Is Knowledge Loss a Risk for Your Company?

Baby Boomers witnessed the most rapid evolution of technology in history, but they are now approaching their hard-earned retirement age. Those born between 1946 and 1964 number just under 75 million in the United States, and about 10,000 retire each day.

As these employees leave their positions, employers face a huge dilemma: mission-critical knowledge and skills are exiting the workflow. There is limited availability of this knowledge in other positions, and the projects, applications and processes they work on may have very limited documentation. Recruiting new employees and bringing them up to speed requires a hefty investment in focused training, but unfortunately they often lack the intuition that comes with years of experience. As a result, businesses and their customers could suffer significant setbacks and delays.

If you are in a position of leadership, where does this leave you? There are three major things you can do to avoid losing knowledge via retirement:

Conduct a risk assessment

Conduct a thorough knowledge loss risk assessment to identify the positions staffed by SMEs. (You can find a thorough paper on assessing knowledge loss risk here.) As a result, you’ll know where you’re most vulnerable and can act before the knowledge disappears when employees retire.

Consolidate and preserve existing knowledge

Determine a course of action to capture critical knowledge while it is still available. This may include cross-training existing employees, centralizing existing documentation or creating new documentation. It’s good practice to make process manuals, application documentation, and other information accessible to new employees that step up to fill the gap. Interviews, videos and checklists created by the SMEs are also incredibly helpful tools.

Develop an ongoing strategy

Baby boomers will continue to retire in droves over the next 20 years, so your strategy will need to adjust as the job market changes. Invest in enterprise tools and processes that not only counter knowledge loss, but will enable timely and efficient knowledge sharing, too. Continue to monitor and evaluate the knowledge and resources that allow the business to operate efficiently.

For more reading on the importance of preventing knowledge loss, check out Strategies for Preventing a Knowledge-Loss Crisis from MIT Sloan Management Review, or What’s Lost When Experts Retire on the Harvard Business review.

Are you facing knowledge loss in your industry? If so, how are you approaching this challenge? Let us know in your comments below.

Knowledge Loss