How to Plug the Knowledge Leak Before Baby Boomers Retire
10,000 “baby boomers” retire every day, and with the median retirement age currently 63, “the projected retirement of baby boomers is going to accelerate even faster than previously thought,” according to MintPress.
Capturing collective knowledge before it walks out the door
For the enterprise, the implications of the accelerating boomer retirement wave go far beyond the raw numbers of vacant positions that organizations will have to fill with Gen-Xers, Millennials, and their successors. In fact, the boomer retirement waves threatens to leave many organizations suddenly bereft of vast stores of collective knowledge: the hard-won “skills, judgment, wisdom, transactional history, decision making, strategies, tactics, culture, mission, attitude, and invaluable, irreplaceable organizational resources” learned through a lifetime of experience.
Businesses that hope to maintain their operational efficiency and competitive edge must implement a solution for capturing that collective knowledge and making it accessible to up-and-coming generations. And they must implement that solution before the knowledge walks out the door. If they fail to do so, they stand to suffer a significant loss of productivity, efficiency, and revenue as new hires and newly promoted managers struggle to get up to speed without the benefit of decades on the job.
Mitigating knowledge losses through thoughtful platforms
Mitigating the knowledge losses of the boomer retirement wave is an issue that has been on the minds of many organizations. Some, such as Pacific Gas and Electric Corp. (PG&E), have developed and implemented complicated, long-term, large-scale strategies to plug the knowledge leak. PG&E, which stands to lose “almost half its current workforce of 21,000,” relies on a many-step process:
- Identifying employees nearing retirement
- Lengthy formal risk assessments conducted by departmental managers for each employee
- Individual action plans for employees to transfer or document their knowledge, with actions including “correcting and updating instructional manuals, and creating new ‘knowledge notebooks'”
- Assigning younger workers to work with older employees in formal mentoring programs
- Progress monitoring to track results
Sound like a large investment of time, effort, and money? It is, and it isn’t always the kind of work that supervisors excel at. Kent Lamb, PG&E employee development manager, admits that “What we’re asking supervisors to do is a bit out of their forte.” He recommends that organizations make an additional investment in “experienced knowledge management practitioners to do the heavy lifting.”
Heavy processes aren’t the answer
Such investments, however, aren’t realistic for many organizations. When will already-busy supervisors and employees find the time for all this assessment, mentoring, and content creation? Where will businesses find the extra funds for knowledge management experts? And when all is said and done, will the knowledge legacy thus compiled be in a format that Gen X and Millennial employees will find navigable and convenient to access during the course of their workday? Few workers are going to have the time or inclination to leaf through lengthy instructional tomes or disorganized knowledge notebooks.
In fact, the issue goes far beyond simply collecting boomers’ knowledge before they retire. Boomers and their successors have different approaches to accessing information in the first place. A forty-year veteran of the company may be comfortable calling up the VP of Finance to ask a question, but a younger worker likely won’t be. Younger generations of workers are accustomed to accessing information in a more impersonal fashion: “Just Google it.”
A smarter knowledge network
So how can an organization enable its retiring boomers to leave behind their knowledge legacy in a way that will work for the incoming crowd?
If implemented properly and far enough in advance of a mass retirement event, an enterprise knowledge network provided by Kaleo can mitigate much of the risk of knowledge loss, without a large investment in employee time for content creation. Instead, the Kaleo knowledge network allows questions to arise and be answered in an organic fashion, according to the real knowledge needs of employees, whose questions populate the network with exactly the answers other workers will need down the road. This bridges the gap between the generations, enabling the incoming workforce to access the knowledge inheritance left behind by their predecessors as they work, without disrupting their work.
Will your younger, incoming workforce be able to benefit from the knowledge legacy that their predecessors leave behind? Have you enabled your retiring employees to pass on what they know to as broad an audience as possible?