When a staff member leaves, they often take valuable industry knowledge and know-how with them. Michael Papaioannou explains how to anticipate and manage this by rethinking your company culture
In hospitality, like any industry, it's vital to manage knowledge. We have all been in a situation where an employee is leaving, taking away a wealth of information, experience and knowledge, and leaving a gap in the operation. This will usually have a direct impact on costs, in the form of training, operational errors, operational advice based on experience, and even the loss of loyal customers, who might follow the member of staff elsewhere or stop coming altogether.
But effective knowledge management can not only keep a business running smoothly, but lead to superior service delivery, increased customer loyalty, reduced employee turnover and thus provide a unique competitive advantage to the business.
So how can we manage knowledge within our workforce? Knowledge can be defined as objective and can be taught from manuals, guides and textbooks, but it is also gained through experience. Due to the nature of our industry, which is people-led, experiential knowledge is deemed to be more beneficial for a business. Since it is embedded and linked to the individual, it is very difficult to articulate.
How do we handle situations like this? Some major hotel chains focus on storing, sharing and retrieving operational knowledge between the individual units of the chain and headquarters through the use of IT-based knowledge management systems. Of course, a computerised system would require a large capital expenditure and might not be appropriate or practical for hospitality SMEs. So here are some easy-to-implement, practical tips on how to manage employee knowledge:
•Briefings and de-briefings at the beginning and end of a service cycle: what went well, what went wrong, how we can make things better next time, what have we learned? You need to keep it simple: some short notes or keywords are enough, detailing best practices, service innovations, guest preferences, etc. These notes should be kept in a place that is easy for staff to access. Do not allow this to become a bureaucratic process - keep it dynamic, collaborative and alive.
•Have a clear and timely succession plan in place: shadowing and on-the-job training will provide experiential learning and the opportunity to build that much sought-after guest knowledge. The aim is to always have someone to take over from the person who leaves with the minimum possible disruption in the operation and to guests.
â¢Keep clear communication lines within the business and encourage experienced employees to share their knowledge by:
- rotating them within the operation, when possible, so they work with new staff;
- revising and having their say on company training manuals and staff guides (objective knowledge). Encourage them to engage. You could use their personal quotes in there, referred to as "the experts' advice";
- involving them in training sessions. These can be of an informal nature and take place when business levels drop. Guide them in designing a session according to business needs. Research has shown that this involvement motivates employees; and
- creating and maintaining a strong team culture; a culture that promotes innovation, better communication and encourages formal and informal social interaction has the power to motivate staff to knowledge-share.
Experienced employees might still be defensive and resist engaging with and participating in the above. It is crucial to explain to them the significance of their involvement in these plans, make them feel important and valuable, and of course make sure that you reward them for their efforts.
Always keep in mind the fact that knowledge management is not only aiming to keep the operation going, but has the potential to lead to achieving increased customer satisfaction, great quality of service and overall enhanced business performance.
Michael Papaioannou is senior lecturer in hotel management at Sheffield Hallam University
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