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September 04, 2004


Stan Garfield

Hi, Denham.

I linked to this blog entry today from my blog.


Neil Olonoff

From a Federal government perspective, there has been a lot of conversation on this issue.

(See "Addressing the Human Capital Crisis in the Federal Government: a KM Perspective" by Dr. Jay Liebowitz)

First, the good news.

Federal workers are not retiring at rates which will be difficult to manage in terms of succession or workforce planning.

However, there may be two "shadow crises:"

1. A crisis of knowledge transfer, mainly of unique individuals with specialized knowledge. I happen to be working on a project tackling this issue at the moment.

2. The shadow human capital crisis -- contractors who are not government employees who nonetheless possess unique knowledge that, if lost, would be difficult to recoup.

W.J. du Toit

But still no solution, just a bunch of theoretical phylosophies. I am a final year student at the University of Protoria -South Africa in BIS Information and Knowledge Management. We had to work with a R&D company iin defences (CSIR) for two weeks and try to compile a descent system to solve the problem of experts leaving with all their knowledge in tact. We found it a very difficult task for 2 reasons. Firstly these guys has years of experience not only in the company but actual war experience. This kind of knowledge base is near impossible to articulat, and they nearly never documeneted work not even mentioning indexing it appropriatly.
Secondly, they are not willing to give up all the knowledge they have gained over the years and just spill it out for everyone to use. There is simply no incentive that acts as an motivation for them to do so. The company really has a problem, since most of these experts are on the verge of retiring. We have got our hands full, our personal thought and opinion is that it's just simply too late. It will take to long for new guys to gain all that experience even if they stay side by side the expert 24/7 for up to two years.
Basically all they can do now is to try and gather as much as documented knowledge as possible and implement a descent knowledge management strategy so that they can be prepared for the years to come. I havn't even started working yet, and I can already see the truck load of problems waiting for me in the future to sort out for comppanies who wated to long to apply knowledge management...

David Locke

The notion that you can capture what is in people's heads before the leave the corporation was out back in the '80s. Are we going to try the same thing again?

Given the "bust the silo" goals of corporations today, functional unit semantics is going to be threatened long before people retire. The minute a line guy can tell a functional guy what words to use or not use, the function is depreciated. Current semantic tools are phoney. Power it taking the place of knowledge.

In goverment, the same thing is happening. Power is trumping knowledge. While the knowledge worker worries about the loss of knowledge. The line management welcomes the ability to substititue power for knowledge.

The elimination of civil service across the federal administrative law units is a gating factor in bringing back machine politics. Once civil service protections are gone, objectivity is eroded. No numbers coming out of Washington today are reliable. Why would the polies want objective numbers?

No, this country does not have a knowledge problem. It has a power problem. Knowledge becomes unemployed long before retirement when it doesn't play well with power.

Knowledge is the whipping boy today. Knowledge workers are being made to pay.

Nobody gets my brain.

When it comes to "Lost Knowledge," we ain't seen nothin' yet! Nearly 70 percent of the 1.8 million U.S. federal employees are eligible to retire between now and 2011. That's seven years away, and even if only half retire, the Federal Government will lose more than a third of its experienced employees. Whenever you talk to Federal managers about KM, 'brain drain' is at the top of the list of serious syndromes.

When thinking about Lost Knowledge, I think it's interesting to combine the KM story with so-called "Continuity of Operations Plans." CooPs used to be contingency/disaster plans. But it's clear that "Continuity" per se is a continuum; in other words, functional knowledge gaps exist every single day for various reasons. People resign, get sick, die. We are now facing an enormous gap of that sort, not different in kind but scale.

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