In The News

As boomers retire, don't let institutional knowledge leave with them

Sep 12, 2017

This post was originally published in the Reno Gazette Journal and can be found at this link

 

We all know that veteran employee who has an encyclopedic knowledge of an industry, or has handled so many complex transactions that he can guide you through the process effortlessly.

 

Well, that employee and about 9,999 of his or her cohorts likely are retiring each day. Baby Boomers, who make up 79 million veteran employees across the American workforce, are reaching the age of 65 at a clip of 10,000 per day, according to the Pew Research Center.

 

Many companies now face the prospect that an incredible wealth of institutional knowledge will be exiting their company over the next several years as these Boomers ride off into the proverbial sunset.

 

Losing knowledge might seem like a minor issue in a world awash in information, but organizational experts who have studied companies extensively differentiate distinctly between knowledge and information.

 

Knowledge comes from experience, from years of solving problems and learning the intricacies of that process firsthand. Information is raw facts and data. Information is often most useful in the hands of a knowledgeable and experienced employee who knows how to filter and activate it.

 

So how do companies prepare for the inevitable exodus of their most knowledgeable employees? Here are three ideas that can save you the headache of realizing the value of your company’s institutional knowledge only after it has walked out the door.

 

Encourage intergenerational mentoring

Each generation has a lot it can learn from the other. Baby boomers can pass on their experience, even as millennials and Generation Z employees tap older employees into new technology and innovative ideas. Creating a mentoring program within your company that purposefully mixes up generations that often congregate only with their age groups can make sure institutional knowledge is passed along and new innovations and technologies are more easily adopted.

 

Pairing a baby boomer mentor with a millennial or Gen Z mentee can improve both employees’ engagement and morale, while preserving the company’s precious internal knowledge.

 

Create an advisory council

Some baby boomers might be almost irreplaceable. Their relationships with clients, technical expertise or strategic vision might be virtually one-of-a-kind. In this circumstance, companies should encourage these valuable employees to stay on as advisers who can continue to guide the company or maintain the company’s most important relationships without having to engage in the day-to-day work. This can often quench a boomer’s desire to stay engaged in the industry and company while also giving them the desired freedom of partial retirement. If your company has an irreplaceable employee headed for retirement, ask them to stay on in some capacity, even if it is limited. This advice goes beyond a company’s own employees. If you find retired, eminently qualified baby boomers who still have a desire to be involved, ask them if they want a seat at the advisory table.

 

Identify knowledge gaps and fill them

In some industries, knowledge and experience is absolutely critical. In an often-cited example of how dramatically the Baby Boomer brain drain can impact an organization, Duke Energy’s nuclear division is facing the coming retirement of half of its workforce.

Now, nuclear power plants are clearly not the type of business where you can bring on a new hire, hand them an employee manual and hope they figure it out. Precision, institutional knowledge and technical training are critical. In critical industries like these, job shadowing, training exercises and hands-on mentoring is vital to ensuring the vital functions of a nuclear power plant are handed safely and seamlessly to a new workforce. Engage your veteran employees in designing trainings and exercises that fill every knowledge gap that your company may have.