Well, perhaps it's not completely hidden, but it is one that is not fully appreciated in my view. The cost I am talking about is the loss of knowledge. I'm not just talking about the knowledge of doing the job and what it takes to train the replacement. That matters, but that usually is a quick ramp up of a few weeks to a few months. What concerns me is the loss of true knowledge that only exists in that former employee's brain. The ability to take that information and convey it in a logical and engaging fashion to a customer. That is what walks out the door and cannot be recovered.
Knowledge management systems are not where they should be at most companies. Even those that force their people to upload or backup their files are not ahead of the curve. Knowledge is not having information, it is the appropriate application of that information. You might have a 20 GB backup of that employee's hard drive, but that doesn't mean you know anything about the information in it. To have truly seamless transitions, and the ability to have an agile workforce, the company's KNOWLEDGE (not just information or intellectual capital) must exist in a centralized, easily utilized format. It needs to be placed in context, be searchable, and easily understood.
I am often asked for sales materials, presentations, etc., on our products and services so that they can be given to customers. I send people a link to the wiki that I keep current so that I am not constantly looking for data, and hopefully they remember it as well for the next time. But do you really think that's the best way to distribute information? It is not a good use of our corporate knowledge. It's good information, but where is the knowledge to engage the customer? It's in me. It's in the countless other people who do similar jobs to me at every company around the globe. How many times have you received a slide deck that wasn't presented to you, but sent for your review. Did the slides make much sense? Usually, very little or none at all. Why is that? It's because the context is provided by individuals. Individuals who have honed their presentation to get the best and most succinct response from their audience.
Knowledge management has grown over the past decade from central storage of information to tagging, keywords, and now the ability to find expertise via a click and search. In these harsh economic times when many excellent and highly skilled people are being let go from their jobs, companies cannot afford to lose the context of of the knowledge that is walking out the door. It needs to be captured in better presentation notes, guidance, and ideally, in video. If you had a video of your top people presenting the material to customers, you'd have a much better chance of actually passing that knowledge along to the next person who has to do it. Without the context, all you have is a bunch of documents on a server.