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Prevent organizational knowledge loss in 5 easy steps

We’ve all had that employee. You know, the one we rely on because they have the breadth and depth of knowledge to just get it done, whatever it is. From leading projects and optimizing processes to negotiating with stakeholders or onboarding new team members, they are absolutely key to the business’s day-to-day success. Even critical.

But these organizational secret weapons can also be your Achilles heel. They get sick, take a vacation, or worse, move on, and nobody quite knows how to fill the gaps left by their absence. It’s a problem – one with very real monetary consequences.

Ordinary employee churn is costly enough. In fact, Josh Bersin of Deloitte cites several studies that estimate the cost of losing a single employee to be roughly twice their yearly salary.That number grows exponentially when you lose a superstar. In fact, the costs of expert knowledge loss can balloon up to twenty times typical recruitment costs, says Harvard Business Review.

Those are potentially devastating numbers. But there are some obvious, and maybe less obvious, ways to protect your business:

1. Documentation – We get it. Putting processes and procedures into writing takes time and isn’t glamorous. But it is necessary. Simplify your organization’s approach by focusing on a minimum viable set of foundational documents that need to be maintained. Make updates a universal requirement of employee objectives in order to ensure accuracy and relevance. And more importantly, make these documents accessible from a single location – and ensure everyone knows where to find them.

2. Employee pairing – Avoid knowledge hoarding and other pitfalls of specialization by assigning employees to share responsibilities. For software development, this could be pair programing. For other roles, it could mean having a lead plus a backup on critical projects. At minimum, it’s a good idea for everyone to have a sick-day “buddy.” Winter is the perfect time of year to buddy up, with a lot of people hit by colds and flu. But year-round, a sick-day buddy serves as your organizational best friend who can cover key projects when needed, and vice versa.

3. Required vacation – We’ve all worked with heroes who haven’t taken a vacation day in the last 10 years. But why haven’t they? No one loves working that much, and let’s face it, sometimes you need to walk away to see the forest for the trees. If your company offers paid vacation leave, employees should be taking it. Insist that they take time off, even it’s one day at a time. If you have to, “assign” them attendance at a retreat or a course of their choosing. Whatever it takes to help these individuals unplug and step away from the work.

4. Succession plans – One of the best ways to prevent brain drain in your organization is to take time during the annual review process to ensure that all employees have career succession plans. Plans should provide knowledge-transfer opportunities and growth strategies for high-potential employees while enabling more flexibility and new opportunities for existing leaders. The approach works best when designated successors have clear stretch deliverables for which they’re accountable all year. This keeps both parties engaged in the succession while ensuring plenty of hands-on information sharing.

5. Contractors – Relying on contractors in IT is a time-honored tradition. We’ve all experienced the pendulum swing of headcount reductions that free up a pocket of budget and enable one or two things to get done by hiring temporary contractors. But the knowledge-loss cost can be high. An organization’s greatest asset still resides with its experts. Contractors provide the greatest benefit in support and back-up roles, or in positions where they can provide specific subject matter expertise. Ensure contractor responsibilities include the transfer of valuable skills to permanent employees to minimize your organizational knowledge gaps over the long-term.

Expert knowledge and innovation drive organizational performance, yet people are more mobile than ever. The time when employees stayed with one company for a decade or more is over. Don’t let the knowledge lost when they move on cripple your business. At cShell Consulting, we have a tried-and-tested framework for helping organizations become more successful at retaining knowledge and accelerating results. Let us help you make your organization stronger.

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