Every job has its nuances. Every organization has its own customs and culture. Every employee, therefore, ends up with knowledge that no one else has. And that knowledge is not only rare but valuable. Call it “unique knowledge.” It consists of everything an employee gains through specialized training and insider learning. Unique knowledge varies from organization to organization and from position to position. But it’s instrumental in tackling the complex problems and unexpected challenges that employees encounter at work more or less every day.
When a colleague asks for information or advice, most of us are usually happy to share our expertise. But if we’re never asked, if we’re unavailable, or if we’ve left the company to start a new job somewhere else, then we can’t share what we know. And that leads to frustrations and inefficiencies that really add up.
While we’ve all learned to respect the value of data, the value of unique knowledge is generally overlooked. Why? Because unique knowledge is seldom quantified. We’re accustomed to using and sharing it informally, so we don’t think about trying to measure or assess it more discreetly.
Panopto’s “Workplace Knowledge and Productivity Report” puts a dollar value to those inefficiencies. We surveyed 1001 US employees across a variety of industries to learn as much as we could about their experiences using (and having to cope without) their coworkers’ institutional knowledge. What we found is that companies suffer from unshared knowledge in two key ways: first, in making employee onboarding less efficient, and second, in making day-to-day work less productive.
According to the report, personal career experience is both the largest source of workplace knowledge (51 percent), as well as the most important source (54 percent). We all acquire unique knowledge over the course of our careers. That knowledge is why the first month at a new job is so much harder than the twenty-first. But because this kind of knowledge is so open-ended, we rarely measure its value. And when we take stock of what makes our companies productive, we tend to overlook it.
The report also investigates the cost of employee turnover. Everything moves quickly in the digital age — including careers. Our study found the average turnover in enterprise-size organizations to be 16 percent. And according to Business Insider, even the most attractive tech companies retain employees for less than two years on average. Which is all to say, an employer’s knowledge resources are regularly heading out the door. The relationship between unique knowledge and employee turnover was found to be dramatic, and although some amount of turnover is inevitable, the frustration, inefficiency, and loss of knowledge that result from it are all things that companies can do something about.
Even when employees stay on the payroll, their unique knowledge isn’t always accessible. People travel and take vacation. We have our own jobs and responsibilities and can’t be available 24/7 to answer other people’s questions. If our unique knowledge never exists outside our own heads, then sometimes our coworkers will simply have to do without it. That puts a big damper on productivity — which, hour by hour, has a significant impact on the company’s bottom line.