When it’s time for an employee with a wealth of institutional knowledge to leave the organization, company leaders are faced with a critical task: transferring all that knowledge to other people in the organization as smoothly as possible.
The employee’s technical training, development, experiences and skills represent high value for the company, and just leaving .
Follow these steps to stay focused on getting institutional knowledge where it’s needed.
Create a Plan for Handing Off Information
Chances are you’ve already identified a lot of information that needs to be transferred. Rather than simply passing along the information to the people moving into new positions in the order you collect it, it’s better to take some time to prioritize it to make it easier to understand and absorb.
One of the best ways to determine which of your incumbent’s skills, traits and abilities are critical to success in the position are through stakeholder interviews. These interviews can help determine which bits of information “live” elsewhere and which information is unique to the incumbent. Ask questions such as “if the incumbent were to go on vacation for a week, what kinds of problems would be able to wait until they got back?” The answers can give you an idea of how urgent that knowledge is.
Another question that can help prioritize the knowledge is, “Who else might you go to in the organization to address the problem?” Answers to this question help you determine the rarity of the capability or knowledge that can address the problem. The information may still be important, but if stakeholders know who to go to for that knowledge, the organization has already figured out how to work without the incumbent on that issue.
As you prioritize the knowledge you’ve collected, put the most critical and rare skills at the top. Those are the ones the new leader should work on first.
Don’t Neglect Critical Relationships
Relationships play a huge role in the knowledge-transfer process. While your incumbent certainly has skills and experiences that get results, good leaders have built strong relationships over the years that help support the work they do.
I had one client who was childhood friends with someone who grew up to have a lot of power and influence in material transportation. The client worked in manufacturing, and the relationship with his friend helped get the company out of a jam a number of times when logistical issues cropped up.
It’s relationships like these that can be overlooked in knowledge transfers, but that often hold the greatest potential for loss of knowledge when the incumbent leaves. Weekly lunches with old friends aren’t just a pleasant afternoon diversion — they can be key business relationships that hold high stakes when the parties move on.
Include the Incumbent in the Handoff
Through the transfer of knowledge, the incumbent shouldn’t be passive. They can play a lead role in making introductions and handing off the relationship as well as knowledge.
It’s impossible to build a relationship exactly the way lifelong friends would have, of course, so don’t get too hung up on trying to create as warm a connection with the new people in the positions. Simply schedule an introduction or set up a phone conversation, and have another employee shadow the incumbent in meetings to learn the ropes in certain situations. If meetings with key stakeholders and relationships aren’t possible, have the incumbent document her processes in words, images or video, and establish a mentor relationship between her and the incoming employee to pass on the knowledge.
Check In on the Progress of the Transfer
The knowledge transfer will, at some point, be finished, either by design or necessity. There are several ways to determine when key knowledge has been handed off effectively:
- An assessment finds that the incoming employee has gained the knowledge and skills necessary to take the incumbent’s place. This may take the form of a successful project or tech assessment, for example.
- The incoming employee has completed all the stretch goals established at the beginning of the process.
- All of the critical knowledge has been transferred to the incoming employee, and she has the tools she needs to access it when necessary.
During the knowledge transfer, regularly meet with the incoming employee to assess progress and ensure they’re on track for success. Check in with the new manager’s supervisor as well, to get a gauge of success.