There are different ways to go about retaining organizational knowledge, and the option you select may depend on the generation you’re dealing with.
A report by SBR Consulting titled “Millennial Generation Today,” which focused on the impact of the economy on recruitment and retention of millennials, found that 70 percent of millennials say there is a possibility they will change jobs once the economy improves. With their possible exit looming, organizations must prepare to retain the knowledge millennials may take with them.
Katrina Pugh, president of AlignConsulting, said given the nature of the knowledge and social ability of millennials, organizations may want to consider something she calls a “knowledge jam” — a group-based, facilitated transfer of knowledge.
“They are more comfortable in groups,” Pugh said, adding that it’s important to use a transparent process. She noted millennials have a heavy lean toward transparency since they’ve grown up with it. “Since the millennials are really into transparency, their comfort level in that group setting is quite high,” Pugh said. “I would still use the knowledge jam but I would also complement it with using social media all around the edges.”
To achieve higher retention of organizational knowledge, Pugh said, companies should conduct knowledge jams on a regular basis, since similar dialogues are likely already happening among their employees.
“You have people getting together and they’re in conversation,” Pugh said. “That’s immensely valuable, but frequently it’s not directed toward a specific outcome or a specific use of the knowledge.”
Knowledge jams are generally planned in advanced. “The topics and the subjects are selected beforehand,” Pugh said. “It is a conversation, meaning that you bring in the people who are going to be applying the knowledge or representatives of them.”
Important topics are prioritized beforehand with the help of a sponsor to help the sessions be brief — generally around 90 minutes.
“There are other ways to do this type of work, where you bring people together in conversation and you facilitate running through of the topics and the dialogue,” Pugh said. “The real emphasis here is that it’s efficient and extremely transparent.”
Hosting these sessions virtually helps keep participants engaged, Pugh said.
“They stay engaged [because they are] attentive to what’s being written. They amplify [and] they correct,” Pugh said, adding that in those sessions participants can see what others are writing down.
Stacey B. Randall, chief consultant and founder of SBR Consulting, disagrees with the notion that millennials need a customized knowledge retention process. She said retaining organizational knowledge from a millennial isn’t different from how an organization would prepare for the departure of anyone else at a company, regardless of age, gender, culture or race.
“I don’t think a company needs to think of it as, ‘We have to have all these special things in place to prepare for millennial departure,’” Randall said. “Your knowledge retention should be the same regardless.”
However, Randall conceded that if a company has a heavy number of millennials working for it, it needs to be aware of the possible impact of their departure, because when they leave, their work still needs to be done.
“There will be movement in the marketplace,” Randall said. “It’s happened. It’s already started. It’s happening now and it will continue.”
Pugh said there are many things companies can do to retain organizational knowledge regardless of generation, such as trying to sway an employee from leaving with a retainment bonus. But once the decision has been made, employees may go through exit interviews or be encouraged to keep in contact via an alumni database.
“We talk about closing the barn door after the horse left,” Pugh said. “But some of the things [you can do] on the more organizational level are more sustaining.”
Organizational knowledge plays a role in succession planning as well. “We have to support the next person in that seat, so we as an organization need to be thoughtful of the knowledge of the individual and the knowledge that is contiguous of the individual,” Pugh said.
An organization may invite a potential successor to take on random tasks required for the position, Pugh said. But even with all this preparation, it’s not possible to completely avoid losing organizational knowledge with an employee’s departure.
“So you’re not going to try to prevent it,” Pugh said. “But one thing that’s going to happen as a consequence of the knowledge jam is that you’re going to end up with these relationships that didn’t exist before. Some of those relationships are going to stay within the company.”
Natalie Morera is an associate editor at Chief Learning Officer magazine. She can be reached at nmorera@CLOmedia.com.