Lost Knowledge

Many years ago, when I graduated college and prepared to move into my first apartment, I realized that my knowlege of cooking was practically nonexistent.  Fortunately, my Italian grandmother made jars of pasta sauce and sent them with me whenever I visited home. 

Recognizing that she would not able to feed me forever, I realized that I had better learn how to make the sauce myself.  So, I asked my grandmother to teach me how to make her sauce.  Like most long-time family recipes, grandma never wrote hers down.  But she was happy to let me watch and learn in her kitchen.  I watched, took notes, and then tried to duplicate her sauce.  Despite many attempts, I never came close to matching the original.  When she passed away, her sauce recipe went with her.

How many of your employees are like my grandmother. with the secret recipes known only to them based on years of experience?  If those employees retire, take a new job, or otherwise become unavailable, how would their loss affect your business? Your employment agreements may have rock-solid IP assignment and nondisclosure obligations,  but do they require your employees to disclose all criticial information to you?  And if so, do you have operating procedures to encourage that disclosure and capture the information?

David DeLong explores these questions in his new book Lost Knowledge:  Confronting the Threat of an Aging Workforce.  In the book, DeLong asks:  how can companies obtain and retain the critical expertise and experience of their employees before that knowledge walks out the door?   The book provides tools for developing a knowledge-retention strategy, and it outlines best practices for knowledge transfer, using technology to enable knowledge retention, retaining older workers, and outsourcing lost capabilities.

As the workforce evolves into a younger, more mobile set of employees, companies must face the consequences of lost knowledge more often than ever before.  DeLong’s book is a useful tool for avoiding those consequences before it’s too late.

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