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Organisational Knowledge – Your Biggest Risk

Discover the top six benefits of ISO 9001 and maintaining an efficient quality management system for your company.

What is organisational knowledge?

Organisational knowledge is all the knowledge contained within an organisation that provides business value. Organisational knowledge can include things like product knowledge, SOPs, strategies, culture, intellectual property, customer communications, lessons of success and failure, why decisions were made, design rationale and much more. It is a living type of information that is created, used, and shared by people.

ISO 9001 requirements

The requirement for organisational knowledge in ISO 9001:2015 (clause 7.1.6) is aimed at ensuring that an organisation takes steps to capture and preserve knowledge, which is necessary for the effective operation of its processes and for ensuring the conformity of its products and services.

The requirement is primarily directed at ensuring the organisation either has or obtains the knowledge necessary to respond to changing business environments, changing customer and relevant interested party needs and expectations and, where applicable, related improvement initiatives.

Specifically, the standard requires:

  • The organisation shall determine the knowledge necessary for the operation of its processes and to achieve conformity of products and services.
  • This knowledge shall be maintained and be made available to the extent necessary.
  • When addressing changing needs and trends, the organisation shall consider its current knowledge and determine how to acquire or access any necessary additional knowledge and required updates.

What’s the risk?

For an organisation to survive and thrive, it has no choice but to develop a way to preserve the knowledge that can survive the transition of people, time and environment. Organisations that don’t extract knowledge and expertise from key employees run into trouble when they eventually leave. And organisations that fail to learn from their past mistakes are doomed to repeat them. We often take it for granted that something learned will be passed down. But it’s not always the case. Given that an organisation’s history is unique and can’t be learned anywhere else, it’s no one else but their own responsibility to preserve this history.

Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) are at particular risk due to the small size of their workforce; many roles within a typical SME wear many hats and losses due to career changes, retirement or ill health for example can leave the organisation in a vulnerable position.

The solution

Firstly, organisational knowledge should be assessed and reviewed, this could be a brainstorming session or during management review activities as it is typically a known internal issue and strategic risk. The purpose is to identify what knowledge is required and how it should be held, for example, documented SOPs, reporting procedures, video tutorials or training.

It’s important to ensure that all key roles and levels within the organisation are involved in this process as quite often is the case that management rarely knows what and how things actually work in reality. For each identified role, consider the impact on the business should that person leave unexpectedly – this provides your prioritisation.

It’s a good idea to document gaps in knowledge using a skills matrix, this method provides a helicopter view for easier analysis and progress tracking.

Mitigation could include the following:

  • Succession planning
  • Personal development plans
  • Cross-training between functions and departments
  • Software to document and develop procedures either written or video
  • Mobile incident reporting and learning applications such as SafetyCulture
  • Project management software such as Asana or Monday
  • Company intranet pages and portals

Once plans have been made they should be implemented, monitored and revised accordingly. Management review is the perfect opportunity to reevaluate progress.

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