Even companies that do not, at first glance, appear to have a great deal of knowledge to manage often suffer inefficiencies from pervasive knowledge mismanagement. One obvious example is training material, or rather, the pervasive lack thereof. Many organizations have accumulated a complex labyrinth of procedures over the course of years or decades. New employees can easily be overwhelmed by these byzantine processes, and training materials are often insufficient, out-of-date, or simply non-existent.
Good training materials are a roadmap for success
Enthusiastic and intelligent workers might quickly master these ponderous protocols if only they were laid out explicitly (and in writing). Instead, they all-too-often stumble and stagger through the corporate dark, trying to piece together snippets of insights from disparate, often conflicting sources. They turn to their colleagues and superiors, desperate for guidance, but the holders of the knowledge they seek are typically too busy to provide more than minimal feedback and attention. As deadlines loom and staff is short, training the “new guy” is relegated to the back burner. The old guard struggle to get the job done while the greenhorns wistfully observe, wishing there was some way they could contribute, if only they knew what they were supposed to be doing.
Putting together well-designed materials to train new employees takes time and money, but for any company that expects to stay in the game, it’s almost always a wise investment, paying for itself many times over in the long run. Procedural knowledge management not only ensures that new employees will more quickly contribute to their employer’s goals, freeing the veterans to continue performing their essential duties, it also helps to standardize company policies and protocols. When training is accomplished only through example and personal instruction, separate procedural fiefdoms frequently take root, and one employee learns one set of rules while another learns a grossly similar (but subtly and significantly different) set, the contrasts coming to light somewhere down the road, in a dramatically expensive way.
The downside of economic recovery
While the end of the great recession of 2008 is generally welcome news, one downside is the undeniable economic reality that as unemployment rates drop, employee turnover climbs. As the U.S. and the world slowly claw their way to economic recovery, the current trend of falling unemployment only compounds a larger trend toward a more mobile workforce that, in contrast, shows no indication of being cyclical.
The days of the learned master and dedicated apprentice are long gone, and today’s companies must embrace the fact that any of their employees could leave at any time. Even the customary two-week notice is frequently flouted. In a world of high turnover, modern companies can’t afford to invest the valuable time of experienced staff training newcomers who might abandon ship after soaking up that valuable knowledge (and even more valuable time).
Don’t waste time and resources training an increasingly ephemeral workforce
The U.S. represents one of the most extreme examples of the more mobile, modern workforce. A 2007 OECD Economic Survey of The European Economic Union and a 2012 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the average job tenure in the U.S. is only about four years, less than half of that seen in Britain, Germany, France, and most of the rest of Europe. A recent Forbes article gloomily reported that “job hopping is the new normal.” When that promising young whiz-kid doesn’t show up on Monday morning, the loyal stalwarts who remain will be too busy picking up the slack to train his replacement.
The 21st-century solution is effective knowledge management. Whether your organization deals in cutting-edge information technology, or traditional nuts and bolts manufacturing, you need to get the rules and processes down. Make sure they are clear and non-contradictory. And get it all in writing. Whether your employees retrieve information on a day-to-day basis, or just need a blueprint for how to perform their non-information-based duties, Style Matters can help them hit the ground running and never lose their stride.
Andrew Breslin is the author of two novels, Mother’s Milk, published in 2005 by ENC Press, and Practical Applications of Game Theory, currently being published in serial form at Imaginaire, the Journal of Mathematical Fiction. He blogs and reviews books at Goodreads. Some of his short fiction can be found on his website. When he isn’t writing he enjoys playing the banjo, chess, idolizing his cat, and thinking about math.