Retaining organisational knowledge as baby boomers retire
By Bruce Nixon
Australian organisations face a significant loss of experience, IP and expertise as the country’s 5.5 million baby boomers retire. This mass exodus of knowledgeable specialists will have a profound impact on company performance.
The loss of intellectual capital has been shown to lead to significant increases in learning and development costs, in addition to generating more costly errors by the new workforce, less efficiency, noncompliance to regulations, a lack of effective leadership and reduced capacity to innovate.
Thorough workforce planning and tactics to keep the mature workforce’s brain trust within the organisation must become central to companies’ growth strategies. Tactical approaches can involve keeping these people available to the organisation – whether as employees or consultants – but this will only buy a short amount of time and delay the inevitable.
Processes and tools to capture, store and transfer the organic knowledge of each person and department must be implemented to reduce costs associated with retirement and ensure a smoother, effective transition for employees who have just joined the organisation.
If executed effectively, this process can be very empowering for both the retiree and the new employee stepping into their shoes. It can also impact positively on the overall culture of the organisation and provide tools to encourage and reward continuous improvement.
Here are five steps to harvest your retiring workforce’s brain trust and facilitate the transition to a younger generation of workers:
1. Conduct a workforce and process analysis
Planning always is the first step and in this case a strategic workforce and process analysis should answer the following questions:
In regards to people:
- How many people are likely to retire or leave in the near future?
- Where do they sit in the organisation?
- What roles and tasks do they perform?
- What specific knowledge do they have and what would be the consequences of losing this knowledge?
- How do they relate to other employees and departments?
- What are the skills and knowledge of the remaining workforce?
- What succession plans have been put in place to ensure a smooth transition to the new workforce?
In regards to processes:
- What processes, procedures, instructions and training manuals already exist?
- Where and how are they stored? Are processes, operating procedures and compliance obligations stored as a single location where they can be viewed in various ways?
- Are they used as part of day-to-day work? Are they updated and used infrequently?
- How efficient is our knowledge management system?
- What induction programs do we have in place?
- Where are the gaps: what knowledge needs to be captured? What information is missing? What training program needs to be developed?
2. Engage the workforce
Most retiring employees really care about the job they have devoted a good part of their lives to. Involving them in your organisation’s knowledge transfer process will not only help create cohesion and support for your strategy, but also demonstrate their value and allow them to leave a lasting legacy.
The emerging leaders who will step into your retirees’ roles should be engaged early on and be shown the importance of the transfer of knowledge to their success. They should be given adequate tools and support to best motivate and prepare them for their future roles.
An internal mentoring program that matches mature employees with their successors will help create unity, teamwork and pride in the organisation as well as fast forwarding the transfer of knowledge and skills.
3. Capture the brains trust
Capturing your organisation’s knowledge can be as simple as writing procedures and training modules that relate to specific tasks or generic company induction. The retiring workforce should be interviewed to help identify the exact knowledge and skills required to perform their duty and the ones that need to be passed onto new employees. In addition to capturing process steps, their relationships to other roles, process and regulations should also be recorded.
It is also important to keep an eye on opportunities to improve current learning and training processes. The improvement ideas of your experienced mature workforce should be captured before they leave your organisation. Individual interviews, focus groups, surveys and intranet discussion forums can be great tools to help you identify and capture those thoughts.
4. Choose the right knowledge management system
The success of your knowledge transfer will depend highly on the system your organisation uses to store its intellectual capital. Traditional silo approaches like document repositories or portals can store and present information, but they can't manage it. This results in highly redundant, unreliable, out-of-date, expensive-to-maintain information.
Employees need to be able to easily access the relevant, current and complete knowledge in a form that is intuitive, timely and in the context of their responsibilities. The information should be stored in a single location where it can be re-used, managed centrally and disseminated in role-specific formats (from line workers to the CEO).
5. Perform ongoing updates
Roles, knowledge and skills continuously evolve within an organisation. It is therefore important to ensure the information in your knowledge management system is kept up-to-date and reflects improvements and changes within the business. It is also important the linkages between processes, regulations and policies are clear to ensure improvements are compliant. Employees should be given a point of contact to liaise with when they notice inaccuracies or opportunities for improvement. The creation of new roles should also lead to a revision of your system and whether new procedures need to be developed.
An adequate knowledge management strategy which follows these steps will improve sharing of your employees’ skills and knowledge and give you a strong foundation to forge through future workforce transitions.
More by Bruce Nixon
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About the author
Bruce Nixon is the CEO of Holocentric, a business management systems provider. As CEO, Bruce is consistently encouraging the building and delivery of solutions that are better aligned to customer needs and that provide more strategic value. Holocentric’s Modelpedia software helps organisations to operationalise strategy, manage business transformations and achieve operational excellence, by providing a business management system that helps capture, understand, change and optimise their business – from strategy, people, processes and procedures to compliance obligations. Holocentric software stores information in a single location and makes it accessible, easily understood and personalised to suit the needs of each user.