What Will Happen When I’m Gone?

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How to Transfer Knowledge Successfully

The full webinar on this topic is available here.

What do your organization and Drew Barrymore from 50 First Dates have in common? Both can suffer from acute memory loss brought on by lack of knowledge transfer. Institutional knowledge loss is a problem for organizations who get stuck in certain ways of doing things – and then forgetting why they do them that way! While Barrymore had a reliable Adam Sandler to remind her of all the important details every day, your organization may not have the same luxury when someone with key knowledge retires.

Are you confident that you can capture all the important pieces of information that your colleagues possess before they, or you, walk out the door? Even if you or your employees aren’t nearing retirement, it’s still crucial to institute knowledge retainment and transfer procedures to ensure that important information stays intact in your organization.

You may expect to pass on extrinsic knowledge to future employees: the skills required to perform a job, especially complex or unique tasks. But what type of extrinsic knowledge? A successor doesn’t need to hear all the details. In fact, it could be counterproductive as it could overwhelm him or her – or make them feel as if the position does not allow for any personal initiative.

Focus instead on three types of extrinsic knowledge: what is critical for the work, what is relevant for the future, and what is unique (few others know). You can pass on these forms of knowledge through documents that you’ve preserved, by writing manuals, or by enhancing organizational and calendar tools you already use. However, do keep in mind the law of “diminishing returns”: the more work you need to put into developing a manual or training tool, the less likely it will happen!

Intrinsic knowledge is somewhat more important than extrinsic to pass along, but unfortunately can be harder to teach. After all, how can you explain all the experiences, impressions, and creative solutions that you’ve devised over the years? Luckily, there are effective ways to bring that knowledge to successors.

Storytelling is a powerful medium for conveying that intrinsic knowledge. During knowledge transition, one can intersperse more formal training with stories about one’s experiences, conveying a sense of the institution’s ethics, values, and important relationships – while also preparing a successor for job aspects that are unwritten.

Whether you convey this knowledge through stories, collaboration, or employee shadowing, remember that knowledge transfer starts with early preparation – establishing best practices for your institution. Leave plenty of time to transition new employees before your or others’ departure. Provide mentoring programs and performance reviews of your employees to train your staff. A wiki can also be a great method to record and share formal knowledge with current and future employees.

With effective tools in place, a retirement can be an easy transition for the person retiring, for those remaining, and ultimately, for new staff.


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