However, having this be the only place valuable knowledge resides is risky and inefficient. Employees retire, move away, seek other jobs, get sick, die. When one of these inevitable events occurs, the organization can be left without the crucial information it needs to operate. It is therefore very important that utilities develop strategies and practices that capture all the knowledge that is needed to continue efficient operation. Needless to say, turning internal knowledge into external knowledge--i.e. getting all that information out of people's heads and onto paper or computers or video tape--is one of the best ways to manage a lot of this risk, and every utility should strive to do that as much as possible.
However, some of the knowledge your employees carry around with them does not lend itself to this kind of externalization. This kind of tacit knowledge is based on judgement and experience. This is the ability of an operator with 30 years of experience to just hear when a pump is having problems or the "gut feeling" that something should be checked.
This is your meter reader knowing that the gate will be locked on Tuesdays or your billing clerk understanding that Mrs. Jones doesn't get her check until the 15th and that she will always pay her bill on the 16th, so it is a waste of money to send a past due notice.
Cross-training builds redundancy of employee skills into your utility and can be extremely helpful in the event of sudden illness or departure of employees.
Job-sharing is similar to cross-training, but has the advantage that 2 or more employees actually share duties and knowledge on a continuing basis, as opposed to one-time or occasional trainings that are characteristic of most cross-training programs.
Mentoring is a long-term, complex process in which an experienced employee seeks to impart his or her knowledge and wisdom to a less experienced employee in order to ensure continuation of that knowledge within the organization.
Shadowing is similar to mentoring, or may be a component of mentoring. In this process, the less experienced employee or "protege" may spend only portions of his or her time with the "expert" or may do so only on a few occasions.
Joint problem-solving may incorporate aspects of all of the above techniques and is generally an ongoing feature of an organization's mode of operation. In some ways, joint problem-solving is the most effective and the most difficult to implement of all the strategies to manage the risks inherent in internal knowledge.
However an organization decides to manage its knowledge, an effective program should help the organization accomplish the following:
- Foster innovation by encouraging the free flow of ideas
- Improve customer service by increasing operator knowledge
- Enhance employee retention rates by recognizing the value of employees' knowledge and rewarding them for it
- Streamline operations and reduce costs by eliminating redundant or unnecessary processes
- Stabilize operations by ensuring smooth transitions when employees leave the organization
- Cut costs related to loss of employees and training of new employees
- Cut costs related to loss of ability to operate smoothly in the event of unexpected employee absences or departures