Before the Tide Goes Out

As the Great Recession finally starts to recede, one interesting and potentially important dynamic is taking shape in the form of generational shift. During the recession, two things happened to court staffing. On the one hand, many Boomers delayed retirement in the face of substantial losses in their stock-market heavy portfolios, drop in 81_before-tidetheir home values and financial uncertainly. On the other hand, plummeting court budgets prevented not only expanded hiring, but much of the regular attrition replacement.

The result in many courts five years down the road will be a demographic “doughnut hole” in the workforce: Way more than the normal population of senior staff and finally some new hiring of entry level staff. What’s missing is the cadre of staff in the two to six year experience range.

This demographic represents some interesting challenges and some opportunities. One of the challenges – particularly when coupled with the increasing rate of technological and institutional change – is that the missing “middle” cohort is that which would, under normal circumstances, have been absorbing the court’s institutional history as it is passed to them from the senior staffers. But those middlers simply aren’t there. Thus, as the senior staff leave, their institutional knowledge will be lost to the court. With the recovery, the senior staff are starting to leave in droves.

How to capture and retain this institutional knowledge before it washes out to sea on a tide of well-deserved retirements? There are a lot of ways, almost all of which are time-consuming and labor-intensive; although I personally believe the effort and cost are well worth it. But there is one opportunity that not only doesn’t add cost (in the sense that it needs to be done anyway), but also has the salutary effect of capturing, organizing and maintaining that institutional knowledge.

The answer is configurable workflow. In a very real sense, configurable workflow’s primary purpose is to act as a repository of institutional knowledge. As things change, so too will the workflows; but they will always tie back to the original, fundamental court processes.

Don’t confuse this with institutionalizing “The way we’ve always done it.” The fact is, the pre-Electronic Content Management (ECM) ways of doing things were there for reasons, and Configurable Workflow captures and assures satisfactory management of those reasons. To get the best possible workflows, you want to involve the staff most familiar with the current processes and the institutional knowledge that provides the context for why those processes are important.

The REALLY good news for courts is that these forces – influx of new, more tech-savvy, young staff; funding and urgency to undertake long-delayed technical infrastructure upgrades; and the availability of technology that, as an integral part of its design, captures, organizes and manages institutional knowledge – combine to make this the perfect time to implement ECM with Configurable Workflow.

Because of the distortions in staff demographics resulting from the Great Recession, it is imperative for courts to take advantage of the soon-to-depart repositories of this knowledge before they are gone. Their ability to hand it down in the traditional fashion to those coming behind them has been diminished, which makes the urgency of moving forward considerably more time sensitive. “Time and tide wait for no man.” Time to shove off.

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