Feeling the pressure of employee attrition? You’re not alone.
Some 88% of executives agree that they are seeing higher turnover than normal, and industries across the board are experiencing record-high quit rates. From technology – where 38% of employees are looking to change roles – to manufacturing, which faces 2.1 million unfilled jobs by 2030, the Great Resignation isn’t letting up soon.
This widespread attrition is accelerating the loss of institutional knowledge, leaving companies vulnerable to costly inefficiencies in a business climate that demands more resilience and innovation than ever.
In the face of this disruption, how can your company preserve institutional knowledge and minimize the impact of attrition on your organizational intelligence?
What is institutional knowledge?
Institutional knowledge is the collective memory and tribal learning of an organization, encompassing both hard skills such as technical and tool-based capabilities, and soft skills such as customer and colleague relationships. It’s this deep industry and company insight that allows your organization to learn from the past and place innovative bets on the future.
Organizations that don’t prioritize knowledge transfer risk losing the context, trust, and intuition required to craft effective strategy, as well as the tools, tactics, and processes needed to competitively deliver on it. Without a strategic approach to knowledge preservation, you’ll be left to reinvent the wheel as employees leave the organization.
Luckily, there’s a better way.
Change is a natural part of growth. Companies that approach the evolution of their business in a proactive and adaptable way can equip promising new talent with the expertise of veteran employees.
Retaining and sharing institutional knowledge not only makes for better onboarding, greater productivity, and less risk, but also fosters greater transparency and consistency across the organization. This contributes to a more equitable working experience and learning mindset that can reduce attrition.
Let’s explore how.
How to transfer and retain institutional knowledge
The proactive approach: foster a culture of knowledge sharing
Knowledge sharing has far greater value than risk mitigation alone. While many leaders don’t address knowledge transfer until a critical employee announces their departure, building a proactive culture of knowledge sharing fosters trust, collaboration, and innovation across your business.
1. Audit your existing institutional knowledge
Take stock of the most critical roles in each part of your organization. Is this knowledge siloed? How often is it shared? Who would benefit from this information: an individual contributor, a team, a business unit, or the entire organization?
Examine all levels of your business, from strategic leaders who make few, high-quality decisions based on years of experience to more junior-level staff who manage essential everyday tools and processes. By identifying the value and volume of existing institutional knowledge, you can begin to prioritize what information should be captured and shared.
Think creatively about new opportunities for knowledge sharing, as well. How might cross-skilling help strengthen team collaboration or support short-term backfills for vacation or parental leave? Could capturing project kick-offs and key milestone checks help preserve in-the-moment problem-solving that is hard to surface at the end of a project? Would sharing monthly business reviews, board meetings, or other strategic discussions make it easier to get organizational stakeholders up to speed on new opportunities?
2. Create an easy process for knowledge capture (hint: hit record!)
Now that you’ve identified the most valuable organizational information, make knowledge preservation a daily practice.
Sound like a hassle? It doesn’t have to be.
The key is to reduce friction. Your executives and employees likely don’t have bandwidth to create detailed documentation around their many responsibilities. Take the burden of knowledge preservation off your employee’s shoulders by providing tools to automatically record important meetings and save them in a searchable, on-demand video learning library for future access.
Recording key project discussions, strategy meetings, and tool tutorials not only supports new employees but helps existing staff work more efficiently and strategically by giving them access to existing institutional knowledge at the speed of need and empowering them with new insights and support that often stay behind closed doors.
Your employees are already using video to communicate and collaborate in real time. Record and save important meetings automatically to start building your own corporate YouTube of institutional intelligence.
3. Encourage and model continuous knowledge sharing
Institutional knowledge can only make an impact if your employees actually use it. Communicate and demonstrate the value of your corporate learning library in order to start building a culture of continuous knowledge sharing.
- Model behavior from the top. Ask your leadership team and business unit leaders to record town halls and other important company-wide strategy meetings for on-demand access.
- Reduce barriers to knowledge preservation by making it easy and fun. Encourage staff to record informal, bite-sized, social learning videos right from their smartphone or tablet. Create competitions to get employees more comfortable recording meetings or tutorials.
- Consider adding knowledge sharing metrics to performance reviews or incentive programs, or creating a mentorship initiative that pairs veteran staff with less-seasoned employees. Celebrate the value of long-term staff and recognize employees who help build your institutional knowledge base.
Growth and education are powerful incentives for retaining employees. By engaging your workforce as active participants in developing and capturing your institutional knowledge, you will not only preserve and build organizational intelligence but empower staff to grow in the process.
The reactive approach: preserve the knowledge of exiting employees
Sometimes you can’t afford to be proactive. We don’t always have the luxury of time when facing a critical employee’s two-week notice.
An exiting employee will quickly lose motivation if asked to create detailed documentation of their past several years of work and experience. Moreover, this tactical information is often not the most valuable knowledge to retain. Focus on capturing how, not what your veteran employees think.
1. Preserve implicit as well as explicit knowledge.
How did a top sales rep handle a particularly challenging client negotiation? Which internal bottlenecks can a project manager anticipate or work around? What simply has and hasn’t worked for your business in the past? From industry experience and account history to intuition and even mistakes, implicit intelligence is some of the most valuable knowledge in your organization – and the most difficult to transfer. The best way to preserve implicit knowledge is to get employees talking. Ask departing staff to discuss their approach to past strategy, challenging clients, or business downturns. Simply capturing how they think can help surface powerful implicit knowledge for future problem-solving.
2. Capture multiple workstreams at once with video.
Skills and strategies aren’t effective in isolation. We leverage multiple tools, processes, and approaches in tandem to problem-solve and complete projects effectively, yet departing employees are often asked to document individual skills and processes without context. A more effective approach is to have departing employees record their screens as they complete or hand over key projects. This not only preserves the practicalities of the work but also the subtleties, nuances, and “tricks of the trade” that make veteran employees successful – and would otherwise go uncaptured.
3. Make offboarding a social learning moment.
Research shows that 90% of learning is social and experiential – in other words, learning by doing. Make the most of a departing employee’s knowledge by involving team members in the offboarding process. Consider having a new hire shadow or support a departing employee in their final weeks. Facilitate a Q&A or “Ask Me Anything” forum where team members can seek dedicated feedback on the challenges that matter to them. Making knowledge preservation a collaborative process creates more opportunities for learning and engages both the offboarding employee and remaining team members.
Just like human memory, your organizational memory can develop or atrophy. Creating a strategy for preserving institutional knowledge not only helps short-term business resilience as employees move on, but can contribute to greater engagement and less turnover, bolstering long-term innovation and growth.