How to protect institutional knowledge when employees leave (Part I)

By Sam Ursu

How to protect institutional knowledge when employees leave (Part I)

When an employee leaves, your company loses a lot more than simply their skills and expertise. Every employee contributes some of what they know to the company, and it is vital to take steps in order to preserve that institutional knowledge.

Below are seven tips on how you can ensure that your employees’ hard-won knowledge stays behind long after they have moved on.

1️⃣ Employ a Mentor/Coaching Program

One of the best ways to ensure that vital institutional knowledge is preserved in a company is by establishing a mentor-mentee or coaching program.

Pairing senior executives and experienced employees with junior staff members and new hires is not just a great way to onboard employees, it also creates deep personal bonds across all levels of your organization. Furthermore, mentoring and coaching programs ensure that the specialized knowledge of your most experienced employees can be directly passed down to the next generation.

2️⃣ Develop a Separation Strategy

Most companies these days have a robust training and onboarding process for new hires but require little from outgoing employees other than filling out a couple of forms down at HR.

A comprehensive separation strategy should seek to make the most out of the separation process, including questionnaires and exit interviews designed to harvest and retain the vital knowledge that outgoing employees possess. While this information could be purely operational or it might be ‘cultural’ knowledge, your most senior and experienced employees often depart the company without any formal system to record and preserve what they’ve learned over the years.

3️⃣ Know What You Know

By the time an employee gives notice that they’re leaving the team, the company should already know what they know and thus take proactive steps to preserve that knowledge.

One of the best methods of protecting institutional knowledge is to develop a process to identify what your current employees know. This could be in the form of operational knowledge (how to perform certain tasks), implicit knowledge (how things work internally in your company), or relationship knowledge (relationships with outside partners, suppliers, and vendors).

Be proactive and start recording all the knowledge that your current employees have and develop procedures by which to evaluate and measure that knowledge. Not only will this make it easier to preserve that knowledge when employees leave the company, it will help you to identify any knowledge gaps amongst your existing workforce.

4️⃣ Perform Knowledge Loss Risk Assessments

No matter how dedicated they are to the company, eventually, every employee is going to leave, one way or another. Therefore, it is essential to perform regular assessments so that you will understand what is at risk when an individual stops working for your company.

Knowledge risk assessments can include information such as position risk (how difficult or lengthy it will be to train someone new to replace the outgoing employee in their position) as well as their attrition risk, or the likelihood that the employee will be retiring or voluntarily leaving the company.

By undertaking a knowledge loss risk assessment on your employees, you will be better positioned to know which kinds of institutional knowledge are in the greatest danger of being lost. This will help your company to better strategize ways of preserving that knowledge in-house.

5️⃣ Maintain a Standalone Knowledge Records Database

Often, the institutional knowledge that employees possess is recorded by a company, but it is spread out across various files and formats, including annual evaluations, HR reviews, and managers’ records.

The best way to protect your company’s institutional knowledge is by storing, maintaining, and operating a standalone knowledge database. This will allow you to keep all your knowledge risk assessments, quantified knowledge data, and separation questionnaires in one place.

Companies with separate knowledge databases that contain procedural knowledge (how to do things), networking and relationship knowledge (outside consultants, partners, and vendors), and institutional knowledge (how things operate in-house) can more easily ensure that this knowledge is protected and passed on when employees retire or separate from the company.

6️⃣ Share Best Practices and Lessons Learned

Preserving vitally important institutional knowledge isn’t just something that you do when an employee separates from the company. One of the best ways to protect institutional knowledge is to have an organized process by which employees can share ‘best practices’ with one another.

Whether it’s once a month, once a year, or as a regular part of the mentoring process, all experienced employees should have a formal method of sharing their ‘lessons learned’ and ‘best practices’ with their fellow employees. Whether this is in a group meeting or during a one-on-one session, every success of the company should be documented and passed on, when possible, to other employees.

7️⃣ Document As You Go

As companies mature, it may become more and more difficult to maintain an institutional awareness of how previous successes were accomplished or what lessons were learned.

One of the easiest ways to preserve vitally important institutional knowledge is to document as much as you can. For instance, recording how an important decision was reached is just as important as documenting the results of that decision. This will help future employees to understand not just the history of the company but how it operates and who was responsible for its most important decisions.

Not every single aspect of your company’s operations can be recorded and documented, of course, but you should have a process in place to record the thoughts, chat messages, text messages, emails, memos, and other records that preserve the history of your company’s most important activities and decisions.

One of the best tools to organize corporate workflows efficiently and to manage projects within your company is DevelopmentAid’s Tenderwell App. Designed to streamline processes by allowing businesses to store, track and manage data efficiently, the app optimizes the way knowledge is stored and facilitates communication within the company. Find out more at Tenderwell.App.