One of the greatest challenges facing employers is how to retain all of that expertise when employees leave.
We’ve all been witness to that person or group of people who, regardless of the situation, are suddenly no longer a part of the organization.
Whether the exodus is ultimately deemed positive or negative for the organization, the fact is employees take with them a substantial amount of work, business customers/clients, and operational knowledge that can be difficult to replace or duplicate.
Let’s look at a few ways of retaining corporate/organizational knowledge when an employee decides to move on to another opportunity.
1. Document processes and procedures
From the very beginning, an employee should have a clear and concise job description that is familiar to both their manager and human resources. The job description and corporate procedures should make clear the role and responsibilities associated with the position, and those responsibilities should be understood among all parties.
This ensures a good starting point for the employee. Moving forward, regular assessments, manager appraisals and yearly performance indicators can only help the employee in terms of capturing knowledge. Further, a matrix of responsibilities can successfully encompass all of the varying degrees to which a person must perform their specific job.
One of the ways that employees can document their specific job-related duties is to write training documents. This will help both the potential successor and the rest of the team in understanding the role and overall duties.
A binder is a basic way of capturing all of the day-to-day requirements in performing a job successfully. While a good start, my guess is that more often than not these documents would remain in that binder sitting on a shelf somewhere.
A somewhat more progressive tactic would be for the employee to create a “day in the life” video of the specific job. This would show a successor exactly what is expected of them during a typical day on the job. The video should be made soon after the employee has been there long enough to have full knowledge of the job.
An employee who is ready to leave may not remember everything he has done in the job. Also, a disgruntled employee could refuse or sabotage this type of undertaking.
2. Cross-train your team members
Employees get sick, go on vacation or leave for other opportunities. Does this mean that the department or company ceases to produce? Of course not.
Ensuring that members of the team can step into another role at any given time is critical to preventing gaps in knowledge. When implementing a cross-training period, it’s important to provide plenty of time for people to train effectively. It’s during this time that everyone on the team will be learning their team member’s roles and overall picture and be able to step in and properly perform the job.
One of the most effective ways to accomplish this task is to have people shadow each other. This ensures the person accepting the knowledge is just as knowledgeable as the one passing it on. It’s also just as important to hold people accountable, and the best way to do this is to test employees while a key member of the team is away.
If the employee is able to successfully perform the co-worker’s duties without any input from the absent person, then you have success. Team members should also be encouraged to provide feedback so that efforts may continuously be improved. An incentive for this program could also be a promotion for the employee stepping into a departing person’s position.
3. Create a mentor program
Because the informal knowledge transfer in a one-on-one affiliation can be so palpable, it is important to have a mentor program. Mentoring is an effective way to organize, create, capture, and distribute knowledge. This mutually beneficial relationship provides a baseline of knowledge for the company/mentor while simultaneously fueling succession planning for the mentee.
Since the learning curve with a program of this nature can be dramatically shortened, it can be considered a win/win for companies looking to retain knowledge with the least amount of distraction.
Implementing the above documentation methods, combined with a robust cross-training and mentor program, is a good start in retaining employee corporate knowledge. This should, at the same time, be accompanied by a repository of documents accessible to all authorized parties to add additional information.
However, only an administrator should be able to make any information changes deemed acceptable. An online database – that can be accessed anytime, anywhere – is even more desirable and powerful than hardcopies which contain employee documents and procedures. This can only help employees do a better job in their roles and in training new employees to pick up from where the departed employee left off.