How to Retain Organizational Knowledge Before It’s Too Late

By 2025, nearly one-fourth of the United States’ population will be 60 years of age or older. Baby Boomers are passing into retirement and they’re taken decades of knowledge with them, most of which isn’t written down or stored in a computer.

Organizational knowledge is all the useful, undocumented information known by a company’s employees. This knowledge was gain by trial-and-error, learning from mistakes and hands-on experiences. It includes better and more efficient ways of doing things. Employers must do everything they can to retain any organization knowledge that will be lost as their oldest employees start retiring.

Knowing the value of this knowledge

Most company leaders don’t get into the finer details on the front-line of their company, and so they may not fully comprehend the wealth of organizational knowledge that provides a real competitive advantage. Business operations, best practices and proprietary information locked in organizational knowledge can be a major differentiator from other companies in the same industry.

Organizational knowledge also helps new hires. When useful organizational knowledge is lost, new staff members are less able to fully replace a departed employee. Moreover, some industries have become so specialized that businesses in those industries are dependent upon hyper-specific abilities, which often have a basis in organizational knowledge.

Identify Knowledge holders

To retain organizational knowledge, company leaders should start by identifying employees that may hold a significant amount of it. Usually, the most experienced employees are the first ones that need to be approached. These employees are also likely to be the ones nearest to retirement, and they may be more prone to share their knowledge. Some people keep trade secrets because they think it makes them more valuable than their peer, but those on their way out may feel less pressure to hold onto this perceived advantage.

When confronted with pushback over divulging valuable information, managers should be forthcoming and play to the ego of these workers; telling them nobody can do the job as well as them. It is important to reassure these employees that they won’t be giving up their job security and the company must prepare for when they decide to leave.

If it turns out they are cutting corners, these employees shouldn’t be reprimanded. Instead, company leaders should reevaluate job procedures. If the corner-cutting actions don’t affect quality or safety, the employee may have discovered a better technique.

(Digitally) Document everything

Once organizational knowledge has been captured from employees, it should be documented digitally, so the process doesn’t have to be repeated with the next round of retirees. As soon as the knowledge has been digitized, it should be shared across this company to engage staff members, encourage collaboration, and grow organizational knowledge. In fact, the sharing of newly-documented knowledge could lead to a stronger, more collaborative business culture, which can help attract more talent to your organization.

At LTI, we support our clients’ human resources initiatives, including those designed to retain organizational knowledge. If you’re currently looking for a supportive staffing partner, please contact us today.