The Loss of Knowledge

This article has a great opening quote. It says: “We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge”. It’s from John Naisbitt, who wrote the book, Megatrends in 1988. I think this quote can be very apropo in organizations as we have data, we have plenty of reports deriving information, but sometimes we don’t have a lot of knowledge, especially when there has been turnover in our staff.

We can train new people on many things, but not everything. The knowledge of the culture, of what others know, of the little strange bugs or behaviors that can’t get fixed, the tribal knowledge accumulated by living in an environment. These are the learnings that can’t easily be replaced, and until they are, often new employees are less productive.

Of course, sometimes new employees will view the world in a different light and find solutions others haven’t considered. That happens, but it’s more likely that they will make mistakes, break something, or just be less effective than their predecessors.

There are no shortage of articles, like the one above or this one, that discuss the concerns IT leadership has about employee turnover. Perhaps the leadership does see that as a problem, but often first level managers don’t. Often leadership doesn’t realize how poorly trained or effective first line managers are in working with their technical staffs. I sometimes think that the world in Dilbert is far too prevalent precisely because of very poor management skills. It certainly seems that efforts made to retain employees are relatively rare in many companies.

In my career, we’ve had some boom and bust times in the market for developers. There have been times where anyone with a certification or a hint of experience could get hired (or get a raise). There were other times when people were careful to hold onto their jobs because finding a new one could be hard.

I think employers should not only invest in their staffs, but work to train and upskill them, demand more from them over time, but treat them fairly with more than just a paycheck. The dividends from a hardware allowance, a training budget, and more can easily pay for themselves with better productivity and the lack of fees to recruiters. You should certainly hold staff accountable and responsible for getting work done, but make sure you also treat them fairly and support them.

That’s if you also spend time managing your managers and ensuring they balance the demands they make of employees with the support needed to ensure their staff performs well. If you ignore the managers, you might as well ignore the staff, set aside more recruiter fees in your budget, and hope for the best.

Steve Jones

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About way0utwest

Editor, SQLServerCentral
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4 Responses to The Loss of Knowledge

  1. Excellent references (the articles). You and I’ve bounced this back and forth before, the problem with the decision makers not being able to see (or just refusing to see) how it costs’ more to replace the employee than to simply give them a pay raise and one they deserve. I love my job and would not leave it for more a little more money elsewhere because I value what I have. Unfortunately the decision makers here face the same problem. Not too long ago an employee who had been with teh company for 2 decades left to make more money doing the same kind of job. The employer did make a counter offer but it was weak, very weak. Eventually they replaced her and I have no doubt the new guy is being paid more than what they were willing to pay the 2 decades plus existing employee. This new guy does have more knowledge than she did in some areas like Microsoft power platform but he’s unfamiliar with the primary accounting software we use and it’s painfully obvious when we have to work with him where it requires him having to work with the primary accounting software we use. The former employee knew it inside and out and so with the new guy we have to spend a lot more time and take more steps in getting something done because of his lack of familiarity. I’m happy for her because according to her last communicate she was loving her new job and the greatly increased pay rate. We get that annual pay raise you spoke of but it’s not fixed it’s based on the cost of living which means it’s based on teh Federal governments bogus numbers so it never matches that actual cost of living increase and so the longer you stay effectively the less you get paid.

    This is an executive level problem in my opinion as they are the setting pay levels. The 1st tier manager hires and fires but he/she can only offer in pay what the top execs approve and they are the ones who still to this day can’t understand why it’s in their best interest to annually increase employee pay (as long as they are doing the job expected of them) and not some measly few percentage points. There should never be a time when a valued employee is getting paid less than what they’d have to pay someone to replace that employee if anything the employee who’s been with the company should be making more than their replacement would. The private sector is experiencing staffing issues a large part because executive level people have yet to get past an old and outdated mindset of how employees should be treated in terms of pay and retention. I can guarantee you that if these firms expressing concerns about employee loss had simply increased those employees pay annually they’d have lost far fewer people. I believe it’s going to take a generational shift at the executive level before this changes because until very recently businesses enjoyed a surplus of labor and had been doing so for many decades and thus they got spoiled by this. I still see job offerings on LinkedIn saying a College Degree is required for a job that a degree isn’t really necessary. I’ve even gone out of my way to message the HR person who posted the job and explain that you really should list it as college degree work work/experience equivalent and of teh few times I’ve done this the person was kind enough to respond back and both said effectively the same thing. I agree but it’s not my call.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing the articles, very interesting read.


    • way0utwest says:

      Thanks for the comments. It’s interesting to hear your view here.

      Often it’s HR setting pay scales, not execs, and they base this on what others provide in surveys, which inherently lags the market. Someone ought to take on the need to negotiate or adjust levels, but I also get that hiring one person at a high level can throw their pay out of whack with others. Not sure what to do here.

      Also agree that college degrees aren’t needed. I’d hope many companies might start hiring smart HS grads and apprentice them to learn.


    • I’ve never dealt with a company where HR was setting the pay. I’ve had 4 jobs and 4 employers since leaving retail (a few years after highschool) and in all 4 it was the top person or right under them that determined the salary offer. Between the 4, 2 were small business (1000 employees) and 1 is around medium (between 500-1K employees) and in all 4 cases I never spoke with HR until after accepting the offer. In fairness after that 1st job (with a small business where the owner was at the office daily) I never had to apply for a job again as the 3 after that were all where I was recruited so that may be the difference. This last/current job with the medium size employer, the salary offer was determined by my bosses boss (who he himself reported to the owner) and my boss, they came up with the offer for salary plus relocation expenses; so my experience may not be the norm. When I was in school and working retail part time it was like what you are saying but not after I left retail for the IT/Software industry. Another difference is that 3 of those 4 jobs were also unique in that I wasn’t hired to fill a role that others also filled but a new role was created for me to full-fill. Perhaps that’s why my post retail experience is different?


  2. way0utwest says:

    I assume you meant large. 1000 employees isn’t small.

    It’s not HR you talk to, but often HR sets the salary ranges for departments based on surveys.


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