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How financial companies can prevent knowledge loss

4 min read

Modern Money

This is a guest post by Katrina Pugh, author of Sharing Hidden Know-How and president of AlignConsulting, a firm that helps organizations plan business and technology change by channeling insight into action. She formerly was vice president of Knowledge Management for Fidelity and senior technical program manager for Intel Solution Services. Connect with Pugh on Twitter and LinkedIn.

As financial services climb out of recession and employees look at their stagnant salary prospects, more nimble companies and departments beckon. The prospect of new experiences and camaraderie can look like a beacon in the darkness of survival, underemployment or restless consulting gigs.

For organizations, this is more than just a hassle.  Because so many are down to the bone, a loss of one employee could be devastating.  The typical way managers handle the yawning gap is retention bonuses, exit interviews and goodwill relationships with former employees.  But retention bonuses don’t guarantee that tricky workarounds of an application get explained or written down. And exit interviews hardly cover those remarkable calming strategies for the irate client. And even goodwill meetings may not fully represent the subtle intuition the employee used on the trading floor.

But there is another way to prevent potential knowledge-loss. Knowledge Jam is a process for getting out and distributing at-risk knowledge like this by using facilitated conversation. The focal point is a real-time 90-minute “Jam,” where a facilitator captures and projects what’s being said. Sounds simple enough, but there are several practices that make Jams more than just naval-gazing:

  • Be a convener. Being a facilitator is more than getting people into the room (or virtual room).  It entails scouting out and recruiting, previewing the concepts, getting participants to agree on an agenda, facilitating a vibrant and productive conversation, and driving toward action, not just documentation.
  • Shift the burden. After the event, receivers of the knowledge put it to work quickly, e.g., in their project plans, service protocols, product specs or merger-integration strategies.  They, too, should be planning ahead, ready to explore these types of applications in the Jam.
  • Conversation isn’t chitchat. In conversation, participants look at complex ideas, dig into scary failures, make sense of it all and then stay colleagues. The facilitator sets a positive tone, and participants join in.
  • Share the focus.  With projection in front of the room (or on Webex or other desktop conferencing), people are more likely to ask for clarification, to expand, or to amplify what’s said. The recorder draws out the concepts so all are on the same page.
  • Social media is the culprit.  The blindspots that led us to overlook knowledge-loss risk come from our ultra-visible, always-on digital soup. Our days are so filled with frenetic meetings, feeds, tweets and e-mails, that we can’t stop to talk. Conversation seems like a luxury.
  • Social media is your friend. On the other hand, social media can be a sort of listening post. Without leaving my desk, I might find out about your program on the other side of the globe.  Moreover, social media can help receivers transfer jammed knowledge across the globe to many who need it.

Conversation helps expose know-how before our old talent exits. But convening conversation should be the new talent on hiring managers’ shopping lists today. In the 1990s we hired leaders for raw skill. People excelled or perished based on knowing IT or markets. Then in the 2000s we hired for leaders’ networks and relationships. By the ‘10s, raw skill and networks are either offshore or on LinkedIn. Today it’s convening conversations that is the talent we need. Convening is bringing about mutually enlightening conversations that reduce talent risk while improving resiliency.

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