The utilities industry has a knowledge management problem. Seventy percent of employees for American electricity transmission organizations are eligible for retirement today. The Human Resources managers at these utilities are struggling to attract new talent to replace the aging workforce. They have also universally struggled to find effective ways of preserving the knowledge of their long-term employees.
One utility in Australia took a page out of the National Public Radio (NPR) playbook to solve the problem of retaining corporate knowledge. NPR regularly features Storycorp recordings as part of their weekly broadcasts. Storycorp is a national project that provides recording booths at museums or other public venues so that friends, siblings, parents, or whomever can record stories about their lives for long-term preservation. Think of it as an audio version of Studs Terkel, but without Studs. (Just as an aside, if you’ve never heard a Storycorp recording, you should really take a listen; they are surprisingly poignant.)
At the utility in Australia, Human Resources and Information Technology partnered to provide a booth that would be available for any employee to record stories about their work. But since most of their employees had worked at the company their entire lives, they marketed it to their employees as a way to tell their children and grandchildren about the work they had done over a lifetime. The results were amazing. Crusty, negative, anti-corporate maintenance engineers came into the office so that their grandkids could know how Grandpa had kept the lights on!
The project hasn’t been perfect. They’ve run into a few hiccups. For example, the field staff is very rough around the edges, and their recordings are often laced with expertly executed threads of profanity. It’s hard to use that for corporate training. There’s also an enormous amount of work that goes into editing the videos after the stories have been captured. But they are a step ahead of many firms who can’t even get the employees to show up for interviews in the first place.