Learning & Development

The Importance of Capturing Institutional Knowledge

Ever wish you could just download everything your employees know or transfer their knowledge of company and customer history to their teams or successors? This idea of transferring knowledge is called capturing institutional knowledge.

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Employees gain more and more institutional knowledge the longer they remain in an organization and with increasing responsibilities and an increasing number of things to manage each passing week and month. Employees use this institutional knowledge every day, and it influences their behavior and helps them navigate situations based on how things work in the organization or what has been done in the past.

Institutional knowledge is particularly important when only one or a few employees have the knowledge, which might be a particular process, a customer’s unique history and specific needs, or how best to form good working relationships with the organization’s suppliers.

So, what happens when someone with a high amount of institutional knowledge leaves? How can the organization keep some of that valuable information?

It’s important to capture that institutional knowledge when you can, but it isn’t a priority for most organizations. People are busy doing their jobs and getting things done, so transferring knowledge usually doesn’t bubble to the top of the to-do list. But for companies with long-term plans, it should, as that institutional knowledge can be critical to the organization’s ongoing success.

Tips on Transferring Institutional Knowledge Proactively

Here are a few tips to start proactively capturing institutional knowledge in your organization:

  • Build in tools and processes that make the recording of customer information the norm. For example, customer relationship management software is one way organizations can record information about interactions with customers to retain data about customer interactions and help others to be able to understand them more easily.
  • Proactively create training materials around processes, even ones current employees know instinctively. One day, there will be some who don’t know the processes, and having training materials will make it easier than starting from scratch. (If you want to go all in, consider creating standard operating procedures for everything applicable.)
  • Periodically audit processes to see if standards are being followed or if things have changed (perhaps organically) and materials need to be updated.
  • Consider adding multiple types of documentation, such as written processes and videos showing proper procedures and giving oral explanations.
  • Consider implementing a mentoring program, which can encourage people to share knowledge with one another.
  • Cross-train employees in different departments or parts of the business so multiple people have a similar knowledge base.
  • Identify subject matter experts (SMEs) who hold institutional knowledge on important topics, and make them responsible for documenting it. This may be important because an SME’s area of expertise may not be included in already documented processes.
  • When an employee leaves on good terms, see how much of his or her institutional knowledge can be recorded, either through new training materials or even sitting with colleagues and giving them insights into the person’s routines and tips and tricks.
  • Consider adopting tools specifically aimed at capturing the information your employees know, such as third-party software.

What else has your organization done to capture institutional knowledge? What have you found to be most effective?

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