Stop your Knowledge Walking out the Door

By Julie Begbie, Chief Facilitator, Coherent Solutions

Strategies for effective knowledge transfer for associations

We are at a point in time in our workplace environments where staff transitions are frequent and increasing. Boomers are retiring. Millennials expect to transition jobs every few years. Add to that the regular cycles of maternity, and more and more frequently, paternity leaves. This last especially true in the non-profit world where our workforce has a higher proportion of female staff (see:

And so, if we get around to it, which hopefully we do, we generate (or talk about) succession plans and try to foster mentoring programs.

And yet….

When the day comes – and you know it will – when one of your core staff members, one of those people you wish you could clone, walks into your office, closes the door, sits down and says “I have something I need to tell you… (Insert exciting life opportunity for them that means they are leaving you, here)”.  You will react appropriately, congratulating them on their opportunity/life development – maybe see if there’s a way to keep them, but I wager that underneath your smile will be a sinking feeling of dread, maybe even panic.

How is it that with all our digital strategies, technology tools and succession plans, staff transitions – predictable as they are – still stop us in our tracks? What are we missing?

Of course, some of it is simply because despite all these tools and plans, the people who work at our organizations are its heart and soul. Losing core staff is a loss, especially for smaller organizations. It is sad and difficult and frustrating.

But it need not make your organization vulnerable. Yet despite abundant tools, we still struggle to effectively harness knowledge, so we leave ourselves vulnerable to losing much of transitioning staff members’ insights and learning.

So how do we keep their knowledge? And what do we mean when we talk about knowledge?

Explicit knowledge: These are the documented practices of your organization; its policies, procedures, templates and forms.

How to harness it? Make it accessible and reliable.

  • How do are your staff trained in their work? Are the resources available to them reliable and up to date, or are they given a dusty binder to peruse?
  • When you put new processes or policies into place, how do you make sure they will be shared with employees currently on leave and that old practices withdrawn from access?
  • How do you add context to internal documents? Are staff simply expected to hunt and peck through shared drives?
  • Are you effectively using your existing technology as a knowledge sharing vehicle?

Implicit Knowledge: This is the stuff that hasn’t been written down, but could be articulated as the set of tasks, rules of thumb and techniques associated with the functions in your organization.

How to harness it? Foster a Knowledge Sharing Culture to help your staff learn from each other.

  • Take the time to reflect on challenging problems your team has solved – probe key players about how the resolution was achieved and challenge them to think about what they’ve learned that can help in a future similar situation
  • Integrate Best Practices and Rules of Thumb into your documented knowledge

Tacit Knowledge:  This is the deep, sometimes unconscious, know-how of experts within your team, if you ask them how they knew how to solve a certain problem they might shrug and tell you they ‘just know’ or trusted their instincts or gut.

How to harness it? Guide your experts in the art of teasing out their Deep Smarts.

  • Develop a mentoring program if you don’t already have one
  • Take the time to understand what your team members do
  • Probe your transitioning – or possibly transitioning, experts on areas within their roles where they use judgment, risk assessment or interpersonal skills that you want to pass on.
  • Encourage story-telling. Stories are excellent vehicles for transferring knowledge
  • Beef up your exit-interview – ask better questions that will empower successors to make better decisions and absorb some of the departing staff’s tacit knowledge

You may not be able to clone that amazing staff member, but with the right strategies, you can mitigate their loss.

Julie Begbie is one of our Presenters during the Big Picture Talks on Friday morning, July 21. She will give our participants the opportunity to learn more about knowledge transfer within their associations during two Deeper Dives that will follow her talk.

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