Failure to Communicate | Knowledge Management

I’ve written before about the various generations of workers in law firms (see Generation X, Y, & ME in Your Law Firm and Attorney 2.0 – Generation Y in Your Law Firm).

The basic concern is this: the workers with the most knowledge and experience (Baby Boomers and “Matures” (those born 1900 to 1945)), will be leaving the workforce and they are not interacting with and passing along their wisdom to younger generations.  This is according to a Financial Week article called, Failure to communicate: Survey reveals big generation gap in the workplace.

What to do? A combination of technology and good, old-fashioned interaction could be the key to combat this institutional brain drain.

According to the article, the “Atlanta-based Randstad USA’s annual 2008 World of Work survey found that the four generations now in the U.S. workforce—Generation X, Generation Y, baby boomers and “matures” (those born 1900 to 1945)—rarely interact with one another.  That lack of communication, the study found, is keeping key institutional job knowledge held by the boomer generation from filtering down to younger workers.

“The current pressure for productivity—the pressure for people to do more with less creates that barrier,” [Eric Buntin, managing director of marketing and operations for Randstad.] says. “Employers need to be aware that people just don’t have time to interact.

The article hits on the importance of “creat[ing] functional work teams to bring employees together” and the need for “collaboration on jobs that makes older and younger workers feel as if they’re both contributing to business goals on new products or handling service issues.”

The dodo has been extinct since the mid-to-late 17th century

What about the next generation? The article fails, however, to address another aspect of knowledge management: codifying a company’s “intellectual capital” to make some of that tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge.  This is important because organizations need to think beyond one generation.  The knowledge transfer that occurs with project collaboration may help a Gen Y worker learn from a Baby Boomer, but what happens when both workers leave the organization?  We must remember that younger generations tend not to stay in one organization as long as Boomers.  Company loyalty seems to have gone the way of the dodo.  In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor says that one-third of the American workforce changes jobs every year.

If there is no systematic way to capture a worker’s tacit knowledge and distribute it in an asynchronous way (so that a skipped generation can access it), then the knowledge transfer that occurs during project collaboration will just serve to delay the inevitable organizational brain drain.

So, yes, failure to communicate is bad; but failure to capture that communication may be worse.  And now, for your viewing pleasure…


LawyerKM :: Knowledge Management & Technology for Lawyers and Law Firms

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