Between older workers retiring and millennials seeking new opportunities, many organizations struggle with the consequences of employee turnover. The loss of institutional knowledge is one such consequence that can create wide-reaching and long-lasting problems for healthcare organizations.
What is institutional knowledge?
Institutional knowledge (or organizational knowledge) is the information, policies, and techniques that an organization develops over time. Essentially, institutional knowledge is what an organization knows and how it does things.
Examples of institutional knowledge in healthcare include:
- A business development executive who remembers what made a fundraising campaign from 20 years ago so successful
- A longtime nurse who recommends treatment for a patient with an unusual condition because she cared for a similar patient many years ago
- Administrative employees who understand why the organization implemented certain longtime policies
Institutional knowledge doesn’t just get lost when leaders and other team members leave. It can also vanish when new executives introduce new agendas. Changes from mergers and acquisitions also threaten institutional knowledge.
The right approach can minimize these risks and preserve organizational knowledge for many years to come. When tackling the issue of institutional knowledge, there are several things to keep in mind.
1. Actively preserving institutional knowledge has more benefits than you may realize.
The first step in capturing institutional knowledge is understanding why it’s necessary. The benefits of saving this knowledge, and the costs of losing it, are often overlooked or undocumented.
Capturing and maintaining institutional knowledge can increase productivity in the long run:
- Reduces time and resources spent onboarding new employees
- Prevents mistakes caused by lack of information or experience
- Limits risk of disruption from employee absence or departure
- Understanding past trends may help predict future changes in customer or patient preferences
- Remembering previous successes can help replicate them
Sharing knowledge can also create a healthier work environment:
- Creates a more level playing field among personnel
- Increases transparency within an organization
- Emphasizes the value of employee knowledge, fostering teamwork, communication, and increased productivity
2. Knowledge preservation should be proactive rather than reactive.
Capturing institutional knowledge is usually a reaction to a retirement or loosing an employee due to burnout or other major changes. However, taking initiative early on can make such changes less disruptive.
Decide what institutional knowledge is worth preserving. Are there contacts and relationships to maintain? Are there vital tasks that only a few employees know how to do?
Besides knowing what information to preserve, companies also should understand what to share. Some knowledge can be preserved “just in case.” Some information should be common knowledge across the company. Understanding which is which can help streamline the knowledge-capturing process.
3. Preservation of institutional knowledge requires employee motivation.
Institutional knowledge is not just for executives or longtime employees. Almost everyone in a company has some knowledge or experience to contribute. This means that all employees should have motivation to participate in capturing organizational knowledge.
Besides focusing on the benefits already mentioned, companies should provide incentives to personnel who may be unwilling to share knowledge.
- Management should lead by example and be the first to participate in capturing institutional knowledge.
- If an employee does not want to give up the leverage from their knowledge, offer rewards and recognition for their contributions.
- New employees may feel unqualified to contribute, so invite them personally to offer input.
- Longtime employees may be hesitant to disrupt the status quo by sharing. Encourage them by emphasizing how they are participating in the organization’s legacy.
- If an employee is suffering from burnout, encourage their participation by reminding them how their experience contributes to the organization’s purpose.
4. An established plan for outgoing employees can help preserve institutional knowledge.
It can take a long time to create an organization-wide process for preserving institutional knowledge. For team members that retire or quit in the meantime, healthcare organizations should create succession plans.
- Analyze the workforce to determine how many employees will reach retirement in the next few years, and what their key skills and experience are.
- Identify future leaders and how to develop and mentor them.
- Offer “staggered” retirements to make transitions smoother, such as giving retirees flexible hours in exchange for training and preparing their successors.
- Consider other incentives for outgoing employees to share their knowledge.
5. There are many different ways to keep and share organizational knowledge.
Organizations don’t have to rely on a single method to help capture and keep institutional knowledge.
- Create a central knowledge library, using tools such as enterprise content management systems, that all employees can access and contribute to
- Develop online mentoring programs to make knowledge access more flexible
- Use video to record and share knowledge; this can be used for Q&A sessions, how-to demonstrations, or formal presentations
- Incorporate knowledge-sharing into performance reviews
- The ability to share knowledge anonymously may encourage less motivated personnel
- Gather input from patients as well, if applicable, while adhering to all confidentiality requirements
Ask for employee feedback when deciding how to keep institutional knowledge. Different companies may benefit from different strategies, so it’s important to consider a variety of options.
Institutional knowledge is a valuable but underappreciated asset. Capturing and preserving this knowledge can help healthcare organizations stay productive and efficient for many years to come.
About Right Way Medical
Right Way Medical provides supply, logistic, technology, biomedical and financing solutions to alternate site, long-term care and specialty pharmacy healthcare providers through an innovative suite of products and services combined with the highest level of customer service. Founded in 2014, Right Way Medical has become a trusted name in the infusion industry, and focuses everyday to continue to earn that trust and provide its customers with the ideal experience in acquiring healthcare related products and service.
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