STEP 1: Assess Risks and Opportunities

The first step in implementing an agency-wide approach to KM is to identify focus areas based on an assessment of agency risks and opportunities.

Purpose of a Knowledge Assessment

  • Identify current areas of vulnerability – e.g., employees of retirement age with valuable and difficult to replace knowledge.
  • Assess your organization’s current level of capability and bench strength in key skill areas that will be needed for future achievement of strategic goals – e.g., active traffic management or contract negotiation.
  • Identify opportunities for expanding use of existing techniques for knowledge transfer that are working well in the organization.

Options for Conducting a Knowledge Assessment

A knowledge assessment can be approached with different levels of detail. Some agencies may want to use a thorough approach involving surveys and focus groups to understand how knowledge is currently being captured and shared – and where the specific gaps are. Other agencies may want to begin with a more “lightweight” assessment approach. Guidance for different assessment methods is provided below.

KM Litmus Test. The following “KM Litmus Test” can be taken by senior managers to provide a quick indication of the need for (and likely payoff from) implementing an agency-wide approach to KM in the organization. This won’t yield the types of insights that are really needed to identify specific focus areas, but it can provide an initial indication of key risk areas, and some motivation for moving forward.

Please check which of the following apply:

  • More than 20 percent of our most senior managers will be eligible to retire in the next 5 years.
  • Many knowledgeable mid-career employees are likely to leave the organization over the next few years to pursue other opportunities.
  • We haven’t identified specific skill or knowledge areas important to our organization.
  • We don’t track how many employees we have with critical skills or experience levels.
  • We don’t generally maintain up to date documentation of our core business processes and procedures.
  • We don’t have standard ways of debriefing employees, contractors and consultants before they leave in order to capture lessons learned and other valuable knowledge.
  • There are no mentoring programs or organized forums for sharing knowledge between experts and novices (newcomers)
  • Employee training and development budgets are limited and shrinking.
  • One part of our organization may not know what the other part is doing—even if working on a similar task or problem.
  • It is difficult or time consuming to find current information that would help us to improve efficiency – templates, lessons-learned, checklists, etc.
  • Employees don’t feel they have the time to chat with colleagues in the organization in an informal way.
  • Our peer agencies are ahead of us in implementing knowledge management and retention strategies.

Scoring: If you marked 7-12 items, then your organization would likely reap substantial benefits from an agency-wide approach to knowledge management. If you checked 4-6 items, then your organization could be enhanced through additional knowledge management practices. If you checked 1-3 items, you can focus on fine-tuning and sustaining what you are already doing.

Senior Leadership Workshop. This knowledge assessment approach involves convening the senior management team for a half-day workshop to identify and agree on the critical “at risk” knowledge areas that are important to the strategic mission of the organization. Key questions for each workshop participant are:

  • What are the key challenges and opportunities facing your specific area in the next 2-3 years?
  • What Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) do you use to measure success? How do you see these changing over the next 2-3 years?
  • What are the critical types and areas of skill or know-how that will be needed for success in the next 2-3 years?
  • Which of these areas are currently weak or at risk given existing bench strength and likely retirements or employee departures?
  • What are you currently doing to address weaknesses and risks – e.g., succession planning, updating position descriptions, improving documentation, cross-training, mentoring, communities of practice, etc.?
  • What more should we be doing as an organization?

After the workshop, the Human Resources department can be requested to develop a knowledge attrition profile that (1) identifies key employees in each business area – i.e., those with specialized or unique expertise and (2) estimates the likelihood of these individuals retiring within the next 2, 5 and 10 years. This profile is helpful for understanding potential future knowledge gaps in the organization.

In-Depth Knowledge Survey. A more formal, in-depth knowledge assessment method is to circulate a Knowledge Assessment Survey to the employees in the agency. A sample survey is included as resource 1-1 in the "Additional Resources" section of this Guide. The survey is comprehensive, and identifies:

  • How and where employees currently seek information and knowledge – from both people and codified sources;
  • Current knowledge sharing behaviors; and
  • Perceived gaps in available information or knowledge that impact job performance.

Compiled survey results can help agencies to identify:

  • The extent and nature of knowledge gaps that may be impacting organizational effectiveness;
  • Key employees who are serving as the “go to” sources of information and knowledge;
  • Isolated employees or workgroups that aren’t accessing available sources of information and knowledge; and
  • Strengths and weaknesses in both formal and informal methods for knowledge sharing.

Knowledge Risk Assessment. A quantitative assessment of the level of knowledge risk for each position in the agency (or within selected departments) can be performed to guide both workgroup-level and agency-wide KM activities.

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) developed a simple approach to calculating a knowledge risk score. This approach has been adapted by Constellation Energy/Exelon to examine knowledge risk for 160 program areas and allocate resources effectively to ensure future success.

The knowledge risk score for a position can be calculated as the product of two factors: attrition risk and position risk. Based on the total risk score, positions can be prioritized and options can be identified to retain or mitigate knowledge loss.

Attrition Risk is a number from 1-5 where:

  1. Projected retirement or departure in or after the 6th fiscal year
  2. Projected retirement or departure in 5th fiscal year
  3. Projected retirement or departure in 4th fiscal year
  4. Projected retirement or departure in 3th fiscal year
  5. Projected retirement or departure within current or next fiscal year

Position Risk is a number from 1-5 where:

  1. Common knowledge and skills
  2. Proceduralized or non-mission critical knowledge and skills (training programs are current)
  3. Important systematized knowledge and skills (documentation exists)
  4. Critical knowledge and skills (limited duplication exists at other sites)
  5. Mission critical knowledge (knowledge undocumented, unique, no duplication)

Total Risk Score = Attrition Risk x Position Risk

  • 20-25 High priority (immediate action needed)
  • 16-19 Priority
  • 10-15 High importance

Using the Assessment Results

Regardless of which assessment methods are used, it is important that the assessment findings be summarized in a manner that helps the agency determine priorities and strategies. Developing an agency-wide KM strategy is covered in Step 2.

Knowledge Assessment Options

  • Quick Litmus Test
  • Senior Leadership Workshop
  • In-depth Knowledge Survey
  • Knowledge Risk Assessment

A knowledge assessment provides an opportunity to understand current strengths, risks, and weaknesses. The results should be used to shape the KM strategy and set priorities for what to do first.

Georgia DOT – Loss of Institutional Knowledge

The Georgia DOT (GDOT) conducted a workforce assessment that found that critical agency knowledge was at risk of being lost due to pending staff retirements:

  • Forty-five percent of the senior leadership (Division Director and above) was within five years of retirement.
  • Thirty-seven percent of the GDOT office heads was within five years of retirement.
  • Forty-three senior staff positions were expected to retire within 15 months.

To mitigate these risks, succession planning, mentoring, and KM education was introduced throughout the GDOT community.

There is no single “one size fits all” KM strategy—use the knowledge risk assessment to target areas for improvement.
Agencies can tailor the level of detail and limit the knowledge risk assessment to particular focus areas in order to keep the effort to a manageable size

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