When an employee leaves an organization, a career's worth of information, experience, relationships and insight will leave with them. With huge numbers of baby boomers nearing retirement, the need for knowledge retention is greater than ever. Research suggests that many critical employees who are near retirement age are in high level management positions. Many of these employees possess specialized skills that can take years to develop. Companies need to set goals that address obtaining and transferring the information held by these employees with critical knowledge.
Acquiring a departing employee's knowledge requires time, effort and resources. There is no "one size fits all" answer to address this issue. Strategies used by a company will depend on the company's culture, available resources and the knowledge held by the departing employee. However, there are key steps for addressing this issue. First, a company needs to identify what knowledge is considered an asset. The next step is to identify who within the organization holds that crucial knowledge. Finally, the company needs to identify the most effective ways to both capture and share that knowledge.
There are a variety of strategies to capture an employee's know-how. Mentoring, shadowing and coaching are probably the most well known methods. Other ideas include: joint decision making where a less experienced employee works together with a seasoned employee on a project and contracting/consulting where departed or retired employees are recruited as consultants. Succession planning ensures processes are in place for the replacement of key people.
In addition to the strategies listed above and given the nature of our business — a couple of ideas that I came across during my research captured my attention. One article suggested that companies work with an external consultant to interview employees in key positions. In turn, the consultants create a manual highlighting the fundamental aspects, tips and resources that facilitate the transfer of knowledge to other employees. Another idea was a portal for knowledge transfer. A knowledge transfer portal would provide a window into a seasoned employee's expertise. Both of these strategies may be tools that our clients find valuable as they face the growing number of retirees and possible loss of critical knowledge.