Safeguard Your Institutional Knowledge Before It Walks Out the Door! (Blog 1 of 4)

Safeguard Your Institutional Knowledge Before It Walks Out the Door! is a four-part blog series written by Nancy E. Weiss, of Catalyst Consulting Group, LLC. Learn how to capture your organization’s unique intelligence and use it to grow, excel, and thrive. Get free tools!
Contact Nancy: 612-709-1531 or email

Catalyst President Nancy WeissMaybe you can relate to this: One of your best directors, Susan, a veteran of 14 years, just left the organization to enjoy her well-earned retirement. Weeks after her going-away party, the new hire comes to you with a simple question about how to complete what seems like an easy task. Susan would have known the answer instantly, but you can’t call her up and ask because she’s trekking in Nepal.

Institutional Knowledge is:
  • All of the specialized information, products, unique processes, patents, intelligence, and “secret sauce,” including innovations individuals make that rightfully belong to your company or organization.
  • Organization-specific wisdom, insights, opinions, acumen, awareness, and perceptions that come from years of employment that may be useful to others, usually provided by leaders, but can also come from staff, board members, and others.
  • All operational processes, procedures, etc., that keep your organization going.

Here’s another problem: Jack is going on paternity leave next month and he’s the only one who knows where the IT passwords are kept. And, you’ve been getting the feeling that Wanda is antsy in her job as the admin to all the managers. Last year she came up with a great new way to track customer complaints, and the weekly report she kicks out for your staff meeting is just the best. But how does she do it?

In all three cases, your staff didn’t document how they do things, their innovations, or their tacit knowledge. It may be time to think about how to capture this information.

Experts resoundingly agree that documenting institutional knowledge is a necessity for many reasons, including succession planning and protecting yourself against the question: “If you were hit by a bus, would your manager know how to carry on?”

When I surveyed clients, colleagues, and other leaders about the value of capturing institutional knowledge for this series, they all responded with a “YES, of course it’s a good idea! But who has time?!”


The series in a nutshell:

  • Trap the Gaps: Audit to Identify Gaps and Risks covers what you should document and record. It includes a FREE audit tool to identify your current state of documentation and where the gaps lie.
  • Mine the Mind: Capturing Institutional Knowledge through Structured Interviews covers how to quarry for information that resides only in people’s heads. It includes a FREE tool with questions to ask people who may be leaving your organization soon.
  • Write for Insight: the Surprising Link between Documentation and Continuous Improvement contains a FREE tool to make documentation an easy and painless habit. Learn how to embed insights, wisdom, innovations, lessons learned, and other contributions into your operations to nurture your company and help it thrive.

So many reasons to champion institutional knowledge!

Recording institutional knowledge and championing this cause is not only critical for succession planning and safety, but also to inform the continuous improvements of practices, policies, procedures, work flow, team functioning, job design, organizational structure, and many other aspects of your organization and its operations.

Institutional knowledge can also contribute to sustainability and strategic planning and to the health and longevity of your organization. Your company’s history is also important to retain. This helps the next generation of leaders speak intelligently about the evolution of the company and learn from its past.

Thank you for reading this blog. Share your thoughts! Then pass along the post to someone who could benefit from it.

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  1. Otis Smallwood says:

    A wonderful demonstration of how the tacit dimension can be applied to corporate culture and organizational development.