Knowledge retention. Dr. Susanne Durs
1. KNOWLEDGE Retention By Assoc. Dr. Susanne DursT South Ural State University – 20 December 2016KNOWLEDGE RETENTION
BY ASSOC. DR. SUSANNE DURST
SOUTH URAL STATE UNIVERSITY –
20 DECEMBER 2016
UNIVERSITY OF SKÖVDE – WWW.HIS.SE/EN
KM should also involve activities related to knowledge retention
Knowledge retention is defined as “maintaining, not losing,
knowledge that exists in the minds of people (tacit, not easily
documented) and knowing (experiential action manifesting in
behavior) that is vital to the organization´s overall functioning”
(Martins & Meyer, 2012, p. 80).
Knowledge retention “deals with cases where expert knowledge
workers leave organizations after long periods of time” (Levy,
2011, p. 582).
Delong (2004) assumes that knowledge retention consists of
three activities which are knowledge acquisition, storage and
Acquisition is about the practices, processes, and routines used to
move knowledge into state where it is kept available for future use.
Storage refers to processes and facilities used to keep knowledge
and information until it is needed.
Retrieval is about behaviors, routines, and processes used to access
and reuse information and knowledge in new situation.
If organizations fail to address this challenge, they may lose their
capacity to act (worst case scenario)
5. What is Critical Knowledge?WHAT IS CRITICAL KNOWLEDGE?
• As not all knowledge is critical to organizations, initial activities should
strive for the determination of critical knowledge that is most at risk of
being lost (De Long & Davenport, 2003).
• Critical knowledge is more complex, abstract, and context dependent,
so the knowledge to be retained is implicit or tacit (Delong, 2004).
• Organizations have difficulties in specifying which specific knowledge
and skills different individuals actually possess (Van Zolingen et al.,
• And: knowledge that is valuable today may hold little value tomorrow
Lost knowledge costs are usually hidden
Leaders don’t know where the organization is vulnerable
No one owns the problem of lost knowledge
There is no slack for knowledge-sharing activities
Management must do more than just capture knowledge
• Also, time, other competing priorities, missing understanding
of how to retain knowledge (Blankenship & Brueck, 2008) and
lacking job satisfaction and talent management (Bessick &
7. Some research insightsSOME RESEARCH INSIGHTS
8. Research AIM And QuestionsRESEARCH AIM AND QUESTIONS
• To increase our understanding of how SMEs retain critical
• How is knowledge treated in the company?
• How is critical knowledge retained?
• What methods are applied in order to retain relevant
• How is knowledge shared in the company?
Qualitative research approach
• managing directors and other staff members of small firms from
Vorarlberg (Austria) operating in the building and construction
• conducted in March 2014
• with-in case and cross-case analysis of all interview transcripts
for the identification of patterns
10. Findings – what makes the building and construction sector special with regard to knowledgeFINDINGS – WHAT MAKES THE BUILDING AND
CONSTRUCTION SECTOR SPECIAL WITH REGARD
“Knowledge is publicly available on the sites and thus it can
easily be copied” (MD3)
SM1 declared “manufacturing firms in other industries have
relatively few factors that affect operations. In our industry, there
are many different factors, why it is not possible to write down
everything. There is mass production, whereas we have
individual production or special production”.
11. Findings – What is meant by knowledge retention?FINDINGS – WHAT IS MEANT BY
SM4 and MD3 claimed that knowledge retention helps in
keeping knowledge within the company and thus in not
disclosing it to third parties.
MD5 described knowledge retention as "storage and easy
retrieval of experiences and knowledge that are relevant to the
MD2 said that “it is the knowledge that is stored so that it can
be found again.“
12. Findings – Internal and external factors that may influence knowledge retentionFINDINGS – INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL
FACTORS THAT MAY INFLUENCE
As internal factors fluctuation and the retention of old ways of
doing things were named.
As external factors fast-paced developments in the industry,
more elaborate and complex documentation, labor market’s
development and lack of control in the industry were named.
13. Findings - is Knowledge collected and organized in a systematic way?FINDINGS - IS KNOWLEDGE COLLECTED
AND ORGANIZED IN A SYSTEMATIC WAY?
Knowledge is at least partially organized in the firms.
“This takes place verbally, of course also by databases,
but more often verbally“ (SM4).
“That what we develop in the company is in the computers,
then it is filed on CDs and hard disks. Otherwise, there are
talks every day or it happens just according to demand”
14. Findings – consequences of knowledge retention that has not been carried out? IFINDINGS – CONSEQUENCES OF
KNOWLEDGE RETENTION THAT HAS NOT
BEEN CARRIED OUT? I
Most interviewees stated that no financial losses were incurred.
SM2 mentioned negative experiences because of the death of an
employee. A loss of knowledge and know-how was the consequence.
It was also claimed that the company did not suffer any financial loss, as
no jobs and customer relationships were lost. He also mentioned the
massive effort needed to close the knowledge gap that had been created
by the former employee.
MD3 mentioned a crash of the entire computer system a few years ago
and spoke of the financial impact of € 12.000-15.000, it also resulted in a
partial loss of knowledge.
15. Findings – consequences of knowledge retention that has not been carried out? IIFINDINGS – CONSEQUENCES OF KNOWLEDGE
RETENTION THAT HAS NOT BEEN CARRIED
MD2 reported a positive effect of knowledge loss: “Even if one
leaves the company without a malicious intent, such as a
retirement, there is of course a certain amount of experience
and knowledge loss. This does not mean that this is necessarily
a bad thing. If an employee is longer there, many rely on him
and for them it is then not necessary to think for themselves
and to acquire knowledge. However, after he is gone, the
remaining ones have to acquire knowledge on their own.”
16. Findings – Knowledge sharing as essential part of Knowledge retentionFINDINGS – KNOWLEDGE SHARING AS
ESSENTIAL PART OF KNOWLEDGE RETENTION
"We are actually so small that knowledge more or less shares
itself, rather by talking. For entering new knowledge in databases we
are too small. But usually we read something, talk about it and then
pass it on. This is quite appropriate for our company size"(MD2).
The larger firms use more sophisticated systems: "As a rule, after each
meeting written protocols are filed under a given data path. Then
everyone can access the log under that path"(MD5).
SM4 declared “it’s just simply much faster to explain something to
someone, than to write it down somewhere."
17. Findings – Effective Methods for knowledge sharing IFINDINGS – EFFECTIVE METHODS FOR
KNOWLEDGE SHARING I
Most respondents indicated that mutual communication by team
members achieve the best results.
SM1 pointed to the “Lesson Learned" method: “There are so many
factors which you can never write down or which are not
applicable one-to-one. This is why teamwork on the construction
site is the most effective way.”
SM4 explained the effectiveness of conversations as follows:
"Effectiveness is for me, if you can explain and give an example
at the same time."
18. Findings – Effective Methods for knowledge sharing IIFINDINGS – EFFECTIVE METHODS FOR
KNOWLEDGE SHARING II
MD3 specified his distrust towards electronic data storage. He
said “emails are too impersonal to me - it’s better if I can look
someone in the eyes.”
SM3 stated that “it's just more pleasant to talk to someone, as
to save the knowledge somewhere."
SM2 mentioned the use of smartphones. They are used “to serve
as a contact point between the sites and the office.”
Company C5 uses a CRM system on tablet computers for their
sales activities “to make the necessary data available with the
least effort.” (MD5).
C2 and C5 employ retired former employees on a part time
basis to have their knowledge available at a certain time.
19. Conclusions ICONCLUSIONS I
The findings show that the most common measures for knowledge
retention are data storage, personal communication and Lesson
As regards negative consequences of missing knowledge retention
activities, the participants are not willing to admit or unaware of the
indirect costs, i.e. time and resources needed to reduce the
knowledge gap, involved in knowledge loss.
As regards the industry, the challenge for any KM activities will be
to find a proper trade-off between losing and retaining knowledge.
20. Conclusions IICONCLUSIONS II
From a theoretical point of view
the findings provide some fresh insights into how smaller firms
deal with the issue of knowledge retention; specifically in SMEs
operating in the building and construction industry.
From a practical point of view
this study points out the need for firms to engage in activities
related to knowledge retention to ensure the firm’s well-being.
The retention of critical knowledge, first requires a transfer.
According to Argote and Ingram (2000), knowledge transfer in
organizations “is the process through which one unit (e.g., group,
department, or division) is affected by the experience of another” (p.
De Long and Davenport (2003) highlight five frequently used
methods for knowledge transfer and capture which are
Interviews/Videotaping, Mentoring, Storytelling, Communities of
Practice, and Training and Education.
Storytelling, mentoring and coaching are considered effective ways
for transferring both implicit and tacit knowledge (Delong, 2004).
AND TRANSFER OF KNOWLEDGE I
• Relational competence. This refers to the ability of a party to
initiate and maintain relationships (Hatak & Roessl, 2013). Hatak
and Roessl (2013), who studied the relationship between
relational competence and knowledge transfer in the context of
intrafamily succession, showed a high correlation between the
two aspects and also that this relationship is highly significant.
AND TRANSFER OF KNOWLEDGE II
• Trust. It is argued that the transfer and sharing of knowledge is
facilitated by the existence of a trusting relationship between the
persons concerned (Hislop, 2009).
• Willingness to cooperate and participate. The study by Fong and
Lee (2009) has indicated the meaning of colleagues’
preparedness to cooperate and participate in knowledge transfer
• Type of knowledge. Given the nature of different types of
knowledge, explicit knowledge is easier to capture than tacit
knowledge (Grant, 1996; Levy, 2011).
AND TRANSFER OF KNOWLEDGE III
• Common language. Without a common language, individuals
“will neither understand nor trust one another” (Davenport &
Prusak, 1998, p. 98).
• Culture. Culture is believed to be the main factor of putting
knowledge management activities into action (Alavi et al., 2006).
There is a need for a working environment that decreases
attrition of high performing employees, given the close link
between turnover and knowledge retention (Delong, 2004). A
sharing culture should be strived for to reach the intended
AND TRANSFER OF KNOWLEDGE IV
• Management makes available resources and time for knowledge
sharing activities. It’s is not only about emphasising the relevance
of knowledge management, it is primarily about creating space for
activities related to KM (Van Zolingen et al., 2001) and providing
access to resources supporting knowledge sharing activities
(Fong & Lee, 2009).
• Time. This may not only refer to the actual transfer process but to
any preparatory measures as well. Additionally, studies have
suggested that the process of elicitation takes longer than the
process of encoding (Jackson, 2010).
AND TRANSFER OF KNOWLEDGE V
Senior management directive. Studies have shown the critical link
between management commitment and implementation of
knowledge management approaches (e.g. Alavi et al., 2006;
Motivation. Knowledge transfer will also be influenced by the
motivation of both the source and recipient (Szulanski, 2000; von
Krogh et al., 2001).
Stickiness. The term refers to the difficulties encountered in the
knowledge transfer process (Szulanski, 1996).
AND TRANSFER OF KNOWLEDGE VI
• Absorptive capacity. Despite high motivation, the individuals
concerned may fail to understand each other or express their tacit
knowledge (Cohen & Levinthal, 1990).
• Context. Any knowledge transfer (and retention activity) is
expected to be facilitated by having involved the context
surrounding the activities (Alavi & Leidner, 2001), as otherwise
the danger of knowledge being lost is high.
• Incentives. They may be needed to increase the individual’s
willingness to contribute (Geisler, 2007).
AND TRANSFER OF KNOWLEDGE VII
• Structure. Knowledge that is embedded in rules and routines has
been found to be less vulnerable in the case of turnover (Rao &
• Work can be standardized. Research suggests that the
standardization of work reduces the likelihood that turnover will
have a negative effect on organization performance (Rao &
• Characteristics of the task. Research suggests that similarity
regarding the number of elements across the tasks increases the
likelihood of transfer (Argote & Ingram, 2000).
AND TRANSFER OF KNOWLEDGE VIII
• Moving individuals. This activity is considered a suitable approach
to facilitating knowledge transfer. By this the individual concerned
is not only able to acquire new explicit and tacit knowledge but
also able to transfer both types of knowledge to new contexts
(Argote & Ingram, 2000).
Lost knowledge can occur at individual, group, or organizational
levels, have either anticipated or unanticipated effects, have tangible
or intangible impacts and create immediate or delayed costs
DeLong further specifies five ways as to how lost knowledge can
undermine organizational strategies:
a) Reduced capacity to innovate;
Ability to pursue growth strategies threatened;
Reduced efficiency undermines low-cost strategies;
Losing knowledge can give competitors an advantage;
Losing specific knowledge at the wrong time increases vulnerability.
In a recent study, Daghfous et al. (2013) identified as drivers of
knowledge loss, employee turnover, rushed reallocation of
workforce, rushed handovers, heavy workloads, outsourcing,
resistance to learning, and reluctance to share knowledge.
When it comes to the issue of knowledge loss, most firms do not
have a systematic approach and the approaches used are few, ad
hoc and reactive (Daghfous et al., 2013).
In addition, despite the apparent meaning of employees (including
managers) to organizations, it is still observable that workforce is
considered as easily replaceable (Geisler, 2007).
Considering the demographic challenges ahead this proceeding is
rather dangerous and organizations are requested to change their
36. Some research InsightsSOME RESEARCH INSIGHTS
37. Central Research AimCENTRAL RESEARCH AIM
To obtain a better understanding of how a
smaller firm copes with the danger of knowledge
loss caused by exit or long-term absence of
Identification of critical organization members and
their relationships with other staff/partners in an
German medium-sized business
38. Research Design IRESEARCH DESIGN I
Strategy of inquiry
- Series of qualitative interviews
- Guided interview approach
- Between April – June 2009
Unit of analysis
- Key organization members
39. Research Design IIRESEARCH DESIGN II
- Criterion sampling
- Long-term and/or experienced staff member
- Working in a field of perceived relevance to firm’s
- Approach by Miles and Huberman (1994)
- Data reduction
- Data display
- Drawing and verifying conclusions
40. Characteristics of the Company SurveyedCHARACTERISTICS OF THE
Located in Germany
80 staff members
Designs and manufactures printing machines
• Printing industry
- Permanent product improvements / innovations
- Knowledge intensive sector
41. Findings IFINDINGS I
• Identification of critical organization members
- Small number of employees hold the
knowledge (Hofer & Charan, 1984)
- Interviewee G (R&D) / Interviewee E (Sales)
- Use of external knowledge, e.g. construction
42. Findings IIFINDINGS II
• Collaboration among critical organization members
- Communication process is usually informal
- Based on long-term and close collaboration
Trust is key
43. Findings IIIFINDINGS III
• Effect of turnover and/or long-term absence
Apparent knowledge gap
- Interviewee G (R&D Director)
- Interviewee E (Sales Director)
Problem at time of investigation:
- Understaffed department: Service & Process Planning
- Focus of consideration is primarily on internal members
External partners seem to be neglected
44. Relationship knowledge mapRELATIONSHIP KNOWLEDGE MAP
45. Conclusion ICONCLUSION I
Study provides improved insights into how a medium-sized enterprise
copes with the potential danger of knowledge loss
- Organization members are aware of this danger. But: action is
missing and focus on rather “obvious” persons
Knowledge map proposed as a diagnostic tool
- shows relevant members (internal & external) and their
- existing knowledge and potential knowledge gaps can be
Knowledge management in smaller firms has to be discussed from a
people-perspective rather than role-perspective
46. Conclusion IICONCLUSION II
Implications for theory
- Provides transparency needed to tackle the issue of knowledge loss and its
influence on smaller firm’s human, relational and financial capital
Implications for managerial practice
- Creation of stronger awareness in terms of risks related to knowledge loss
and their implications
Future research avenues
- Inclusion of other staff members (broader perspective)
- Large-scale study
- similar companies (industry and/or structure)
- Focus on other processes of KM e.g. storage and dissemination