Knowledge Transfer / Continuity , Crew Change (May not be a problem after all)

Don't worry.. I am making money today!
He can’t hear you over the sound of all that cash…

What if I told you that in the next 5 years, the water in your pipes would stop flowing at some point.  What you will need to do is build a backup pipe to the street and then divert the flow of water to make sure you have continuity of service.   There will be a lot of costs around this and, in fact, you may actually have some disruption of service while we are working on your pipes.  Would you spend the money now?   What if I told you that it was in the next 5 years but most likely in the 5th year?  Would you want to take care of it now or later?  What if I told you there was a chance that even if the water stopped flowing that we may be able to do some things when the water stopped to make it flow for a little longer without replacing the pipes, would you do it now?

What if the water pressure was degrading over time?  What if water stopped or slowed at random?  Would you do it now?   What if everyone in your neighborhood is having water problems except you at the moment, would you consider your situation?

Pay now,  pay later or pay never?

Need a Catastrophe

It seems to take a catastrophic event (something real and compelling) to force companies to respond to an emergency that could have easily have been avoided or prevented.

An article about BP suggests ( that the disaster in the Gulf could very well be tied to a failure of knowledge management “We are not saying (we’d like to, but we can’t prove it) that there is a causal relationship between the dismantling of a knowledge management program and the subsequent missteps that culminated in the Gulf disaster. ”

Nick Milton had a different perspective<–just bringing in other thoughts.

Interesting that the HBR article also said that BP had a severe case of “Exxon Envy” which led to bad decisions in regard to their knowledge management program.  That is a pretty strong statement by HBR. What does that say about Exxon?

If something costs money and leadership doesn’t see the cost convert directly to savings, revenue or the reduction of risk, they won’t spend the money on it.

Some thoughts on why crew change may not be a problem after all!

When a catastrophic event occurs it may be cheaper to pay later.    

How many times have we heard or read about organizations KNOWING something and not sharing or KNOWING something and not having a level of awareness about what they know?   The government has changed its KM practices since 9/11

It took a terrorist attack. We still don’t know what we know and we still don’t share enough. 

I don’t have to make a list of companies or situations because it is so common that everyone has a story or common knowledge of knowledge sharing failures.

All this being said, the concerns of crew change may not be an issue at all!   Here is why:

  • People are retiring at different times and the failures associated with their retirement can be overcome by brute force.
  • People that are of extreme value are coerced into staying or coming back.
  • People that are retiring may know how to do something today that is of value, but may not matter in the long run.
  • In a lot of organizations, people are being replaced by automation
  • Crew change may be akin to Y2K.
  • If companies cared about it they would do more than they are doing.  They would invest but they don’t, they essentially throw pennies at a problem that needs dollars.

It MAY take an event in an organization like a mass exodus to create enough of a concern in knowledge loss to make a difference, but the likelihood of that is ?.

When is too much enough?  Experts say to work this problem now, companies say they worry now, but will work it later.

Sales People

Who is raising awareness on the issues of crew change?   An article back in 2011 asks if this is a wolf cry or reality?  Once again, this is about paying now or paying later.   If a company pays to start a knowledge transfer and continuity program, they will see it as a cost and their capability will perpetually remain flat.

What would you buy?

1) I am offering you a process and tool that once licensed will guarantee your organization can find and process energy resources 5% faster.

2)I am offering you a process and tool that once licensed will guarantee that you will continue your current operations at the very minimum as-is and at the very maximum with few disruptions.

You could take a position as I often do that knowledge transfer offers additional opportunities for innovation.  To decision makers this means nothing.  Innovation is something that you look back at and say, “wow”.    If you plan for innovation, you never get what you plan for because innovation itself as an activity is rarely targeted.  (see


It is estimated that Y2K cost over 1 trillion dollars to prevent or mitigate.   Was it worth it?  Was it really an issue?  Did the money spent prevent a major meltdown?   What new capabilities came from the Y2K expenditures?   Do you remember how much a Cobal programmer could make at that time?  Was it worth it?  They had valuable explicit and tacit knowledge!


In terms of knowledge on the job, if you can’t do what you did, you either pay to get someone who can or you do something else.

  • What you knew may not matter.
  • What you know may not matter.
  • You can do something better if you reinvent a capability based on the need and current requirements not on old ways. (Refactoring the workforce)
  • There is a reason that business isn’t worried.

Please Disagree

I hope that you have an argument that blows this post out of the water!  I have seen in my own practice the cost of ignoring knowledge transfer and continuity.  It isn’t a knowledge issue, it is a business issue.   I was on a program that once spent over 30+ million dollars on technology that was shelved in the long run because knowledge transfer did not occur.

When organizations believe there is value in knowledge transfer, they pay for it.    More often than not they talk about it, but they view it as a cost.   It is essentially viewed as a maintenance activity when it could be and I said COULD BE an opportunity to do things better, save money, add value and lower risk.

Until there is a direct impact on the bottom line that exceeds a corporate pain point, my position is that they WON’T invest the time and the money.    Frankly there are a lot of people in leadership roles that don’t think their staff is anything more than a resource or a corporate asset.   Do a short history check and see who the best leaders in our past century were “Neutron Jack,”  “The Peoples Tycoon,” etc.    What about the leadership books?  Art of War and others like this are touted.  You have to kill and be an asshole.   You have to make the shareholder happy at all costs.    You are thinking about now and the near future as opposed to investing in the long-term.