“four legs bad two legs better”: when people leave they take their knowledge with them…

One of the big topics that comes up time and again in conversations with businesses is how to handle the loss of knowledge when people leave or get relocated. I took these notes during an interview a couple of months back with a former CEO about how he felt having exited the business after 8 years at the helm:

Too often an outgoing official feels let down by the process: using an analogy from Animal Farm, he described the environment in the aftermath of his departure as being ‘four legs bad two legs better’. The new team had little interest in understanding how decisions had been reached and maintaining the networks he considered it vital to maintain.

I remember reading Animal Farm a couple of times: the pigs take control and the mantra changes from ‘four legs good, two legs bad’ to ‘four legs good, two legs better’ as they adopt the practices of the old regime they’d previously rubbished.  It was a vivid illustration of how damaging a process leaving a business can be.

It’s not just about suddenly making provision to capture knowledge for people about to leave. Effective knowledge retention starts when a new member of staff joins: they bring fresh ideas and in many cases experiences that can be valuable additions to an organization’s corporate memory. It continues throughout their tenure (when they are involved in projects, have to make decisions, handle difficult situations, engage with stakeholders, develop policy, etc) and beyond – when they leave to become part of the alumni network.

As part of my ongoing association with Sparknow we are going to be running a knowledge retention masterclass in Singapore. To find out more about that and look at the latest blog on this subject posted today on Sparknow’s site please go to ‘knowledge retention in Asia’

It promises to be an exciting few months.

KMUK 12: whose doing what in KM I stories from afar

I’ve been to some events that focused purely on activity from within their host region. For me that’s a mistake and as recent trips to Africa and South America have confirmed there is a much to be learned from the way different people across the globe approach knowledge management.

Which is why I was delighted when Ark asked me to lead the wrap up session on Day One of KMUK entitled ‘Stories from around the world: Knowledge management trends and experiences’.

I have a couple of examples to share from Africa including the Sudapet Book Project and a Rwandan World Cafe and I know Andy Boyd, Brigitte Ireland, Adrienne Monteath-van Dok and Arthur Shelley will likewise be drawing on global experiences for what promises to be an interesting session.

Don’t worry if you can’t be there, Ark have very kindly agreed to take notes and I will publish some of the findings once the event has taken place. For those of you keen to expand your global knowledge two sources I’d recommend:

  • KM4Dev (the community of km people in the development arena) and the KM4Dev Dgroup discussion and
  • Swiss Agency for Development & Corporation’s learning and networking blog which regularly features stories from across the community of nations they support.

using the past to inform the future: Asian Development Bank

In 2010 in Manila, staff and Alumni at Asian Development Bank were handed a book and cd as part of a new Human Resources strategy, the culmination of an assignment to create a Living Archive for the bank that had begun back in November 2008.


Here is the story of the assignment.

“…the story he told me about his work… made things come alive, and showed where my project fitted into a much larger and more complex picture than I had foreseen or understood.”
Rajat M Nag
| Managing Director General

In November 2008 ADB officials and alumni embarked on a journey to find new ways to share reflections, insights and experience. Recognizing the power of narrative to stimulate dialog and unearth the hidden stories that best illustrate an organization at work, ADB appointed Sparknow LLP, a knowledge and communications consultancy, to help to create a Living Archive and to nurture the individual and collective practices that will allow ADB build a new narrative capacity to marry to the substantial analytical skills it already has.

An exhibit, plenary sessions, a combination of short, structured sessions and more extended oral history interviews, interactive workshops and on location sound recording were techniques employed to capture the content that forms the backbone of an embryonic Living Archive upon which ADB can build.

Today, the Living Archive comprises:

  • a slim book, ADB: Reflections and Beyond, capturing significant events in ADB’s history told through the eyes of some of those who were involved
  • a set of audio clips for use in induction and training
  • a CD featuring the sounds of ADB and Asia as a backdrop to many illuminating reminiscences about working for and in ADB
  • a narrative practitioner manual to support ADB in evolving the processes and practices across the organization.

A small group of determined, enthusiastic and skilled Narrative Practitioners has worked with Sparknow throughout and these people are now equipped to listen for, capture and share stories about ADB, its work and impact on those it seeks to help. These processes and their products can be seeded through all parts of the organization, whether it’s the formation of a community of practice, better handling of a mission debrief, or new ways of evaluating and carrying out after action reviews. ADB’s narrative practitioner team will help to build on the work with Sparknow in 2010 and make the most of the possibilities it has opened up.

Fast forward a couple of years to 2012 and this case study is now part of a publication from the Ark Group entitled Making Knowledge Management Work For Your Organisation”