The Cathedral Catastrophe

April 19, 2019
Read time: 2 mins

The world watched in disbelief as the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France burned earlier this week. The 850-year-old structure serves as a masterpiece of Gothic architecture and home to many priceless religious artifacts. Thankfully, many of the pieces housed in the cathedral were taken out prior to the fire due to current renovations. And, during the fire more of the collections were removed successfully, but sadly, some pieces were lost in the blaze.

This fire has us thinking about the all-too-common problem of tribal knowledge at work. What happens when someone has been with a company for 20, 30, even 40 years and leaves with all that information that’s not written down or known by others? It’s just gone.

Sometimes the departure is planned, and leaders can tap into the wealth of experience that’s leaving in order to use it moving forward. But sometimes the departure is sudden and unforeseen, and all that priceless intelligence vanishes in an instant.

Notre Dame

We as business people can glean some insight from the Notre Dame fire devastation:

  • Don’t get caught in the “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone” group. Make it your mission to lean on your long-term employees, grab a hold of what they know and teach it to your people.
  • Start by identifying the employees with the most expertise about what your organization does. There are specific employees who have the know-how about your company that no one else has.
  • Document the information you want to be able to teach to others. While possibly daunting to think about, it’s the only way to preserve these valuable insights.
  • Incorporate these irreplaceable gems of wisdom into training your new hires. You’ll be so glad you did.

Just like the fire fighters in France did everything they could to save the cathedral and its contents, we should all take steps to protect the priceless intellectual property we have at our organizations.