Phil Ridout alerted me to this article on KM in downturns, entitled "Layoffs Send People and Knowledge Packing", where the author identifies the risk that layoffs can lead to loss of critical knowledge. He suggests that if some elements of knowledge management had been in place, that risk might not have been so great. I think he's right, or at least partly right, but for many companies it's too late for that already. The downturn is here, layoffs are happening, employee uncertainty and concern is huge, and if you try and introduce KM now, people will not be listening. If you haven't been operating a robust KM system already, you won't get one in place in time to cover the imminent knowledge loss.
Instead, you need to do four things immediately
1). A strategic review of your corporate know-how, to identify those knowledge topics where you cannot afford to risk any loss, and then let HR know that experts and experienced practitioners in these areas should be preferably retained
2) A mapping of those individuals at high risk of loss (through early retirement, or because HR has already committed to losing them) who map onto these critical knowledge topics
3) A sensitive and effective program of knowledge retention
4) Development of a knowledge asset on fair, transparent and effective layoff programs. Layoffs are a sad but inevitable consequence of downturn, and as I said in my blogpost on Jan 27, "knowledge of how to downsize well" is one of the most important areas of know-how that you need to acquire (and by "downsize well", I mean the things I said above - fair, fast, transparent, done with respect and humanity, and with minimum damage to those who remain as well as those who leave).
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