How to Retain Client Knowledge When Losing an Employee

A key leader in your organization announced his retirement. Now what? How does your organization handle the reality that it will be losing a seasoned professional with decades of experience and intellectual capital? Who will fill his shoes and who does that knowledge get passed on?

This scenario is common, yet many companies get caught “off-guard.” This type of company change event can pose a significant risk. Whether it’s a retirement, resignation or termination, the best way to mitigate the loss of the intellectual capital is to have a plan in place. Being proactive better protects your organization, makes for a smoother transition and mitigates the loss of intellectual capital.

Here is a 5-step plan to transfer knowledge and protect intellectual capital:

  1. Always focus on the future – Employers should consistently be thinking about what their departments/company will need in the future to ensure success. Create a succession plan that specifies individuals who will be responsible for taking over positions, duties, departments and other tasks.
  2. Use the mentor/coaching system to transfer knowledge – Whether a resignation is expected due to retirement – or is unexpected – mentoring should be encouraged so that others in the workplace receive the proper development that is only obtained when an exchange of ideas takes place. Each discussion a mentor has with his/her mentee is an opportunity to provide education, knowledge and insight. The exchange of information is vital to your organization so that knowledge continues to be passed on after key individuals leave. Mentoring is also an excellent retention tool for your current employees. Studies show that employees who feel someone in their organization cares about them stay longer.
  3. Conduct an assessment of your current staff – Who in your organization is demonstrating the skill and desire to move into a leadership role? What are the gaps in knowledge and experience that need to be addressed? Do you have key employees on a clear path that will develop them as your new leaders? Once you have identified your next set of leaders, spend time and resources to improve their skills, experience and education. Provide development opportunities far in advance of any planned retirements of key employees to ensure there is plenty of time for new expertise to be developed.
  4. Support and encourage diversity of thought – When a thought leader leaves an organization, it is almost impossible to hire another individual who will do things the exact same way. Encourage new leadership to think differently and accept the fact that they may have different skills, experience and ideas. Through accepting diversity of thought, you may discover the new leadership is stronger in areas that former leadership was lacking. In addition, accept that new leadership may be weaker in some areas – remember to focus on strengths.
  5. Hire the right replacements – Sometimes you will find that the talent needed to replace a key employee is not available in your current staff. This requires you to hire new employees with the proper education, knowledge, skills and experience. Once on board, invest in training new employees so they are prepared to make an impact from the beginning. Training programs for employees not only ensures they are better equipped to meet the needs of the organization, but also demonstrates the company’s commitment to its staff.

Executive leaders at companies that have had key employees retire or leave their organization can tell you how important it is to have a formal succession plan in place well in advance of any losses. Act now to create a plan that identifies the long-term goals for the company. Assessing, developing and mentoring your next group of leaders now will prevent you from being taken by surprise when you face a significant loss in leadership.