Firms Face Challenge In Capturing Departing Employees' Know-how



Do workers who provide detailed information on how they do their jobs dig their own graves? That's how some experts see a proposal put forth by Hamilton Beazley, co-author of Continuity Management: Preserving Corporate Knowledge And Productivity When Employees Leave (John Wiley & Sons, August 2002).

Beazley promotes continuity management, a branch of knowledge management in which know-how is captured electronically so it can be transferred to a worker who replaces a departing employee. To make this system work, employees each day fill out templates tied to a database, creating a knowledge base that can be passed on.

chartThe economy was booming a few years back when Beazley began researching Continuity Management, as people zipped in and out of jobs. With each resignation, companies lost the departing employee's knowledge, a crucial asset. Today, fewer employees voluntarily leave jobs, but the need for continuity management persists because of layoffs. Companies need to transfer laid-off workers' knowledge to those who end up doing former colleagues' jobs--so-called ghost work--along with their own. While employees can't be replaced, portions of their knowledge can be, says Beazley, an ex-George Washington University organizational-behavior professor who heads the consulting firm Strategic Leadership Group.

Yet people might resist providing information that could lead to someone else doing their jobs. "There's a low level of trust and loyalty in the workplace for obvious reasons," says human-resources consultant Lynda Ford. "People approach this from the perspective of 'why are you asking me to do this?' If there's a perception of a low level of trust, they're not going to do it or do a lousy job doing it."

Says Creighton University economics professor Ernest Goss: "Knowledge gives people job security." Even with incentives to cooperate, he says, "workers will act in their own self-interest. They don't want to create an easy path to layoffs."

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