – of its tools. That topic is business history, a subject that modern educators and especially employers regard as unfashionably irrelevant. 

But change the word to experience and/or institutional or organisational memory and the reaction changes dramatically. They are universally acknowledged as the staple of how society measures its store of knowledge and how holders calculate its monetary value for purposes of their remuneration. As a corporate asset, it is also the home of hindsight, the source of insight, foresight and wisdom, and where the evidence resides for achieving the recognised wellspring of most progress called productivity, realistically illustrated in the UK’s case by official figures that show that the average French worker produces more by the end of Thursday than their British counterpart can in a full week. 

Yet, however it is expressed, they are all indistinguishable from ‘history’ and the subject still gets short shrift. In one of their bigger oversights, both business education and the business world are ignoring a solution to one of commerce and industry’s bigger problems – the constant loss of their unique and hard-won knowledge as their employees join the very flexible labour market. Even before Covid-19, the flexible labour market’s average workplace turnover was around 25% a year in the UK, providing tenures of around five years. In the US average staff turnover is even higher. At fluctuating levels, it’s been going on for more than 35 years.

The biggest corporate knowledge loss, EVER

Imagine how much special knowledge – departmental and corporate – has walked out of every organisation’s front door in just the past eight Covid months? Irretrievably.

Of course, coronavirus was impossible to predict, so there was no time to do anything about it, but what if there was a knowledge transfer way of addressing the more predictable staff turnover in the future, i.e. from the more ‘normal’ passage of staff replacement? 

There is.

It’s buried in several more oversights by business education and employers. By not fully addressing the effects of short-tenure employment, both have shown that they believe a more generalised employee awareness of how the workplace operates is more important than the employer-specific knowledge and experience that takes flight. On the basis of existing induction processes, the continual import of others’ experiences – however related – simply dilutes their own raison d’être and their unique selling proposition (their USP). What has happened is that however much improvements developed from, for example, technology and infrastructure upgrades, educators and employers have forgotten the compounding proposition that the practical application of progress happens organically across the workplace, the building of one experience on another, which something like high staff turnover upsets at ALL hierarchical and departmental sectional levels. Even innovative progress, that which displaces organic development, requires a large measure of historical awareness with which to occur and sustain itself. 

What they have also overlooked is the loss of the unappreciated type of know-how that doesn’t appear in leavers’ left-behind documentation such as emails. Few trainers and educators teach the importance of non-explicit tacit knowledge and even fewer know how to articulate it. Such knowledge – less to do with functioning technical skills, more to do with the employer-specific way of getting things done – comprises the mostly subtle, obscure and intangible issues buried in actual experience alongside the organisations’ cultural ideals, values and special way of doing things. With academics describing it as the source of competitive advantage, its awareness enables learning to take place more efficiently and contextually.

Within this is the same deleterious effect that high staff turnover has on the more sophisticated decision-making methodologies such as Action Learning, just one of the many approaches to high-level problem solving that involves the team-based reflection of prior decision-making and events. The departure of individuals within a group reduces the first-hand evidence that others will need to make more rigorous determinations.  

Cut out these historical components and organic advancement falters, surely an explanation for our difficulties in maintaining productivity growth and ROI.  

The knowledge handover journey

Accordingly, employers need to replace what short tenure removes, NOT for the purpose of repeating past experiences, but for enabling employees, and especially replacement employees, to learn from that experience, however it turned out. Such is the purpose of knowledge sharing with its first-stage operational practice of knowledge capture before it disappears. Thereafter, with the evidence in hand, comes what’s called experiential learning (no, not experimental learning, what many managers usually mis-hear). 

Where such organisational memory can be most effectively applied is in the applications called oral debriefing, which focuses onthe skilful capture ofshort- and medium-term organisational memory delivered in either transcript, audio or video format, and the long-term application known as the organisation’s corporate history. Together they provide the detailed familiarity not made available in either business school tutelage and/or regular induction processes within employing organisations.  

At the business school level, oral debriefing – first championed by the Pulitzer Prize winning author and historian Studs Turkel and Professor Allen Nivens, who started Colombia University’s Oral History Collection in 1948 – could come into its own if curricula content included students having to rigorously interview several willing managers in their preferred industries.

Imagine the benefit to business students of acquiring suitable interview skills, understanding the value of tacit knowledge and learning the detail of how managers and/or other specialists do their job? Other advantages would allow role models to be directly accessible and provide a practical shoe-in to the same methodology being used at the corporate level, where knowledge transfer from exiting to replacement individuals could be applied to dramatically reduce the physical and intellectual disruption of high staff turnover. 

The problem of funding

The other knowledge transfer device that both academia and the corporate world could better employ is the established corporate history, whose publication is usually disparaged because their published accounts are almost always financed by the subject companies themselves. Unlike arrangements made between independent authors and their sponsors. for example in projects with other academic institutions, there is little trust around their credibility, their attendance perceived as more public relations than education. Additionally, the authors’ typical writing style is generally unsuitable for a corporate audience, confirmed by the minimal print runs of giveaway copies, usually only to top managers and big clients. Their lack of appeal by modern British managers is illustrated by the fact that more corporate histories were produced at the beginning of the 20thcentury than at its end. 

Regrettably, corporate history’s perceived value is long lost with few modern managers or educators championing their use. For formal encouragement of this form of knowledge transfer, one has to go back to a 1988 speech by Alex Fletcher, MP, a former Secretary of State for Corporate and Consumer Affairs comments[i]“There is a great deal of material in our schools and elsewhere about how babies are born but there is a tremendous shortage of publications about how businesses are born. Only a tiny number of people know there really was a Mr Barclay, a Mr Beecham, a Mr Cadbury, a Mr Rolls and a Mr Royce, and the marvellous stories of how they created these now world-famous companies. Generations can only understand these examples if they learn and understand the process, innovation and the leadership that made it possible.”

If they were better produced, imagine the benefit to a business student wanting to work in, say, the telecommunications industry if their recommended reading list contained an accurate, updated and readable corporate history of Vodaphone or even 3 UK, one of the smaller operators? Or a budding engineer having access to the story of Babcock International? Ditto the corporate accounts of the UK subsidiaries of acquired British companies and the many other institutions that future employees will join, even the detailed stories of burgeoning start-ups? 

Done well and updated at regular intervals, such long-term accounts of their history would be able to provide more comprehensive information to employees. Accounts could be given to new arrivals during their most receptive period immediately after appointment while predecessors’ oral debriefs could be handed over immediately after induction/onboarding. 

If employers could address the problems they bring, they reduce the time new employees take to get themselves up to speed as well as improving the quality of their decision making. Both require different mindsets as well as skills, issues that comfortably fit within the corporative orbits of knowledge management (KM), human resources (HR), business education and training, and information technology/library. 

So, how to do them properly?

For oral debriefings, which represents an upgrade to the conventional, but lame, exit interviews that are little more than a 20-question survey of why employees leave, the principle of knowledge sharing has to be agreed with sitting employees, who conventionally consider their experience proprietorially theirs. Thereafter, employees and interviewers have to be acquainted with interview techniques and the nature of tacit knowledge. And for corporate histories, subject companies have to address the problem around unavoidable own-project funding, how to choose and manage suitable authors, what their contractual arrangements should include and, if their books are good enough, whether and how to take them out of private circulation and put them on sale to the public. 

The upshot of this proposition is that without a more detailed awareness of experience or organisational memory – ipso facto employers’ corporate history – the status quo survives without too much trouble and, with time, wanes. Knowing it provides the evidence with which to lead change. And the ability to learn from it enables progress to happen more easily. It’s the smart lesson of knowledge sharing in our very flexible labour market.  

mrcorporateamnesia.com provides a step-by-step DIY TOOLKIT for employers to do knowledge sharing themselves. It explains the issues around knowledge ownership and knowledge capture and how best to capture and learn from short-, medium- and long-term organisational memory. The recognised tools used have been customised to accommodate today’s short-tenure employment. 

p.s. Written history IS available to play a part in business education but its exposure to functioning employees is either ignored as a curricular subject or reserved for higher functionaries. The mediums are business history, the historical narrative of the wider business sector and economic history, the even wider study of societal economies. It is noticeable that the generic history of other professions is part of the instruction of architects, artists, medical doctors, musicians and soldiers, even in many trades but, for whatever reasons, not business. 

Posted October 30, 2020 by Knowledge Management in Uncategorized

‘IF IT AIN’T BROKE, DON’T FIX IT’   Leave a comment

‘IF IT AIN’T BROKE, DON’T FIX IT’: WHY THIS IS BAD BUSINESS ADVICE ON TOP OF POOR LEARNING OUTCOMES FROM FAILURE

When it comes to learning from one’s own corporate experience, there are two main areas of educational focus. The first is from failure and the second from success. If anything, most deliberation is directed at the former, whose triumphs are hardly evident in today’s low-productivity workplace, while success is widely ignored, probably because it is seen as the lesser priority and the wide acceptance of a modern proverb that says if something is working adequately well, leave it alone+.

In explaining the non-learning attitude to success, the Harvard Business Review (https://hbr.org/2011/04/why-leaders-dont-learn-from-success) says that leaders typically make fundamental attribution errors by presuming that it is their talents and business model that are responsible. Decision-makers also give short shrift to the part played by environmental factors and random events while displaying so-called ‘overconfidence bias’ with a failure to systemically examine the causes of good performance.

The truth is that learning can take place from both success and failure for one big fact of modern business life – that both are subject to changing circumstances and environments in today’s fast-moving marketplace. Whether the erstwhile outcome was positive or negative, the change factor means that the decisions related to both need to be reapplied, a reality that requires a resolute mindfulness of earlier experience. Unfortunately, the modern flexible labour market – the average number of employers in a working lifetime is now around 10 in the UK, more in the US – disallows much of this, a workplace transformation that employers have yet to adequately address. Covid-19 will no doubt be adding to these totals as well as providing a new tranche of hard-won corporate knowledge loss.

Even the traditional approach to learning – the post-project review – becomes flawed when employees move on, among them top decision-makers and professionals who are now increasingly more mobile. Their actual input suffers from second- or third-hand recall from remaining employees, which inevitably influences the quality of any reflection and application.

Whilst admitting that success can breed failure by hindering learning at both the individual and the organisational level, HBR’s explanation falls short by disregarding the prime capital factor that the workplace is hampered by high staff turnover’s continual exodus of much prior corporate awareness across the employers’ different/specialist activities. Adding to this, the non-focus on corporate success means that organisations’ opportunity value for learning is actually very low. It’s an uncomfortable explanation for employers’ difficulties around organic and productivity growth, which can be corrected by another management oversight – knowledge sharing.

Short- and medium-term organisational experience – aka institutional memory – can be retained by skilled oral debriefing, most commonly of important departees for the benefit of their replacements, and long-term memory by properly researched and written corporate history, which can be updated on a regular basis. Provided to employees and replacements at induction/onboarding, they can smooth jobs and workplace disruption, prevent new hires from having to reinvent the corporate wheel, provide the lost evidence to allow for proper reflection by the new kids on the block (and colleagues) and improve decision-making.

See mrcorporateamnesia.com ‘s step-by-step TOOLKIT for employers to do such knowledge capture and transfer themselves. It explains the issues around knowledge ownership, knowledge sharing and how best to capture and learn from these mediums. The recognised tools used have been customised to accommodate today’s short-tenure employment.

+ The proverb relating to leaving success out of the learning cycle is attributed to one Thomas Bertram Lance, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget in US President Jimmy Carter’s 1977 administration, who was quoted in the newsletter of the US Chamber of Commerce, Nation’s Busines (May 1977) as saying that “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” It’s a maxim that’s stuck but as general advice to commerce and industry, it hides a huge learning opportunity.

Posted August 19, 2020 by Knowledge Management in Uncategorized

Open Letter   Leave a comment

AN OPEN LETTER TO OWNERS & TOP APPOINTEES IN COMPANIES AND OTHER ORGANISATIONS ….

Dear Principal Decision Maker,

Capture it – or lose this valuable slice of your intellectual capital

As one of the top decision makers in your organisation. I wonder if I might run something past you concerning the important question of who owns the knowledge and experience that your employees acquire in your employ. When they leave, employees traditionally consider it proprietorially theirs, in spite of the fact that you’ve actually paid for it. In truth, ownership is shared which, if this was acknowledged, offers you an unprecedented opportunity to salvage an important corporate asset that others abandon and which you could use to advantage.   

Given your position, you’re best placed to reference the twin issues of our very flexible labour market and knowledge sharing more authoritatively.  

This is crucial in today’s stop-start and cold-start workplace, where you induct new appointees, you train them, you provide them with the resources necessary to do their jobs and then, typically, they leave for other employers after a relatively short time (average tenure across the board is now around five years in the UK, less in the US). Other than the emails they leave behind, you, the employer, then has no access to any of the other, special non-explicit knowledge and experience with which you could reflect and learn. In effect, flexible working and your nomadic employees are disenfranchising you from your own know-how and stalling potential progress.  

If your more important employees could be dissuaded about their restricted title, imagine the added value you could access from capturing their knowledge and experience before departure and sharing it with their replacements and others? It’s something that employees can also benefit from – by improving their own performance in a much shorter timeframe. We specialise in knowledge transfer.    

I have written a short article explaining the wider issues around knowledge ownership in our highly flexible labour market and how this know-how can be shared. As you’ll appreciate, it’s a cultural issue that is a hangover from the time when short tenure was unusual and the organisations’ practice was always readily available. I have also produced a step-by-step TOOLKIT http://mrcorporateamnesia.com for employers to do the knowledge capture and sharing themselves. It is a serious effort to solve a systemic problem impacting our wider decision-making ability and our organic and productivity growth.

Of course, I’d be happy to mentor you through the process if you’re interested but if you support the idea of knowledge transfer, it would also be helpful if you could comment on this ground-breaking idea.

Collegially.

Arnold Kransdorff,
ak@mrcorporateamnesia.com
Website www.pencorp.co.uk
Blog https://biggernumbers.wordpress.com/
Twitter @mr_c_amnesia

Posted July 20, 2020 by Knowledge Management in Uncategorized