Ways to retain employee knowledge before it walks out the door

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.


Uganda shows the way in monitoring and transperancy at SWA4A

Uganda showed the way to go with regards to monitoring matters yesterday at the “Sanitation and Water For All” partnership meeting in Johannesburg. Uganda, Liberia and Sierra Leone had taken giant strides to ensure that there were good monitoring systems in the WASH sector as well as transparency.

Uganda had taken the brave step to look at what is happening in its sector, documented results and reflected on what these results meant for the water and sanitation sector in the country.  This gave a true meaning of both monitoring and aid transparency.

Uganda has been publishing a document called the “Country Sector Annual Review” for a number of years now.  The review is powerful, its frank and it highlights progress made in the country without shying away from exposing the challenges faced in sustaining water supply and sanitation infrastructure and investments.  The report is particularly clear on the challenges Uganda faces with tariff collection and financing for operation and maintenance (O&M).  Sanitation still has some way to go before Uganda reaches full coverage.

The report focuses the Ugandan water and sanitation sector keenly on results.  The data is Uganda’s, the ownership of the implications are held by the country and the sector will continue to improve because they are asking hard questions about sustainability and coverage.

Because Uganda and a few other countries are showing what monitoring is about in practice.  Monitoring is about asking hard questions on results and having the courage to rethink your previous decisions and investments based on the analysis of these results. Uganda and these and other countries have a tremendous opportunity to actually improve sector performance because they have invested time and energy to determine what seems to be working in their countries and what aspects of their work and investments need to be reconsidered.  And they will ask these questions over and over again as future monitoring results will guide them, which in time should lead to better results for villages throughout their countries.

Uganda is also showing what transparency is all about.  Its  not fooled by the silliness of the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) and it’s growing list of agencies that seem to think that transparency means throwing meaningless spreadsheet-numbing data onto a web page (filled with equally meaningless data from other agencies) and having donors and bloggers anoint them as truly transparent.

Transparency is not about unanalyzed data puke.  Transparency is about being open, honest and forthright about the results of investments made – it’s about saying that these investments led to these results (good, bad, unclear at this stage…).  Anything less is simply fog!

This in a true sense indicates that Uganda  is not worried if it’s indicators are the same as each other.  Its not worried  on how it’s data fits in with global monitoring frameworks. It’s  under the IATI radar.  It’s simply focused on improving performance so that water flows and people can take a dump in a functioning toilet.  The work is hardly perfect, and challenges of course remain in not only sustaining momentum for monitoring but also in ensuring that future investments in water and sanitation are done in a way that take seriously the lessons highlighted.  Donors, implementing agencies and governments will need to change and adapt in ways they may not be comfortable with in the short- (or long-) term.

But if monitoring advances and  Uganda continues to analyze and show results transparently then changes will most certainly come, as good practices will shine and bad practices will run out of excuses.  And that will be good for people throughout the country.  Exactly what good monitoring and transparency should actually do.