Leadership Matters
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With the five-generation workforce and waves of Baby Boomers retiring en masse, institutional knowledge transfer is more important than ever.

Most organizations have processes in place when it comes to retirement or turnover. A turnover document, formal manual on how to perform the job, even one-to-one training if the outgoing and incoming employees overlap in tenure can all be very helpful tools. But in recent years, the knowledge transfer conversation has turned toward the intangibles.

Sure, it’s easy to create a list of duties or a step-by-step instruction manual for a new employee. But what about all of the institutional knowledge that is much harder to quantify?

Professionals who are transitioning out of decades-long careers have so much more to share than just the nuts and bolts of the job. Often, there is so much rich knowledge that is never formalized, such as knowledge about people, processes or relationships. This is the sort of thing that doesn’t often make it into a formal turnover document or training manual – but it can be invaluable.

Some experts refer to this type of less explicit knowledge as “tribal knowledge,” as you will read in this month’s cover feature. You’ll also read some key strategies from experts about how to structurally pass along that more esoteric knowledge, and create a tactical plan for transferring it.

Another key consideration when it comes to knowledge transfer is to do more than you think you need. Creating duplication is a failsafe measure in retaining institutional knowledge – because you just never know who may leave the organization, or when.

You don’t necessarily need to train two people on every job, but you do need to plan for the worst, according to Forbes magazine. Cross-training mitigates the very real risk of a key team member walking out the door with critical knowledge, writes Chris Cancialosi.

Even so, many organizations still don’t have an effective plan in place when it comes to knowledge transfer, according to The Conference Board whitepaper, Bridging the Gaps: How to Transfer Knowledge in Today’s Multigenerational Workplace.

I hope this month’s issue will spark some thought and discussion within your team about how to optimize knowledge transfer, and retain those invaluable nuggets of wisdom that are key supports for success. n

Karen Stone, CHRE, is chair of the Human Resources Professionals Association.

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