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Can New Technologies Help Us Solve the Never-ending Problem of Employee Turnover?

May 18, 2012
Written by Bloomfire Admin

Jon Doctor is the Manager of Collaboration Services at DRW.  For the 7 years prior to arriving at DRW, he worked as a consultant to the F100 where he implemented knowledge management platforms for several silicon valley software companies.  Since arriving at DRW, he has worked extensively with senior management to encompass learning as part of their general approach to transformation.  With DRW being such a young, fast growing company there were aspects of change that management had not fully integrated into their general approach. Learning was certainly one part of that change. However, if he had not left consulting to pursue this opportunity, he may not have had the chance to redefine the things he had learned and to apply them to such a dynamic environment.  Contact Jon at jondoc@gmail.com.

Q. When employees leave they take their knowledge and experience with them.  Is there a way for an organization to capture that knowledge and  keep things running smoothly with new hires?

The most interesting aspect of on-boarding is the cross-functional nature of that process and the difficulties so many organizations have with implementing it well.  IT, HR, and “the business” all need to come together to agree to a set of rules, (which does not in anyway mean they can’t or won’t change) but at least up front, they have to agree to agree. As someone in charge of learning (and process and knowledge management), this landed right in the sweet spot for increasing our organizational knowledge in the area of change or transformation, along with process management and metrics.

It was profoundly rewarding but all told, it took over a year before on and off-boarding were running smoothly enough to tackle employee moves and changes.  Now, my team is focused on cultivating the process owners in general, so that lessons learned are integrated at a functional level. Suffice to say, in several areas of our organization, on-boarding is comprehensive with different tracks for managers, developers, and operations. There is a core curriculum we employ but in order to capture the essence of a department, we have to go find willing experts who will share their experiences.

After we have this narrative, we tweak it until we believe it can be meaningful to someone who has no familiarity with our culture, therefore no context, so that when they leave that session they are able to put names to faces and processes (maybe even ideas) and have some idea of how to operate with their new teammates. I guess if on-boarding doesn’t do that, if all it is for is filling out forms and getting the employee assistance hotline number, then other organizations are missing a huge opportunity to bring new employees into the fold.

As for knowledge erosion when employees separate, I am much less sure. My responsibility is to make knowledge, skills, and abilities visible within DRW and I need willing agents to do that. Culturally, if you aren’t sharing what you know, given the number of small ad-hoc and virtual teams that exist in our corporate hierarchy, you just won’t last very long. We have very active forums and blogs, our document repositories are recognized as being a source of truth, and we use powerful search to make sure that people can find what they need. If there isn’t a channel in all of that for an employee to share an idea or two, then exit interviews aren’t going to be very provocative.

Q. Have you found any “solutions” to be especially helpful?

Those systems, their implementation, the organizational training, and the general care and feeding belong to my team. Some of them have made an indelible impact on DRW; others have fizzled. I think it is my responsibility to maintain a dialogue with the thought leaders within DRW in order to understand what programs need to be established and whether or not it is realistic to do so.

Formal knowledge bases, outside of a few carefully constructed FAQ’s do not exist here. We lean towards activity streams, keyword subscriptions, and other features that crawl the entirety of our collaborative platforms and deliver information in a personalized way. I am not intimating at all that we have perfected the concept of personalization. However, we are mindful of it with every technology we deploy. In the end it’s a mixed bag success wise. There are always going to be more consumers than publishers, but if we can can create even one derivative work that spurs further innovation then the collective efforts of the Collaboration Services team are bought and paid for. I think our strength is understanding what could provide value, or more specifically advantage, its implementation, and promoting its adoption; more so than a singular focus on the relative benefits of a particular technology.

Clearly if something doesn’t work, we kill it. But when it works, we push the heck out of it and ultimately turn it over to people who are better able to shepherd its development than we are. When we are successful in completing this “turn over,” the initiative is much more likely to be deemed helpful.  However, I must point out that it took a tremendous amount of coordinated effort, in some cases, to manifest “helpfulness” with regards to a particular technology or process.

Q. The number of organizations adopting social networking are steadily increasing.  Do you think that “online learning communities” provide a solution?

Personally I think the chatter around enterprise 2.0 is somewhat off-base. At DRW, blogging could mean “end of day report.” However, if we do our blogging on wordpress and our bloggers are tracking back on external blogs and RSS feeds, and our search technology is crawling and including those urls in our index, I contend that our community is growing and that employees have the opportunity to learn from that collective intelligence. That isn’t necessarily a solution and it wasn’t an accident either. I contend that by carefully bringing the outside in, that is to bring it in with a specific intent or around a particular group of topics; it is possible to rapidly introduce large quantities of new ideas and information. We count on our people to incorporate that information, transform it, add context, and pass it along in meaningful ways to others within the enterprise.

There is another piece to all of this. We have enlightened senior management that places an emphasis on the acquisition of new knowledge, skills, and abilities; and that our culture provides a conduit for sharing those lessons learned. In the end, we really try to embody an ethos that demands we grow each other. Granted we are a company in an industry that loves to reward people monetarily, there is also happy medium.  Ours is a collective velocity that takes precedence over individual accolades.

Q. Could the new 21st century landscape change the roles a human resources or training and development professional?

Based on the groups that I follow regularly, the T&D specialists are embracing technology and more. They are bringing in elements of user experience and design, along with the requisite learning objectives. The T&D folks are getting away from word documents and powerpoints (although they have their place) and replacing it with interactive media that does so much more than wrote exercises. Personally, I still see training as a component of organizational development, and in so many cases that falls outside the purview of HR these days. I am not implying that HR is incapable of developing and implementing a learning strategy, inclusive of the technology, but in so many cases what is missing is a fundamental understanding of adult learning styles.

Q. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and time with us, Jon.  Do you have a minute to tell us a few resources you would recommend?

Knowledge Management and E-Learning are highly multi-disciplinary, because of this, I choose to draw from a large number of sources. Here are a few of my favorites:

There are too many more; I have 2k Google reader items to get through!!!  I hope all this helps, thanks for reaching out. If you need clarification or justification on anything that I have said here please don’t hesitate to contact me.

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