This article focuses on the knowledge and experience that is walking out the door as our seasoned employees retire and how to make the turnover of employees as painless as possible using Knowledge Management (KM).
If your agency is like most government agencies, you will find there is a high percentage of employees that are eligible or will soon be eligible to retire. That is a problem because a lot of the tacit knowledge (what they have in their heads) will walk out the door with them. The challenge is to turn the tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge (knowledge that is stored and retrievable) and preserve it for the next generation of experts. KM can help you and your organization prepare for the Silver Tsunami.
Frequently we take the tacit knowledge and experience of our workforce for granted. Google and other search engines have made us complacent about the transfer of knowledge. Don’t know how to replace the roller bearing in your dryer? Google it. It is true you can find information on almost anything on the internet, but not everything. There are key relationships and processes that are not written down or stored in the cloud. The proper application of KM can help smooth the transition of new employees and avoid the need to re-invent a process every few years.
One of the best ways I have found to transfer tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge is the deliberate and mandatory use of continuity books. Each continuity book will be different. I have found it is best to start with a welcome letter and table of contents. The subject matter experts (SME) need to ask themselves, what would I need to know to do my job if I were new to the organization?
Usually, a duty descriptions and organization chart are useful to figure out what the job entails and where the position falls in the organization. A schedule of reoccurring events/meetings can help the new person set up their calendar. I always include organization-specific acronyms because I find that the same acronyms frequently mean different things to different people. Points of contact vertically and horizontally across the organization are one of those things that are impossible to Google. These are the people that enable the person to accomplish their job and usually the point of contacts (POCs) that can provide expertise advice if additional help is required. Every continuity book needs to contain current points of contact.
There are many other things that can go into continuity books such as mandatory training, inventories, budgets, how to staff documents or request leave, teleconference numbers and security codes. The list is almost endless. Keeping in mind you need to make these books easy and simple to follow or they will not be used or kept up to date. My continuity book is a three-ring binder that sits on my desk. My subject matter experts store their continuity books in the cloud. I make it a point to review their continuity books annually and update my continuity book on a regular and reoccurring basis.
In conclusion, KM is a disciplined approach to identifying, capturing, evaluating, retrieving and sharing an enterprise’s information assets. KM is crucial to your agency surviving the Silver Tsunami. Continuity books help capture the policies, procedures and experience of individual employees. Continuity books are not the only way to prepare for the coming exodus of our most experienced and seasoned employees, but it is a good start that may make the difference between weathering the Tsunami or drowning.
Stewart Fearon is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.