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Knowledge Hostage: Should organizations be held hostage by experienced staff?

Is  it really worth it to bend over backwards to accommodate an employee who has a ton of knowledge and experience but brings little else to the organization? Over the years I have seen companies label individuals as “untouchable” because of their organizational history. This is despite clear evidence that the person can be destructive to the people around them.

It seems that almost every organization has at least one individual who everyone puts up with for longer than they should because the person has some special knowledge and experience.
 
In effect they hold the organization hostage. And it can be a significant risk to the organization if the person were to leave suddenly… or would it?
 
An HR Manager was sharing her organization’s experience in having a former plant manager demoted several times and put on special projects because of his considerable knowledge of the plant facilities and equipment. He was deemed untouchable despite the fact that there were many long serving employees in production and maintenance who likely could handle most situations that arose.
 
What to do if your organization is a knowledge hostage

  • Assess the real risk. Does the individual have real or only perceived special knowledge? What would the consequences be if the person wasn’t there?
  • If there is a real risk, develop a strategy now to mitigate that risk. Use documentation and cross training to get others up to speed.
  • Explain that it isn’t acceptable for the individual to hoard knowledge and expertise and that there are consequences to him or her for continuing to do so.
  • Confront, correct and encourage the individual to be less defensive about their knowledge and focus on helping the team succeed.

What to do if you are the person holding the organization hostage

  • Realize that you may not be creating the security you had hoped for.
  • Reposition yourself as a teacher of others and think of your legacy of leaving the organization stronger instead of putting it at risk.
  • Seek training, coaching or mentoring to change behaviors that are hurting your job performance and ability to interact constructively with others.
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