Transfer Knowledge to Reduce Risk

Editor’s Note: This post is from regular contributor Norman Katz, Sourcing Innovation’s resident expert on supply chain fraud and supply chain risk. Catch up on his column in the archive.

As reported on August 15, 2009 in my local South Florida newspaper, two New Jersey police officers in their 20’s failed to recognize singer-songwriter Bob Dylan. Mr. Dylan was wondering around a low-income neighborhood when he was spotted by someone who apparently called the police to report a suspicious character. It’s important to note that Mr. Dylan did not have identification on him. The police officers escorted Mr. Dylan to the resort where tour management confirmed his identification.

[Editor’s note: People worry about a return to 1984, but this smacks of a return to 1963. For those of you old enough to remember, it’s alright, ma (lyrics).]

Around this time I attended a business event and saw some folks I knew from my networking who invited me to join their group. During our conversation I made a reference to the classic rock band Deep Purple (one of my favorites) as we were discussing colors and shades for use in corporate marketing. A young lady in the group, I have no doubt in her 20’s, looked puzzled and said she was unfamiliar with this band. I asked her if she knew the song Smoke On The Water and did my best to hum the famous guitar riff. She confessed she still did not recognize the tune which is understandable if you’ve ever heard me attempt anything musical, though I suspect this was more related to a generational gap. (I did receive a follow-up e-mail from her a few days later stating that she was familiar with the riff but not the band behind it. She may have followed my suggestion and did a YouTube(R) lookup.)

More so in lean economic times companies have a habit of getting rid of employees with deep knowledge and replacing them with younger less-experienced and less-knowledgeable people. This is not a very wise decision when reliance on such knowledge is what separates the company from its competitors as would be the case in most companies.

(One only need look at the demise of Circuit City as an example: experienced floor sales people were let go to bring in a younger less-expensive sales force which failed to provide the same level of customer service and left customers taking their money elsewhere.)

Typical when experienced employees are (suddenly) replaced, there is a failure to transfer critical knowledge. Older employees must understand that they have a responsibility to their employer that goes beyond their own interest of self-preservation: Unless you work for yourself your knowledge belongs to your employer and they have every right to require that you document what you know and provide training to those less-experienced. Good sustainability and risk management practices require this and Sarbanes-Oxley compliance demands it.

Studies have shown that Millenials (aka, Generation Y, born between 1978 and 1989 depending on whose definition you look at) tend to be more result-oriented than process-oriented. This can be problematic in regulated enterprises and public companies. This can run counter to Lean thinking and Six Sigma methodologies that look to process improvements for efficiency. Entities such as ISO (International Standards Organization) rely on documented processes for their certifications.

Is it any wonder why Gen Y is so results oriented when knowledge can be so difficult to acquire and job performance tends to be based on results and not how those results were achieved? It’s important for enterprises to explain and show why the process matters and encourage process improvements that do not cross the line of regulatory or certification requirements.

Classic rock may one day face its own extinction in one form or another and the world will be a sadder place the day the music truly dies.

Enterprises have a more immediate need to and face a greater crisis in the short-term due to knowledge gaps. Risk is reduced when knowledge is transferred. Enterprises should work towards closing generational gaps by creating teams that use the best characteristics of its generational members. Each generation needs to respect the other and acknowledge the benefits each brings to the table. Torches will forever be passed and this does not require that anyone get burned in the process.

Norman Katz, Katzscan

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