Passing Knowledge to the Next Generation

Today, an important concern facing many organizations, especially as “baby boomers” approach retirement, is the loss of knowledge. As employees, who may have been doing their job for many years, leave companies, they take with them knowledge which is critical to the performance of their job. Often, these team members have what is referred to as tacit knowledge --  a form of knowledge which is more elusive, often unique to individuals, and not documented. It is knowledge which is gained by experience.

It is crucial to implement good knowledge transfer - or continuity - practices in order to retain important knowledge. Knowledge transfer is the process of identifying, capturing, and transferring tacit knowledge which is critical to job performance. This type of knowledge is often operation specific, or concerning the reliability of systems, or how to perform a job safely.

Assess the Risk
The first important step in implementing good knowledge transfer practices is to assess the risk of knowledge loss. Several important points to consider when assessing the risk of losing tacit knowledge:
 

  • How will the loss of personal, undocumented, operational knowledge affect productivity, teamwork, and operational safety, reliability, and efficiency?
  • In which ways can the risks associated with the loss of critical knowledge be mitigated within the organization?
  • How can the organization create and foster a culture in which knowledge is continuously retained and transferred?

Obtain Management Buy-in
Once these areas have been considered, and the risks of losing knowledge have been assessed, use this information to obtain management buy-in, another element which is critical to the success of any knowledge management program. If those in leadership within an organization are aware of the risks associated with losing this tacit knowledge, they will be more likely to agree to provide the resources needed to implement good knowledge management practices, ensuring the retention of information, and increasing productivity within the organization.

Implement a Plan
Upon obtaining leadership buy-in for the establishment of good knowledge transfer practices, formulate a plan to address the specific needs of your organization. In the next post, we will discuss some of the steps which can be taken in order to more successfully retain and transfer knowledge, and what can be done to preserve critical knowledge.