Q I lead an organization that is facing a wave of retirements in the next couple of years. We have talented younger people on board; however, I don't see transfer of institutional knowledge between the older and newer team members occurring. What should I do to facilitate it?
A: Be specific about the knowledge that needs to be shared, develop processes and support a culture of sharing.
The inner game
Your organization stands on the verge of major transition. Yet organizations always face staffing changes. As a result, you have a track record — good or bad — for debriefing departing employees and communicating information to new employees. Start by considering whether you're effective in gathering essential information from departing staff, and whether you have a consistent method of sharing information with new staff, including deeper context and useful organizational history. Use this review to identify strengths to build on and gaps that need to be addressed, including developing a culture of communication if needed.
Documentation of existing processes is a vital part of knowledge transfer. However, it's often neglected, especially when staff are overextended. Review the documentation of your organization's core processes to determine whether this is an area that needs attention. Then look at your role in this. Do you personally support employees taking the time needed to document processes and decisions?
Finally, look at the dynamics between newer and older employees. Mutual respect is necessary to have successful knowledge sharing. New employees need to feel that their skills and perspectives are valued, while longer-standing employees need to feel that their insights are respected by the newcomers.
The outer game
To foster success, create a knowledge transfer plan. Determine the most critical areas, including those in which key staff are likely to retire soon as well as areas where you have a single person with expertise. Identify the top priorities including factual content, processes, insights into key relationships, or other information.
As part of the plan, identify future knowledge holders. You may have people ready to step up in some areas, but for others, you may not have the right skill level or expertise in-house. If that's the case, you may need to create development plans or do some deferred knowledge transfer (in written form or to a proxy, such as yourself), recognizing that the new person may be hired after the retirement takes place.
Establish an active process, in which documentation review and discussion of the topic areas occur on a regular basis. Don't try to pack too much in too quickly, because that will lead to cursory attention to each content area. It will be up to you to actively manage this process, including adding knowledge transfer goals in performance objectives and expecting regular updates.
The last word
Know where your organization needs to focus, and set up a process and expectations for your team to ensure successful knowledge sharing and organizational stability.
Liz Reyer is a credentialed coach with more than 20 years of business experience. Her company, Reyer Coaching & Consulting, offers services for organizations of all sizes.