Preserving expertise: Knowledge retention and transfer when employees leave

Every day, HR professionals face the challenge of employees leaving for various reasons such as new opportunities, parental leave, illness, or retirement. While these transitions are inevitable, the knowledge that goes out the door with the departing employee can have a significant impact on the company. It begs the question: what is the cost of this lost knowledge, and how can organizations successfully transfer knowledge?

Let's rewind to February 2006 when a devastating incident occurred at the Prudhoe Bay oil platform. Corrosion in a pipeline led to the leakage of nearly 900,000 liters of oil into the ocean. Unfortunately, the responsible company, BP, only discovered the leak five days later. The subsequent repairs resulted in a halt in oil delivery, causing fuel shortages at gas stations across America. The incident caught the attention of the US Congress, who demanded an explanation. The reason behind the catastrophe was shocking: a qualified employee with specialized knowledge had left the company, and due to other priorities, was not replaced. This knowledge gap resulted in millions of dollars in damages. This oil crisis serves as a stark reminder of the high costs associated with a lack of knowledge management.

Even small knowledge leaks slow down operations

Recent research conducted by Haufe Lexware has shed light on the issue of knowledge transfer within organizations. Shockingly, the study found that more than a third of businesses are failing to effectively collect and share specialized knowledge, resulting in its loss. This is particularly problematic during periods of high employee turnover, as it can lead to significant setbacks for businesses. It is clear that organizations need to prioritize knowledge transfer in order to avoid these detrimental effects.

Identifying and comprehending the knowledge possessed by employees can be a daunting task for HR professionals. While explicit knowledge, such as file locations or cost center names, can be easily documented, implicit knowledge, which includes experience and context, can be more challenging to capture. Implicit knowledge involves personal relationships and requires a delicate art of transferring within organizations. To conquer this obstacle, knowledge managers should pinpoint key positions and the knowledge they hold. This proactive approach enables companies to determine the necessary skills for future success. To effectively preserve knowledge within an organization, three essential tools should be employed:

1. Employing strategic succession planning and phased retirement strategies for key positions to preserve valuable implicit knowledge.

2. Implementing employee engagement strategies to reduce employee turnover and foster a sense of loyalty, thereby preserving valuable knowledge within the organization.

3. Deploying a comprehensive knowledge management platform that fosters seamless knowledge sharing, consolidates information, and guarantees effortless accessibility. The procedures for gathering, refining, and retrieving knowledge should be straightforward and transparent.

Knowledge motivates

It is essential to recognize that knowledge not only enhances productivity but also serves as a powerful motivator for employees. According to the Haufe Lexware survey, nearly half of the participants expressed frustration when knowledge is not readily available or difficult to access. Additionally, one-third of the respondents felt demoralized when existing knowledge within the organization is not effectively communicated. These findings underline the sense of responsibility individuals feel towards effectively operating a knowledge management system, with 82% of respondents acknowledging their role in this endeavor. By implementing an efficient knowledge management system, organizations can easily archive explicit knowledge, saving valuable time during onboarding processes and ultimately increasing productivity. Furthermore, such a system enables strategic planning and acts as a safeguard against costly mistakes.

As highlighted by Haufe Lexware, knowledge transfer should be a top priority for human resource professionals. They should focus on the following aspects to ensure effective knowledge transfer within organizations:

1. Employee development (95%)

2. Process efficiency (91%)

3. Succession planning (88%)

4. Knowledge management (82%)

5. Employer branding (66%)

Knowledge loss due to demographic shift

The approaching demographic change brings about a substantial risk for organizations as they face the potential loss of valuable knowledge. As emphasized in David Delong's book "Lost Knowledge," approximately half of the workforce with over 25 years of experience is expected to retire in the near future. This transition affects every industry, underscoring the urgency for businesses to take swift action and implement strategies such as succession planning, employee engagement, and knowledge management. By doing so, organizations can minimize disruptions and costly errors, ensuring smooth operations and ultimately saving resources.

Serviceware Knowledge offers a comprehensive and efficient knowledge management solution that empowers employees and ensures easy access to the information they need. With seamless integration with existing software and IT systems, Serviceware Knowledge streamlines implementation and creates a centralized repository for all company knowledge, including documents and graphics. The suggestion feature allows for collaboration and continuous improvement of knowledge, while editors can review and approve content for specific target groups, facilitating effective communication. Whether it's field service employees or external sales staff, SABIO's browser-based app provides access to information anytime, anywhere, delivering exceptional customer service.

Regardless of the size of the company, Serviceware Knowledge enables the cataloging and availability of each employee's knowledge, whether it resides in their minds, emails, or disk drives. By regularly cataloging knowledge, organizations can minimize costly mistakes that may arise from knowledge gaps during employee successions. While the increase in efficiency may not be immediately visible on the balance sheet, effective knowledge management provides a significant competitive advantage.

To safeguard against knowledge loss in your organization, it's crucial to proactively implement preventive measures. Test Serviceware Knowledge free for 30 days.

Hendrik Buske

Written by Hendrik Buske

For Hendrik Buske, Customer Service Management is not only a job, it is his passion. For years he has supported and transformed the customer experience management and cusomter service strategies in leading service organizations. It comes as no surprise that he - trained industrial engineer that he is - sooner or later found his way into the field of Customer Service Management in the software industry. At Serviceware, he deploys his knowledge and vigor to support strategic developments for Customer Service Management products.

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