Capturing Boomers’ Knowledge Before They Leave the Agency

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This topic contains 16 replies, has 13 voices, and was last updated by  Henry Brown 9 years, 11 months ago.

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  • #103554

    Dan Gephart

    Today on cyberFEDS, we debuted our HR Technology tab, which includes a new monthly column called Gov 2.0 Guy, written by GovLoop’s own Andrew Krzmarzick. It’s going to be a great column. I love Andy’s column ideas and look forward to reading them. In today’s column, Andy discusses cheap, quick ways to pass Baby Boomers’ knowledge and experience onto the agency’s next generation. His suggestions include having interns interview employees on Flipcams and sharing them via YouTube. He also suggests using Blog Talk Radio.

    How is your agency capturing Boomer knowledge?

  • #103586

    Henry Brown

    The assumption needs to be made that the leadership feels that capturing and sharing Baby Boomers’ knowledge is even a consideration…

    Too often what I have seen is an apparent believe of the “new” leaders that since Baby Boomers’ do things differently there is no need to capture anything.

    Another issue that inhibits the sharing of information/knowledge is a significant percentage of those who are leaving believe that they are being “forced out”

    Fortunately there are exceptions to these opinions/believes and in some of these cases the information/knowledge is shared peer to peer.

  • #103584

    Steve Ressler

    In my experience, there is not a ton done in the space. Perhaps at most a meeting with HR like if you left the job normally (not retiring)…but lots of opportunities to do this way way better.

    I’d make it a requirement of retiring boomers. Spend the last 2 months hosting a series of brown bags, capturing videos, sharing lessons learned.

  • #103582

    Chris Avore

    I’d argue that a series of brown bags or exit interviews don’t do enough–at that point the knowledge transfer is scrubbed, edited, and polished, or lacks the context of when to use such critical experience that others simply don’t have.

    The ability to see, archive, and use what others have worked on is most helpful in the situation in which the problem arises. If you’re already introducing Flipcams and YouTube, you may very well have a culture where people are already used to new social sharing tools.

    Get people to share their work and their files in secure places but in an open environment; if a boomer speaks at a conference, make sure her slides make it onto Slideshare or another similar service, and use the comments/discussions functionality liberally. Perhaps even some non-sensitive work can be shared on other consumer platforms to introduce a sense of comfort and familiarity into the sharing process that can be called upon for more sensitive or secure documentation, processes, or projects later.

    If a retiring boomer has connections with colleagues who you don’t know, ask them to comment or discuss her work as well to begin engaging with that untapped network before it’s too late.

    You’re then capturing that focused knowledge in action, and not asking them to recall what they did months or years after the fact.

  • #103580

    Paul Voltz

    We have undertaken a year long project with a City Hall Fellow ( to capture our institutional knowledge regarding development ordinances in Houston. To research the origins of our ordinances we are interviewing long-time employees, retirees, appointed officials and community stakeholders and collecting audio and video. We recently brought together our five most recent planning directors and will soon gather former chairs of the Houston Planning Commission and other groups. In some cases the interviews can be used as stand alone training, but all are condensed down to a narrative that captures the intent of our regulations. Ultimately, we hope to use this content to build an online, multi-media site where future planners, regulators, appointees and citizens can access this content in a kind of Noah’s Ark of our institutional knowledge.

  • #103578

    Michele Costanza

    It might help if an agency has a knowledge management strategy in place, along with some type of guidance or polices about knowledge capture. Higher level GS job descriptions probably include mentoring or training junior level employees, which would allow them time for the knowledge capture interviews.

    Establishing trust and building a sense of community is essential. How would a Baby Boomer subject matter expert (SME) like the idea of having a Flipcam interview with an intern posted on You Tube? I think it’s a great idea to gather questions that new hires may have of SMEs. Maybe those questions could be posted in an online forum as an FAQ, so that the SMEs valuable time isn’t spent answering the same questions more than once. Blog Talk Radio would be a great format to have “call in” questions for SMEs. Again, I think the SMEs would feel more comfortable and the interviews would be more productive if the questions were vetted.

    Tacit knowledge is not easy for SMEs to verbalize, and often requires a more structured approach with a trained interviewer, such as Critical Decision Method or concept mapping, where a knowledge domain is documented in a concept map.

    What will an agency then do with the captured knowledge? It needs to be disseminated, which may mean a YouTube format. It could also be turned into a knowledge module, such as a case study or simulation, to be used as a learning aid for novices.

  • #103576

    Peter Sperry

    Part of the problem may be that so much of the really valuable knowledge is so politically incorrect the organization cannot officially endorse passing it along. The grizzeled NCO who admonishes a young private that “it is better to be tried by twelve than carried by six” is imparting life saving knowledge; but not the type that DOD can endorse. The same applies to the GS-15 telling the GS-9 “some regulations are enforced more rigeroulsly than others”. And one of my favorites on ethics “If it is worth carrying past the garbege can, you can’t keep it. So smile politely, nod appreciatively, thank profusely and make sure your hosts/visitors don’t notice when you trash it.”

  • #103574

    Michele Costanza

    @Peter: An effective policy would allow the contributor of the valuable knowledge to state that the thoughts and views expressed are solely those of their owner and do not reflect the official views of their agency or employer.

    Another option is to allow for non-attribution, where SMEs are able to share critical knowledge with novices, in a forum where every one agrees not to take notes or record.

  • #103572

    Kendra Mayes

    Michele, I think the strategies you proposed are excellent methods of capturing, storing and sharing information especially the online forums posted as FAQs and the knowledge modules/simulations. I would be very interested to see more information regarding knowledge management with those practices under serious consideration. As I read through some of the other posts, I realize there is much backlash to the idea, but I think “overall” it is necessary and would be welcomed as agencies make these generational transitions. Regardless of the individual grips of some, the entire organization stands to benefit in the long run by capturing their history in an effort not to repeat past deficiencies. Thanks for your insightful post!

  • #103570

    Steve Springer

    A few years ago I had the opportunity to talk with some people from GAO where they’ve set up a program to train senior people to deliver workshops in their specialties. GAO gives each person some real training in how to train plus videos them as they deliver a mock workshop, then provides feedback. This is a great way to transfer knowledge before people retire. Workshops where you can get “war stories” always bring information to life.

  • #103568

    Sterling Whitehead

    Best way — encourage Boomers to blog about their experiences after they retire and train them to blog before they retire. Then keep active links on your intranet to these blogs for your employees to visit.

    This way you don’t rush retirees and have a phased knowledge gathering and management plan.

  • #103566

    Christina Evans

    Interesting idea, Sterling. A couple of questions: will they do this out of the goodness of their hearts, or do you pay them? And how do you guard against their experience becoming stale-dated?

  • #103564

    Scott Span

    I too enjoy Andy’s writing. I also work in the areas of cross generational engagement and communication. With around 586,000 Boomers eligible to retire by 2016 (according to OPM) this knowledge transfer to the next generation of leadership is imperative. Government needs to care. Although due to economic factors not all the majority eligible to retire are going to do so, shifting roles and responsibilities will still occur. The next generation of leaders must be set up for success, and learning the what, how and why from Boomers is a great start.

  • #103562

    Scott O. Konopasek

    My post-modern, deconstronctionist part of me can’t help but see some assumptions underlying the question. First- why is it when the graybeard is leaving that it becomes important to tap into their knowledge base. Why isn’t that knowledge important everyday that the employee is on the job?

    Second, can there be a shortcut to the wisdom gained by years of experience, mistakes and successes? If there is, why would a boomer provide it to a Gen X or Y? Personally, I don’t think there is a shortcut.

    If the knowledge of a boomer has value to an organization after the boomer’s departure and the organization has failed to tap it and develop new talent, then the organization should hire the boomer back as a consultant to share his/her knowledge to deal with specific challenges as they occur.

    There is little value in a generalized transfer of knowledge and my experience is that individual Gen X and Y who will replace the departing boomer think they are smarter anyway and don’t need it.

  • #103560

    Eileen Roark

    My former agency – Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), had zero interest in capturing our knowledge. In fact, what we got was the “here’s your hat, what’s your hurry?” treatment. I actually attended a town hall where the senior managers told us CSRS people to take a hike (retire), because they wanted to bring new (young) hires on board. Gee, I didn’t know we were in the way. In another sneaky tactic, our tool of an office chief sent out an email asking us when we would be eligible to retire. Thinking it was a harmless question I answered it. I did not say I was retiring, I only gave the eligibility date. What a fool I was. They ultimately used the info to marginalize workers close to retirement, within 1-2 years. Move them to a corner cube, give them finger puppets, coloring books & crayons, but not a real job. They especially target females for this treatment. Given this lack of respect for older workers, who would want to stick around?

  • #103558

    Michele Costanza

    Knowledge transfer really is a process that should take place before, during, and after a business activity. It’s not something that should wait until a month before a SME is going to retire. KM best practices should be integrated throughout daily business activities.

    If the knowledge loss is critical and will cause problems in how an agency does business now or in the future, then the knowledge should be captured and transferred for re-use.

  • #103556

    Sterling Whitehead

    I think Boomers will blog during retirement to keep busy and stay connected to friends. Those are far more powerful motivators than simple goodness or money.

    As for preventing stale-dated experienced in Boomers, they simply will have to keep up on literature. Perhaps some will come on as part-time consultants. In the end, the best motivator for keeping up to date is reputation — no Boomer wants to go to the grave being immortalized as an idiot.

    Of course not all Boomers will blog, but enough should like the idea that we’ll get an increase in the acquisition knowledge base for the next generation to pick up on.

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