‘your entire career is your exit interview’: embedding knowledge capture & retention techniques

This tweet, from this year’s KM Russia event, reminded me of an interview I had with a senior Asian banker a few years back.  Retiring, after three decades during which time he’d been pivotal in the regeneration of Asia after the crisis of 1997,  he was asked at his exit interview, ‘have you returned the stapler?‘ The sense of disappointment in his voice was palpable as he told me (I paraphrase), ‘you devote your life to an organisation and then puff, you are gone along with your sense of identity’.

It echoed a similar conversation with the former CEO of a major reinsurance group whose departure remains a source of unhappiness because his experience and network of contacts were not considered important enough to devote time and resource to by his successors who were taking the company in a new direction.

Fortunately many organisations are now making knowledge capture and retention part of the ‘way we do things around here’, recognising the need for effective processes throughout the life cycle of employees and projects. One such organisation is Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs who employed us* to run a pilot programme capturing and exploiting corporate knowledge’ to equip senior business heads with tools and techniques they might use to capture and retain critical knowledge.

In previous posts I described the programme modules 1-3. Here I’d like to share with you modules 4 and 5.

HMRC’s Pilot Programme: : Modules 4 & 5 Analysing & Sharing

Analysing how to analyse and organise the material that has been captured
Sharing how to share the knowledge that’s been captured how to engage with your audience

Analysing (cataloguing and curating) the material captured is often overlooked, the assumption being that search will reveal all. The delegates were invited to listen to a couple of recorded interviews and consider how they might catalogue the material.

We accepted that not every piece of critical knowledge (defined previously as the knowledge HMRC would struggle without if it lost’) is likely to be recorded on voice or camera. However the process of thinking about how to catalogue material does provide a steer on the importance of structuring what you are capturing. We spend money on creating taxonomies which is another form of categorisation and cataloguing.

Here’s one example tablog 2ken from a piece of work featured in ‘making Knowledge Management work in your organisation’ (an Ark Group publication). It shows the process adopted for the creation of a Living Archive. Note the importance of the indexing or cataloguing process (in red).

blog 3And here’s the cataloguing process that is referred to above and was shared in HMRC module 4.

In Sharing (Module 5)  we looked at numerous ways of engaging with the stakeholder community previously discussed and identified in Module 2. Our aim here was to illustrate that no one size fits all and that each person or group might respond differently.

The delegates had to map the profile of the audience and then think about what might be the best method of engaging.

Blog 1Aside from examples of companies who have successfully use: Baton Passing, an Audience With, Fellows, Knowledge Markets, Dare 2 Share Fairs and Memoirs on Camera we discussed the (now discontinued) practice wherein a returning diplomat would complete a Valedictory Despatch after his or her tour of duty overseas ended.

Parting ShotsAs in previous modules the delegates were asked to consolidate their learning ‘off line’ and as a way of consolidating all the exercises were given an assignment to be working on before we reassembled for the final session.  I will conclude this series of blog posts next time and look at how we evaluated the programme.

Parting Shots by Matthew Parris

*Sparknow and Knowledge et al worked in partnership to deliver this programme.

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”