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Friday, April 1, 2011

Knowledge sharing

Joining a new company is always difficult at first. You spend a lot of time learning what you don't know about the company and the culture. Here are some ideas to make this normally unproductive time more productive.

Most companies have a wiki or central web site like Sharepoint. Create an employee page with pictures of the employees, there name, contact information (office/location, email, phone, etc.).

Next create a Subject Matter Expert (SME) table. Put the areas of expertise and who is the main and secondary contact. You could even work this from the other direction. As a manager, think about the needs of your department, create a table with one row for each subject your department needs an expert in. In the second column put the name of the person who is the SME for that subject. In the third column put the name of who would be your second choice for SME. Any row which does not have a second name means you need to create a backup for that area. Otherwise, when your one and only SME goes on vacation you could be in trouble. Or worse, they leave the company. Any row which has no SME at all means you need to either get someone to become that SME or you have a case for hiring someone.

Whenever someone new joins the company, take their picture, add an entry to the employee page and a link to the SME table. If they are an SME for a subject you have no one, make them the SME. If they are the SME for a subject you have one SME, make them the backup.

The next step in the process is for the SME to document what they know. Some people will believe documenting what they know will allow the company to get rid of them. The truth is that an SME's practical experience can never really be captured in a document. Most often this knowledge comes into play because the SME has left the company, is away on vacation or ill. If they don't document their knowledge, they will be critical to the company. Going on vacation will be discouraged. They will most likely be put under a great deal of stress. Sooner or later they will fall ill or quit.

The ultimate goal is to create a backup for the SME. If the SME is promoted or put on other activities, the company will require him to be available to help out the backup/replacement. If someone is replacing the SME, the SME will most likely become the backup until a suitable backup can be found. By the time the replacement is fully up to speed and a suitable backup has been found, the SME will probably be an SME for something new or they can at least make sure they are becoming the SME for something new and critical to the company.

Bottom line, if they are trying to phase you out it would be obvious. So don't worry and help your company share that knowledge.

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