4 Steps to successfully retain retiring people's knowledge
Many organizations are dealing with (the prospect of) an aging workforce. Your organization will lose valuable people because they will retire. These valuable people often have gathered lots of knowledge, skills and experience over the years that are vital for your organization to operate successfully. You are aware that when they leave your operational continuity might be at risk and that there can be serious consequences. You want to do something but somehow this never gets to the top of everyone's priority list until it's too late. Here are 4 steps to help you prevent this from happening and take action.
1. Identify the problem's magnitude and impact
Make sure you know exactly how many people with valuable knowledge, experience and skills will be leaving within a few years, their positions and what the consequence would be if they would take their valuable knowledge with them. Knowledge, skill and experience transfer takes time. Knowing how much time you need and have will help you prioritize and come up with a realistic plan.
2. Design your knowledge transfer plan
This might be the hardest part of successfully retaining the valuable knowledge of your people, because where do you start? Here are some things to consider:
Create awareness. Make sure that the people retiring understand why this is so important to you, the organization and their colleagues. Explain what is in it for them, like leaving the organization in a good place and an opportunity to share everything they have accomplished and learned over the years with others. Create time for them to just focus on their knowledge transfer instead of asking them to do this in addition to their day job.
Take your time. It takes time to successfully transfer all the knowledge, skills and experience gathered over the years by a person, let alone if you are looking at multiple people whose knowledge you'd like to retain within your organization. Do not make the mistake thinking this will be done in a few days time. It won't.
Create structure. Do not ask the person retiring to write down everything she or he knows and just send it to you and her or his colleagues. This will leave you with a variety of formats, important knowledge being left out and valuable knowledge put into a document never to be found again when needed. Instead create a knowledge transfer format (f.e daily/weekly/monthly activities). Have someone present to ask the right questions to stimulate better answers and better quality knowledge to be transferred.
3. Share valuable knowledge successfully
Once you have gathered the knowledge, skills and experience it is time to share it in such a way that people will actually be able to find and use it. This step requires some serious thought. How do you get the knowledge that people need to them when they need it and in such a format that they can actually use it immediately? Do not allow people to create lengthy word documents to store these in some directory on a harddrive or Sharepoint. It will not be found and therefore not be used, and that will result in lots of wasted time and resources frustrating everyone involved. Instead, connect knowledge to specific process steps where it is needed for a better execution of that step for example.
4. Create a knowledge sharing culture
You have now put in serious effort to retain your organizational knowledge. Now take a step back and think about how you want your people to use and share knowledge within your organization. You might realize that you should have done this before you started this whole process. It is never too late though to start thinking about this. At least you already have retained your valuable knowledge! Start with what you do have. Do you already have an organization wiki, or some kind of intranet? Although not ideal (the knowledge might be hard to find, and then it won't be used) you then at least have a place from which to start sharing that valuable knowledge. Ideally start looking for a knowledge sharing platform that suits your organization. A platform that makes knowledge quick and easy to find and that shares exactly the knowledge people need while doing their job instead of sharing just documents. Once you have found that platform and implemented it successfully you have started your knowledge sharing culture and you can get the maximum results from retaining your valuable company knowledge.
There are obviously other important aspects to successful succession planning as well, like the right training of a successor. Or creating a job description based on values, abilities and skills that will enable you to hire a person that will be just as valuable for your organization as the person soon to retire. Focusing on retaining your company knowledge, I believe it is important to take action as soon as possible so that you actually have time to come up with a good plan. Once you have designed your plan and have gathered that valuable knowledge start sharing it as effectively as possible to get the most out of your and your people's efforts.
Bram Eekhout is the CEO and founder of Bizpearl, a consulting firm specialised in business process improvement, change management and knowledge management. He is passionate about working better together, providing a foundation for implementing change and growth successfully and sharing knowledge effectively.