The Importance of Preserving Institutional Knowledge

It’s a common trope in pretty much every badly dubbed kung-fu movie.

The wizened master passing along a lifetime of accumulated knowledge so the young neophyte can face the challenge ahead. While you might never be asked to carry buckets of water on your shoulders or catch flies with chopsticks at work to earn this knowledge, the basic idea is the same at your workplace. How can you ensure institutional knowledge is preserved and ultimately passed on as your workforce faces fresh challenges in the new world of work?


Your employees aren’t going to be there forever. Some will find new jobs. Others will retire. And when they leave, they’ll take with them the accumulated knowledge that they’ve gathered in their time with you. If you’ve been leaning on these workers because they’re the only people who are familiar with or comfortable with one of your business processes, you could be in trouble. But it’s avoidable trouble. Cross-pollinate knowledge throughout your organization by encouraging those with specialized knowledge sets to educate and train larger groups.  By providing opportunities for your workers to mentor others or to learn new skill sets, you are providing a work environment that encourages collaboration.


In today’s changing world of work, the 25-year-old with the commuter bag and the 55-year-old with a briefcase are likely headed to the same workplace.  They may not have a lot in common, but they both have a lot they can learn from each other. Creating an environment in your workplace where differences are respected and understood is necessary for fostering the sort of communication that helps preserve this sort of institutional knowledge. Break down barriers and diffuse this knowledge by assigning workers to partner and ‘shadow’ each other to gain additional skills. Encourage workers to partner with mentors who are further along a career track, but also encourage younger workers to branch out and explore potential career tracks through multiple mentors.


You don’t want to be constantly training different employees the same things. If you find that this is happening, it may indicate a problem with your workplace. Whether it’s low pay, weak benefits or a poor work environment, your employees are looking for ways out. And turnover like that not only hurts your business financially, it can extract a big cost when it comes to losing the sort of institutional knowledge your employees need to keep things running smoothly. Talk to your employees and get an idea of what their complaints are. Keeping them happy isn’t just a nice thing to do – it makes good business sense.


Many employers now utilize intranets, enterprise social networks, records management solutions, and other cloud based approaches to create better collaboration amongst employees. Create a shared space that contains useful institutional knowledge where everyone can contribute to in an organized and controlled way. Relying on these cloud infrastructure solutions ensures that the information contained within is accessible whenever, and wherever you need it. Many of these solutions are outsourced so companies don’t have to worry about the management of the systems themselves. In other cases, you may want to look into outsourcing the business processes themselves that contribute to documenting this institutional knowledge.

Have you ever had a problem getting things done at work after someone’s departure? How did you manage the situation? Let us know in the comments below.

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