Businessweek Archives

Knowledge Transfer


With the new generation of Millennials showing up at work, there is—as expected—a lot of buzz. Actually, we are thrilled that leaders are even aware of a new generation showing up and willing to explore how this will impact the workplace. After all, when Xers showed up, everyone just assumed they would act, think, and behave just like the Boomers.

While we applaud those who are welcoming the Millennials, we also caution that we shouldn’t take our eyes off of the generations getting ready to depart—the Traditionalists and older Boomers. We are seeing too many situations where organizations are focusing solely on bodies or boxes on an organizational chart when it comes to succession planning. For example, they see ten colleagues ready to retire, so they immediately concentrate on finding ten new recruits. We’ve talked about how different these new recruits are and all the changes that need to be made to attract and accommodate these new employees, but too few are talking about what’s walking out the door—key knowledge and institutional wisdom!

Lack of knowledge transfer from a retiring generation to the younger generations will be a major issue haunting companies in the coming years. When retirees walk out the door, so does a lot of client knowledge, industry perspective, and history that new recruits need to know. One thing is for sure, companies don’t have enough time or money to get it back once it’s gone.

From identifying key knowledge holders to updating documentation processes, this will take time, and the time to start is not when a retiree is cleaning out their desk and heading to the elevator. The best place to begin is by starting the dialogues. Talk to those eligible to retire and if nothing else, ask them what they are worried about once they are gone.

It’s sad that in our focus groups about generation gaps, we hear many retirees say they don’t feel others are interested in what they know and have acquired over the years. One can only imagine (or start imagining) the benefit to the company of asking and showing an interest. And there is an added bonus: showing much deserved respect to those who have worked so hard to leave behind a valuable legacy.

What are you doing to make sure you are capturing key knowledge before it’s gone?


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