As Francis Bacon is reputed to have said, knowledge is power. But preserving and sharing that power can be difficult for companies today. With high employee turnover, an aging workforce, and geographically distributed and remote offices, workplace trends are complicating knowledge management.
A recent HBR article outlined a modern approach that can address these challenges. According to the authors, “Instead of relying upon the experts to ‘push’ knowledge out, it enlists learners in ‘pulling’ the knowledge out, then passing it to others who can benefit. The expert saves time and the learners better internalize the lessons.” This approach, which they dub “knowledge cascades,” can be deployed in various models, including:
- Pay it forward. In this model the “nextperts,” or the initial mentees of the original experts, directly teach others based upon what they learned and experienced from their sessions with the subject matter expert or business leader.
- Present a challenge. This approach involves a nextpert introducing a situation or problem rooted in the expert’s experience. As the authors put it, “Rather than presenting with the expert’s solution to a commonly encountered but difficult problem, the individual or groups are confronted with the problem itself.” The learners then must collaborate to discuss and vet possible solutions—and their business impact—before learning what the expert’s approach would be. According to the HBR article, “Research on memory and cognition has shown that such challenges result in better retention.”
- Set up a “campfire.” In this scenario, a mix of experts, less experienced individuals, and nextperts discuss common challenges and their resolutions. Bringing together people of varying experience levels and backgrounds can often generate new knowledge and approaches, in addition to helping novice employees understand what has been done in the past.
- Translate. As the name suggests, this technique is focused on capturing knowledge in a tangible way that can be shared with future workforce generations. This often takes the form of guidelines or wiki entries, but many companies also employ digital tactics—for example, creating podcasts of interviews with SMEs that can be easily accessed by employees.
According to the HBR article, “The benefits of knowledge cascades to both individuals and the organization derive not only from the knowledge content diffused but from the process learned.” Or to put it another way, the approach is a win-win for both the nextperts and the downstream learners, resulting in a smarter organization with a framework for efficiently sharing knowledge with new generations of employees.
Check out the HBR piece in its entirety for more on the approach and how it could be implemented in your organization.