Organisational knowledge: lessons on retaining knowledge before people leave the team


Knowledge is intangible and fragile.  You are at risk of losing knowledge as people move on.

Michelle Ockers – notes from Jeff Stemke presentation on organisational knowledge

Organisational knowledge, and how to best retain it, has been one of the main work-related things on my mind lately. As I transition out of a specialist (eLearning /digital learning) role into a more generalist one (OD Business Partner),  I’m asking myself daily (multiple times a day):

What’s the best way for me to share and distribute this knowledge and experience to equip others to answer the questions and solve these problems ?

It’s not so much the projects but the ‘BAU’ that is the challenge: the daily questions and problem solving, knowledge, advice and support – which is the way most experienced people add value to the business and other teams. This is the work that experts in the team internalise and don’t often even realise they’re doing, but which often holds the fabric of a team or function together, makes things work more smoothly for those around them and enables them to achieve outcomes efficiently and effectively. It’s the work that relies on tacit knowledge, and historical data to get done – things that people know simply from having been in the environment for a long time, that’s either not or can’t easily be documented. And, that, even if you did take the time to document it, you wonder would people even look at it? For me, it might be the story behind existing or legacy online content, or software licences we might need to maintain, why, and the impact of not doing so, who to contact for getting stuff done (and how to engage them to do it),  workarounds for getting stuff to work, how to maintain things so stuff doesn’t break (an issue particularly when you work with tech): the know who and the know how. This is knowledge (and relationships that carry it) built up over years of experience, that I’m only realising others don’t have, when I stop doing the work, and the questions I’m asked reveals the gap.

Nicely summed up by Jeff Stemke here:

jeff stemke - expert knowledge

Jeff Stemke – what experts know that novices don’t

How I’m solving the knowledge problem

I’m documenting the important stuff (guidelines, tools, templates, legacy project info) and saving it in locations  that make the most sense for the workflow of each task. And inspired by a Jane Bozarth ‘show your work’ webinar I have also been more openly and regularly sharing with the team the problems I’m encountering, and solutions I’m working on, and encouraging them to ask questions in the context of the projects they’re doing.

But: I’m also coming to a realisation that some things simply need to be experienced to be learnt – documentation will only ever go so far – there is no substitute for experience.  So I am also increasingly focusing on handing over, delegating,  guiding, coaching and mentoring others in the team to undertake the work whilst I am still around to answer questions. Sometimes (often?) the best way to pass on knowledge is by helping others to gain the experience.

So I was intrigued when Michelle shared her notes on Jeff Stemke presentation on measuring value and retaining organisational knowledge:

I found it fascinating. And moreover useful: especially the key steps and methods of Jeff’s ‘Knowledge Transfer game plan’ to mitigate the risk of this knowledge loss as a framework I can employ:

Jeff Stemke ‘Knowledge Transfer Game Plan’

…and actively practice knowledge sharing behaviours in my daily workflow. Often this means consciously making a decision NOT to do a task myself, and instead, finding someone else I can teach it to, making introductions to help build relationships (as work only gets done effectively and efficiently through ‘who you know’, especially in large complex organisations).

jeff@stemke knowledge sharing behaviours


The  challenge can also be not having someone to ‘handover’ to: in that interim period between when one person leaves and their replacement arrives, and the rest of the team is already over-capacity, finding opportunities for knowledge sharing can be difficult (as yes – it does take longer to brief and coach someone through a task rather than doing it yourself).

and ways to overcome them

But as the deadline for moving out completely looms, you’ve got to just focus on the critical things – what they need to know so they don’t break stuff inadvertently, and creating performance support tools (guides, tools, checklists) that will provide people with at minimum, a starting point. The rest then, is up to direct experience – the learning by doing that only they can do for themselves.

What you come to accept and realise as well is that organisations are organisms, they’ll keep moving and morphing and adapt to the change. Things may not work quite as smoothly at first…but eventually this will be just a temporary blip on the radar.

Images of Jeff Stemke’s presentation from Michelle Ocker’s (awesome) notes which you can read here.


#oneword 2017

Since seeing the #oneword hastag in my twitter feed on new years day, I’ve been subconsciously wondering what mine might be for 2017. A lot of others I saw resonated in some way with me: #present; #resilient; #balance, #discipline, #focus…these are all directly relevant to me as things I aspire to practice this year…but each on their own didn’t quite fully encapsulated all that I want or need for the year.

But when I was out for a walk last night purposeful came into my head. And this, finally felt right for me.

Why purposeful? 2016 was for me hugely chaotic in almost all aspects of life, for many and varied reasons. Whilst the challenges left me exhausted and burnt out, I also learnt a huge amount – about the importance of asking for and accepting help, and the generosity and care of others, about the type of person I am and how this can lead me to take on too much for too many people, about letting go and just being present. That you can only look after someone else if you take good care of your own health and wellbeing first, and that building resilience is about carving out time to do this very thing. The importance of applying balanced focus to your family, work, self and social, and the benefit of talking (to the right people), questioning, reframing and reflecting on situations to see potential solutions, the helpfulness of adopting a mindset of experimenting – a cycle of ‘trying things out’>reflecting on how well it worked>and adjusting or trying something different if it doesn’t (repeat), and the effectiveness of building behaviour change through small, doable, sustainably repeatable actions (habits). Of having clarity on what needs to change to make things better, and clearly articulating what you need from other people to make this happen. About people leadership – how incredibly challenging it is to do and do well, that it’s something which needs to be worked at consciously and honed constantly, what ‘good’ people leadership might look and feel like, and how important dedicated support and a good mentor is for developing good leadership skills….And how a schedule of constant back to back meetings is the single most unproductive and unsustainable way to work (yet lots of leaders still seem to do it – sometimes because it’s the cultural norm of the work environment…but that’s a whole other conversation).

For me, 2017 is about purposefully keeping these lessons front of mind and applying them, purposefully setting a clear big picture long term goal (“the dream”), purposefully making the short and mid term goals and plans needed to get there, and purposefully using the discipline of daily habits to make it easier for me to get there: to build resilience against challenges, and the focus to stick with it.

I hope 2017 isn’t as chaotic as 2016 was – but merely hoping won’t make it so. However, being Purposeful about it just might.

Digiwrimo storyjumpers 6: What does it mean?

This is part 6 of a story jumping activity for Digital Writing MonthBruno started it, followed by Kevin, Maha, Sarah and Ron Sign up in the Google Doc if you’d like to join in.


Kevin plopped onto his bed, exhausted. What a night. What the hell had happened? How did things get so out of hand? He never knew Sandy had one machine gun, let alone two. And, to take them to the pub with her? And fire them? What was she thinking?! The whole incident really got him wondering whether he knew her at all, and whether they had a future together. And how Sarah got involved in that fight, he wasn’t sure.  At least he’d managed to fix her uke – that was about the only thing that had gone right that night. Meanwhile, that odd woman across the road was watching his house again. It no longer freaked him out, but he did often wonder why she was so interested in the house. Maybe she wanted to buy it.

Kevin took the Bruno note out of his pocket and turned it over in his hands. He hadn’t been able to get it out of his mind since finding it in that old laptop case. He peered at the map again and tried to make out the words…

After a while, things started to get blurry, and all of a sudden the words seemed to dissolve into a garden and he found himself face to face with a spider.

spider door

He looked around, confused. Where was he? And was that a door? What happened to his bed? He had no idea where he was, but he decided to investigate what was behind his door…it occurred to him that perhaps this was all just a strange dream and he would wake up and find himself back home, in his room if he walked through that door.

Instead, he found himself in a whole other world. There was a sign in front of him:


No swimming? Where was the water? Curious, he walked past the sign, towards the large trees, looking for the body of water the sign was  referring to.

But instead of water, there was a clearing. And to his surprise there was a giant chessboard, with a mysterious, small hooded boy considering his next move.


He tried to get the small boy’s attention to ask where the water way, but the boy only seemed to speak French. Kevin  kept walking.

As he walked through a small forest, and past a strange cluster of large rocks, he finally saw a lake.


He could see an amazing glowing island full of flowers in the middle. He somehow knew he had to get there. But the water was murky and he remembered the sign warning of no swimming. He looked around – and saw there was a rowboat behind some bushes. He grabbed it and jumped in, rowing quickly toward the island. He didn’t know why but he had a gut feeling it was important he get there. As he approached, the words Blossom Island kept playing over and over in his head. He knew this was the name of the island. On the island were hundreds of beautiful red and white rose bushes.


After walking through blossom island for a few minutes he came across an arch with beautiful flowers all around it.  Walking through it,, enchanted, he notices in amongst the flowers, lots of yummy looking cookies. Kevin suddenly realises how hungry he is – he’d done so much walking and couldn’t remember the last time he’d eaten. He grabbed a cookie greedily. But just as he was about to bite into it, he paused. Sudden flashbacks of childhood fairy tales played in his mind: Hansel and Gretel, and the candy covered cottage; Alice in Wonderland and the ‘Eat Me’ cake. The flashbacks were surely a warning. Who put these cookies here? What was in them? Why were they here? And…where WAS HE? The sound of his rumbling stomach interrupted his thoughts. In that instant, he threw caution to the wind, and took a huge bite.


To be continued….by Kay….

[Footnote: this story contains images and ideas from my day out today with my 5 year old]

New writing adventure: #digiwrimo

Yes, I’ve written Nothing for a Long Time. Indeed, I haven’t really been online all that much. It’s easy to get out of the habit of engaging and being online – especially when embroiled with other (real life) distractions. But, what better way to get re-motivated to write than with a new collaborative writing adventure: digital writing month #digiwrimo.

Digiwrimo is a month-long adventure and exploration of digital narrative and art. It aims to inspire participants to take risks and play and explore creative forms of digital expression, through digital makes: small, low-risk exercises within the context of a supportive community.

Although it doesn’t officially start until November, I’ve been involved in the lead-up since my  online friend, EdContext collaborator, networker extraordinaire Maha Bali (@Bali_Maha) invited me to participate. Maha is facilitating digiwrimo this year with Sarah Honeychurch (@NomadWarMachine) and Kevin Hodgson (@dogtrax), both of whom I know from other online adventures (mainly #rhizo14). Just knowing that these guys are involved is enough motivation to get engaged with the project, as they are some of the most open, curious, creative & inspiring people I know. But they’ve also invited me to contribute as a “guest creator”, which will involve at some point coming up with a post or activity to inspire, provoke and challenge participants to experiment with some form of creative expression.

Additionally exciting, is that two weeks before the official start, it’s already begun to take on a life of it’s own. Starting with Bruno Winck’s (@brunowwinck) awesome first post for #digiwrimo:

A couple of twitter exchanges later, and an off-the-cuff spontaneous collaborative writing adventure sprouted:

There is a lot that excites me about this: that a day ago, Bruno wasn’t even sure about whether he should participate in digiwrimo; a day later not only has he written the first digiwrimo post, but inspired a new collaborative writing activity. This doesn’t surprise me. As the one-man founder-moderator-organiser of the lively weekly #pkmchat, I’m often in awe of Bruno’s seemingly tireless energy and enthusiasm for self improvement and connecting with others.  It’s the same energy and enthusiasm that I see in everyone I know who is great at network and community building . It is this infectious enthusiasm that draws people into communities and networks (like #digiwrimo). It’s certainly what’s inspired me to write my first post in quite a while.

You can join digiwrimo at any time – subscribe here for updates:

Join in the spontaneous collaborative ‘story jumping’ experiment here:


Connected Learning hangout – educators across contexts

Really excited about participating in this Connected Learning Google Hangout…in a couple of hours: educators across contexts. Mostly because it’s a chance to have a live conversation with some amazing educators: Maha Bali, Shyam Sharma, Lenandlar Singh (fellow conspirators / contributors in, Tania Sheko, Asao B. Inoue …and possibly even the one and only Simon Ensor  (which will no doubt add an interesting and exciting twist to the conversation).

But also because anything edcontexts-related makes me think really deeply and in interesting ways about education, learning, teaching – and how this relates to what I do in a work context – and perhaps importantly – as a human being.  To be honest, I’ve always felt a LITTLE out of place in the edcontexts group – everyone else is an educator in a higher ed, teaching, or academic context…and here I am, working in a corporate / organisational context doing eLearning stuff. But what I’ve realised, after being involved in it for a year, is that – this is the point: that we ARE from different contexts, bringing different perspectives of teaching, learning and education into the mix.

What I’ve realised is that we ALL learn and teach, every day, in informal contexts – in our everyday interactions with others, as parents, friends, family members, employees, employers – living with other people necessarily involves teaching and learning. And this is the beauty of the ‘edcontexts’ concept: it’s really just about telling a personal story, sharing a perspective about teaching and/or learning in any context – and it’s the nuance of the context that matters and makes it interesting. We all have a voice, we all have a story (many stories) about this – edcontexts is about sharing those stories so that others can relate and learn – and as with any ‘re-telling’ of a narrative, YOU learn a lot from the process of telling/retelling the story. And one of the things I love about being involved in the project is reviewing posts – the range and variety of articles we get is amazing, and the differences in expression – hearing the different voices through the writing – is fascinating (yes, this is a blog post in itself…which I have been meaning to write for ages…).

We’ll be talking more about what ‘edcontexts’ means in the hangout. Look forward to seeing how the conversation pans out.


Forward Government Learning 2015 – “Future of the LMS in the Public Sector”

On Friday I presented this session at the Forward Government Learning conference, on the topic “The Future of the LMS in the Public Sector”.

It can be difficult to make meaning from slides alone, so here is some of the thinking and context behind these ideas.

Ideas & inspiration

It wasn’t a topic I chose directly (I don’t find LMSs in and of themselves particularly inspiring…and “LMS” and “Public Sector” together in one sentence even less so). However, as I started thinking about what I could possibly say that wouldn’t put people to sleep (especially on a Friday afternoon…), I started seeing some potentially interesting angles.

I wasn’t interested in looking at the capabilities of the LMS as a system from a technical perspective, so much as the drivers for change in how LMSs are viewed and used – and what this means for people. My initial thoughts were influenced by my own observations and experiences in the organisation I work for (Transport for NSW, a large state government agency responsible for the operation of public transport services – rail, buses, roads & maritime). During my (relatively short) time in the public sector, I’ve seen reforms like consolidation of agencies, moves toward shared services, and the increasing prevalence of holistic workplace learning models like 70:20:10 – all of which has an impact what we do in Organisational Development (OD), and the systems that we use (in OD/L&D, primarily the LMS).

Interested in other people’s views, I also put out a call on twitter to (ex)-Government peeps in my PLN (which I’ve Storified here), and collected ideas and examples from others in Transport OD. I am grateful to Con Sotidis and Vanessa North from my PLN who provided their thoughts; and Martin Caldwell and Helen Fullarton at Transport OD who gave me information and examples of portfolios of evidence and competency assessment initiatives they are involved in implementing.

4 key areas

I ended up structuring these ideas into 4 key areas:

  1. Shared services > shared systems – this is essentially a comment on the public sector trend towards consolidation of agencies and centralisation of services (L&D/OD/HR/Payroll/Procurement), and how this is driving the consolidation of systems (like LMSs). I’m interested in how this subsequently impacts people-process-workflow-behaviour…and potentially values – particularly when applied to the L&D/OD space. And additionally, what this might mean if / when this sharing & collaboration happens across different government agencies.
  2. Integrated systems > seamless employee experiences – within organisations (certainly mine) there seems to be a move towards integration of people systems (LMS/HR/Payroll/Performance Management/Devt). (A few government delegates at the conference mentioned the same was happening in their organisations). I’m interested in how this changes (improves) the employee experience – especially experiences like recruitment and induction. Ultimately (once the implementation issues are ironed out…) it should lead to much more seamless employee experiences than is currently the case.
  3. Holistic models and practices for workplace learning > moving beyond the LMS as sole delivery platform – I’m seeing an increasing maturation in thinking and practice in the use of the LMS as a delivery platform – driven  by workplace learning models like 70:20:10 becoming more mainstream. There will always be a place for LMSs in highly regulated industries (like transport, health, finance etc). But most of the interesting stuff – the stuff that actually gets close to supporting people for better on-the-job performance – is happening outside of the LMS (at least perhaps until LMSs catch up and become more flexible and adaptable):
    • There’s a much greater recognition of the limitations of the LMS for supporting the 70 and 20 components (e.g. performance support, coaching, mentoring), and appreciation that often, there is little or no value in tracking these activities in an LMS (particularly if ‘completion’ and ‘score’ is the only data that can be reported on). Subsequently there is increasing use of more dynamic, accessible and flexible platforms like the intranet, sharepoint, portals and mobile apps to support on-the-job, just-in-time workplace learning.
    • Use of portfolios of evidence to collect a broad range of authentic and meaningful artifacts to demonstrate competency in actual task / job performance (vs ‘content completion’ or ‘score’), and also to promote more reflective practice.
    • Greater blending of comms and learning – especially to support broad based organisational change initiatives. In Transport, our internal comms team is actually part of OD. This is leading to a more integrated and aligned messaging, and enabling more ‘campaign’-based approaches to supporting organisational change.
  4. Beyond SCORM and completion tracking > xAPI for more meaningful and integrated data – although xAPI (“tin can”) is still very much in an experimental phase, I don’t think any conversation about the “future of” LMSs can exclude mention of it. Here, I was interested in exploring conceptually how it could be used to ultimately help people to work better and improve performance  – by gathering and using more meaningful data about how people work and learn – and developing tighter feedback loops between the two to inform training interventions (as one potential use for xAPI in the L&D/OD context). *NOTE: a comment from a delegate at the conference mentioned LTI (Learning Tools Interoperability) as an alternative to xAPI for achieving similar outcomes. Sounds like something worth looking into.

Whilst there wasn’t quite as much discussion as I’d hoped from the session (last up on a Friday afternoon is not exactly the time to get a conversation going…), keen to hear any thoughts and perhaps start (or continue) a conversation here or elsewhere. Get in touch.

Conversation spaces for deep learning

Preface: this is a post I wrote back in March-April 2015 but hadn’t published as I’d wanted to create a more readable version of the diagram (yes. It took THAT long. Mainly because, as is often the case with draft / unpublished posts, I forgot about it then lost the momentum / motivation to go back to it). I’m digging into the blog draft archives and posting them without significant editing to try to develop a ‘WorkOutLoud’ attitude and become more comfortable with publicly sharing work-in-progress.

I’ve been thinking a lot about conversation spaces lately: public and private; online and offline; formal and informal places and spaces, and how each of these might support various ways of knowing and learning.

The seed of this thinking was planted by Kandy Woodfield’s excellent and thought provoking post last year on the ethics of (open) social learning and working out loud. Kandy’s post prompted me to start considering the role, pros/cons, and differences of open, public, professional learning spaces vs closed, private, personal ones – and how our learning across these contexts interact to influence our identity, connections, conversations, mindset and behaviour.

This thinking has been kick-started again as I’ve reflected on recent ongoing private conversations with a friend. This is a person I have only known for about 6 months, who less than 3 months ago I’d have called an acquaintance. The (what feels like) accelerated status from acquaintance to friend has occurred largely through these private conversations, in which we’ve explored complex topics at a personal level, through a variety of mediums: in-person conversations, text messages, email, phone calls. These conversations have been open, honest, challenging and confusing, where I’ve learnt as much about myself as I have about my friend; that have challenged me to think about things that I otherwise wouldn’t have (or wanted to); and inspired and supported me to change the way I approach certain situations.

It’s a personal learning experience that feels something like therapy, counselling, or coaching conversations – but without the formality or power dynamics inherent in these contexts. John Stepper’s WOL circles (based on Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean in’ circles) – an informal model for peer coaching and support might be an apt comparison. But yet more emergent, organic (serendipitous?) – without the guidelines, explicitly articulated purpose, or group dynamic.

As learning practitioners and educators we often ponder how to achieve deep, personally meaningful learning that inspires and supports ongoing, long term behaviour change. The type of learning that – in an organisational context – translates not only to impacts on business measures, but broad and lasting cultural change. That in an educational context – might lead to a breakthrough transition: from uncooperative/disruptive students with low self esteem to enthusiastic students proud of their achievements with a newfound thirst for learning (This inspiring EdContexts post by Éllen Cintra is a great example). The type of learning that prompts individuals to examine within, reflect deeply, question long held beliefs, and change their behaviour or habits.

My instinct is that all of these learning experiences come about through similar underlying processes. I have been wondering about the characteristics of this type of profound learning: how it emerges, whether it could be achieved in an intentionally designed environment, and the conditions that are needed to facilitate it.

And what I’m thinking might drive this type of learning is conversation. Conversations of: openness. honesty. empathy, shared understanding. shared purpose, trust. Vulnerability. Acceptance. Mutual, ongoing support. Conversations that make you FEEL deeply as well as think deeply. That engender emotional, as well as cognitive connection. It may not be so much about finding a solution to a defined problem, as it is about uncovering, unravelling, & exploring complexity and supporting each other to figure out how and what might work.

Can environments be ‘designed’ to support this type of learning?

‘Design’ in this context is not about developing the right set of ‘learning resources’. It’s not about setting up an ESN (Enterprise Social Network) and hoping for the best – or manufacturing reasons for people to ‘interact’. It’s about creating the right type of ‘conversation space’ for these personally or professionally meaningful conversations (and learning > relationships > behaviour change) to emerge.

Here is a ‘back of the envelope’ set of conditions that I’m thinking might be important:

  • Private or semi-private (e.g. a closed group) conversation spaces. High degrees of trust and vulnerability are critical for deep learning. This may be difficult (impossible?) to achieve in an open, public space. Personal conversations, private/direct/text messages, coaching or performance conversations, journals, WOL circles are all examples of private conversation spaces.
  • In-person contact – maybe it’s possible to develop the same level of trust and vulnerability exclusively through online interactions, but I’m still not entirely sure (reflecting on this conversation on Terry Elliot’s blog re the nature of connection). At the least, it might take longer and be more difficult than if there were opportunities for face to face contact. More ‘present’ forms of online interaction like Google Hangouts, Skype or video calls might help bridge the gap.
  • Regular, ongoing contact, ‘check-ins’ – this may be essential for the ‘change’ aspect of this learning – ongoing, mutual support, talking through issues, encouragement to try (and keep trying) different courses of action, following up and reflecting on what seems to work (or not) is a form of social accountability, and helps motivate, kickstart & continue behaviour change.
  • Empathy / shared experiences and/or purpose – empathy can be so important for developing trust. Maybe because when empathy is present there is no judgement. Empathy might come from shared experiences and/or a shared purpose. Or might simply emerge from listening without judgement.

This is something I drafted a couple of months ago, to start mapping out some of this thinking. I always intended to post it as a ‘thinking out loud’ artifact, but wasn’t inspired to write the framing post and backstory for it until my personal conversations with my friend, and the conversation on Terry’s blog got me revisiting this thinking. (Thanks Terry – and thanks to my friend who has been integral to the backstory. I think you might know who you are).

conversation spaces - work in progress

These are the original scribblings and notes that the above diagram evolved from (you can see why I needed to convert it to a more legible format…):