How to Hold on to Critical Knowledge When Employees Leave
If you do a good job as a leader, the people you mentor will eventually outgrow their original roles. Some will rise within their departments; others will go on to lead new teams. Many will go on to work for other businesses.
Whatever their reasons, people don’t stay still for long. On average, workers change jobs once every four years
. With unemployment rates skyrocketing and budgets tighter than they've been in decades, businesses must act now to avoid the devastating consequences of sudden knowledge loss. Losing workers is bad enough, but losing knowledge can lead to even greater problems over time.
Your knowledge management
strategy determines whether your company can survive the loss of key employees. Businesses that plan for the inevitable make smooth transitions, while others scramble after every change.
Don’t imagine your team members are too loyal to leave or too happy in their current positions to demand advancement. People and situations change. The administrative assistant who keeps things running like clockwork may decide to return to school. Your best salesperson may decide to open a craft brewery. Your brilliant HR manager may apply for that open position in your marketing department.
When life happens, you can either lean on your processes to mitigate the disruption or let chaos and confusion put your profits at risk. Help insulate your company from the dangers of knowledge loss by establishing best practices ahead of time.
Conduct longer, more thorough exit interviews.
Just as people change over time, so do their work roles. Someone who was onboarded as a customer service representative may have become the development team’s go-to person for FAQ content over the years. The people who work with that person might recognize her valuable contributions, but you won’t know unless you ask.
When employees leave, don’t just wish them well and set an end date. Take some time to have them walk through their daily work with their managers and show off all the projects they’ve completed. Not only does this process help employees take inventory of their accomplishments, but it also lets leaders see and appreciate more of the work that happens between the lines — and protect it.
Form mentorship arrangements to train and cross-train workers.
When longtime employees make the big jump to VP, retire, or take on a new challenge, they take all their little tricks, processes, and problem-solving approaches with them. You can’t replace years of experience, but you can ensure that you retain as much knowledge as possible by setting up mentorship chains. As you establish a culture that values mentorship
, you can strengthen bonds between workers, improving communication and facilitating the transfer of knowledge that might otherwise go undiscovered.
Use mentorship arrangements as opportunities for cross-training. Encourage frontline reps to spend some time shadowing programmers to get a greater appreciation for the challenges of the back end. Similarly, have coders spend some time with people who take customer calls to learn more about the real problems customers face. When everyone knows a bit of everything, the whole company benefits.
Develop an updated map of responsibilities.
Your org chart tells you who holds which titles, but does it tell you what those titles mean? Without an updated map of which responsibilities go with which roles, you may not realize what knowledge you’ve lost after a departure until the damage is done.
Take sales and marketing, for example. These two teams share several goals, tools, and contacts. In some organizations, the sales team might handle duties that other companies assign to the marketing team. If your director of marketing leaves and you bring in an outside replacement, the new director may not expect to own certain vendor relationships or performance metrics.
Avoid this situation by regularly updating and documenting the responsibilities for every role in your organization.
Identify and develop successors before you need them.
Great employees find ways to push their careers forward. You can either facilitate that growth or lose your best and brightest to headhunters and competitors.
Teach workers to identify one person who would take over their duties should they become unable to complete them. Managers should know which of their team members — or if not a team member, a colleague — would be the best short-term replacement if circumstances demanded it.
Even people committed to the company for the long haul may spend long periods of time away from work. Serious medical issues or family troubles can prevent workers from performing their regular duties. Groomed successors can step in to help with short-term needs, and if someone leaves unexpectedly, a trained successor makes an ideal candidate to fill the open position.
Never let your desire to hold on to knowledge prevent you from investing in the growth of your employees. Some will leave, but others will stay to shape the future of your company. Continue to invest in the development of your teams — and in the bonds between them — to mitigate knowledge loss during transitions.
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