Inefficient knowledge transfer is not just costing organizations money. According to a new report, it contributes to employee frustration, negatively impacts productivity, and can put a damper on an organization’s ability to attract top talent. Developing a strategy to facilitate knowledge transfer and preserve organizational knowledge can support workers and improve the bottom line.

Study puts an actual dollar value on knowledge transfer

Panopto, a Seattle-based firm specializing in video capture software and video content management systems, partnered with YouGov to put an actual dollar value on knowledge transfer. They surveyed 1,001 Americans with a minimum of five years of work experience in a wide variety of industries and job levels.

The resulting Panopto Workplace Knowledge and Productivity Report offers compelling statistics about the cost of inefficient knowledge transfer. They discovered that on average, large businesses lose $47 million in productivity each year because knowledge is not shared efficiently among workers. In addition, knowledge workers waste 5.3 hours weekly awaiting information from their colleagues and recreating existing institutional knowledge—resulting in delayed projects, missed opportunities, and widespread frustration.

The study, a first of its kind, includes an interactive calculator that allows business leaders to determine the monetary impact of knowledge loss at their own particular enterprises. They may be surprised by what they learn.

Although he suspected knowledge transfer was a problem, especially for organizations with a lot of remote workers and offices in different time zones and geographic regions, Panopto CEO and co-founder Eric Burns admits that he found the study results eye-opening.

“A big takeaway for us was the scale and the ubiquity of the problem,” Burns said in an interview with Learning Solutions.

Burns discovered that knowledge transfer is not just a business efficiency problem—it also impacts recruitment and retention. “We learned, for example, that knowledge workers perceive a mentor-driven, employee training and development program as a way that their organizations value them,” Burns says.

The importance of knowledge sharing today

According to the Panopto study, employees need systems for effectively sharing knowledge. Eighty-one percent of respondents report feeling frustrated when they can’t get the information they need to do their jobs, and 85 percent agree that preserving and sharing unique knowledge in the workplace is critical to increasing productivity. Sixty percent of respondents find it “difficult,” “very difficult,” or “nearly impossible” to obtain information vital to their job from their colleagues. The result is lowered productivity as employees struggle to seek out the details they need to perform tasks, inadvertently replicating work that has already been done.

Burns believes preserving organizational knowledge is particularly crucial when employees move on from a company. “You need to have a way to maintain continuity in roles so you are not reconstructing solutions to problems from scratch because people who have the expertise left,” he says. He highlights Tableau, a software organization with an enterprise-wide license for Panopto, as an example.

“A big part of the key knowledge at Tableau is the code base itself,” Burns explains. “Tableau did video recordings of code reviews so future programmers could search for the original programmer’s intent behind a particular code check. It’s one thing to know what the code does; it’s another to understand why, and what hidden landmines might be in it.”

The loss of specialized knowledge when employees depart impacts all companies, including his own. “At Panopto we’ve seen examples where one leader has pursued a particular technology strategy or implemented a particular business tool. At some point the person moves on, and the rationale around using that particular tool selection is lost. So the process gets rebooted, which is pure organizational waste,” he says.

There are other sound business reasons for implementing a knowledge transfer strategy. According to Burns, knowledge sharing is an effective method for supplementing corporate training and onboarding efforts.

“Information today gets stale quickly,” he says. “Having a strategy for capturing the knowledge of key employees is an efficient way to supplement more structured corporate training that may not be able to keep up fast enough with the way business is changing.”

Obstacles to facilitating knowledge sharing

Although there are many benefits to actively facilitating knowledge sharing, not all organizations do it. They cite several obstacles:

Tools. The company may not have the appropriate tools to facilitate knowledge sharing, or employees may not have the confidence to use the technology that exists. The reality is that preserving organizational knowledge does not have to be complicated. It can be as simple as recording a meeting or capturing a screen share. And many vendors, including Panopto, offer solutions that streamline the process.

Mindset. Employees don’t fancy themselves as experts or believe what they do is important enough to share with others. To combat this, companies must create a corporate culture mindset where informally teaching and sharing knowledge with others is valued and expected. Transferring knowledge should be considered a normal daily practice and all employees—from the leadership level on down—should be encouraged to do it.

Cost. There is a lingering perception that preserving knowledge is expensive. This is especially true in regard to video preservation, which many believe requires highly polished content. This is untrue ... production values do not need to be professional grade. Most employees today have mobile phones and laptops with webcam capabilities, making it easy and cost-effective for them to use video to capture and preserve their unique knowledge.

Tips to facilitate knowledge transfer

Here are some tips for companies interested in fostering knowledge sharing:

  • Knowledge sharing should be part of a larger ecosystem that includes an effective learning management system and solid information architecture design.
  • Coach content creators to keep their pieces short and simple.
  • Encourage employees, especially those who are shy about sharing their knowledge, to gain confidence by collaboratively co-authoring content.
  • Prevent the system from becoming a disorganized dumping ground by creating storage repositories that are intuitive and searchable.
  • Designate an individual or a team to act as stewards of specific content repositories.
  • To encourage the practice of knowledge transfer across the organization, recognize and reward employees who do it effectively.

In conclusion

New research indicates that an effective knowledge sharing program can help improve productivity, reduce employee frustration, preserve organizational knowledge, and improve the bottom line. In today’s competitive business climate, it behooves companies of all sizes to develop a strategy to facilitate knowledge transfer.