The Knowledge and Innovation Network (KIN) is a members only community, however this blog reflects musings and interests of the KIN Facilitators and members that may be of interest to the wider world.
Wednesday, 14 October 2015
What does a new broom know?
You may be familiar with the thought experiment sometimes called the 'is it the same broom?'. In a the 12th episode of the last series of Dr Who, Peter Capaldi asks "you take a broom, you replace the handle, and then later you replace the brush. And you do that, over and over again. Is it still the same broom?".It's actually a modern variant of the ancient 'Ship of Theseus' question, in which the philosopher Plutarch asked whether a ship which was restored by replacing every one of its wooden parts remained the same ship.
This came to mind when a client recently told me that when analysing staff turnover in a particular department of 24 people, it was discovered that not one individual had been in post 5 years ago. If every member of staff was replaced over that period, is it the same department? Well of course it is; but it raises the question of continuity, and in particular what that department knows. I thought it fascinating that not only did they not know what they had forgotten, but had no idea that they might have had forgotten anything (credit: Donald Rumsfeld). Another very large organisation I met with this week told me they were now experiencing 50% turnover per year. That's an entirely new ship, or broom, every 2 years. They had vastly ramped-up their graduate recruitment program to compensate.
The know-how and organisational learning implications of this are enormous:
Knowledge retention initiatives for experienced individuals or those with unique knowledge simply cannot wait until someone leaves. A proactive risk-management and prioritisation process is vital to ensure scarce support resources are used effectively.
On-boarding has to be effective and well-supported.
Knowledge must be stewarded by professional or subject-matter networks, not just vested in an individual. Building up this 'latent' or network knowledge capability is the most sustainable risk-mitigation for such a scenario, but rarely a priority under such pressure.
Centuries after Plutarch, the philosopher Thomas Hobbes introduced a further puzzle, wondering what would happen if the ship's original planks were gathered up after they were replaced, and used to build a second ship. I leave you to ponder what this might mean for an organisation's knowledge distributed to the four winds.