Widespread job cuts in response to the uncertain economic climate and the sustained low oil price have left organisations across the Gulf reeling in recent months.
The UAE banking sector has let about 1,500 staff go since the beginning of 2016; Etihad Rail has cut its workforce by 30 per cent; and energy firms across the region are carrying out staff reductions of up to 25 per cent.
These organisations face a perfect storm of knowledge loss: mass layoffs, the retirement of long-serving national employees, and ambitious workforce nationalisation mandates that continue to drive out experienced expatriates. The full effect of this dramatic exodus of talent has yet to be felt. But for those who have been in the Gulf since the financial crisis hit hard at the end of the past decade, stories of missed opportunities, organisational upheaval and stalled projects abound.
Mining your organisation for critical knowledge Cost-cutting can help organisations weather a downturn, but this approach may ultimately render them obsolete. So how can companies stem this inevitable tide while continuing to make necessary cuts? The key is being proactive about identifying and capturing the knowledge that is both critical to the survival and success of your organisation, and in imminent danger of being lost.
While every company is different, the first step in a successful Retention of Critical Knowledge (Rock) programme is to identify who holds critical information that is not recorded. To start with, you only need a few carefully selected employees in each core part of your operation, whose expertise is valued by their co-workers and superiors; and the reality is that we often know who they are already.
The obvious candidates are the long-serving managers in a given division, or the highly-skilled practitioners who have always been there at the forefront of your business, problem-solving at the sharp end. Their knowledge, expertise and networks are crucial and should be your first target. But you also need to consider the people who quietly beaver away behind the scenes, getting the job done, learning what works and what doesn’t. They are the key spokes in the wheel, without whom the organisation will be unable to move forward.
Once you have identified your candidates, you need to encourage them to share their knowledge and expertise. Understandably, this can be a closely guarded asset, and is not necessarily given up lightly. Anyone who takes pride in their work will have strong opinions on how it should be conducted and improved, and it is these opinions that really can make the difference when it comes to improving your business.
Perhaps more importantly, however, everyone also has their gripes about initiatives that don’t work, unnecessary procedures that seem more like exercises in mind-numbing futility and strategies or plans that no longer match up with reality. Innovative employees will often find their own way to navigate these administrative roadblocks and hone approaches that are much more beneficial to the organisation. They are understandably proud of these proactive approaches, and will discuss them enthusiastically if given the right platform and incentives to do so. This is pure gold to any organisation that chooses to listen and understand.
From information to insight
While some companies may choose to go at it alone, many will require some outside help to collect this information – a neutral face for employees to communicate with, to ask the right questions, and then interpret and extract vital lessons learnt from hours of Rock interview tape. Although few in number, insightful consultants are emerging in the Gulf to provide precisely this service, and not all of them charge the earth. As outsiders, distinct from management, they have the advantage of being viewed as neutral; unaffected by internal politics or alliances, they can bring a fresh perspective and pick out the information and trends without bias or prejudice.
With a long-term programme in place to capture critical knowledge from across your organisation, you can successfully eliminate the risk of losing your corporate know-how. But while knowledge is power, this is only true when it is shared with the right people at the right time. The invaluable insights distilled from your Rock programme must be put into practice with well-designed, intuitive guides and multimedia that inform individual roles, departments or entire organisations. Only when you apply this knowledge to get things done the right way will you achieve improvements and a full return on your investment.
David Grunfeld is the managing director of Prose Solutions, a UAE-based knowledge and content development consultancy
* This is the second part of a three-part series. Next week: from insight to innovation: Rock in a sea of uncertainty.