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7 Ways to Capture the Knowledge of Veteran Employees Before They Retire

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What’s one of the best-kept secrets to upping your professional game without taking on student loans? Peer-to-peer learning

According to Harvard Business Review, about 55% of employees say they turn to coworkers first when they have questions. But what happens when a seasoned colleague you’ve trusted for a while leaves? Should you just let the knowledge walk out the door, too? Obviously not. But that puts the onus on you to figure out how to capture veteran workers’ expertise while they’re still in the cubby next door.

Maybe you’ve never thought about this phenomenon, but it happens every time a key player leaves. Far too many times, a bundle of information leaves with the team member—and that means you could be in a pickle.

Rather than reinvent the wheel every time you lose a colleague, try some strategies to gather their wisdom. What follows are 10 suggestions you can put into practice this week.

1. Create A Place To House Everyone’s Knowledge.

A  knowledge base is a centralized location where everyone in your team, department, or even company can add facts, tidbits, and ideas. At the most basic level, you could create shared documents covering specific subjects. Or, you could invest in a more structured system that includes spreadsheets, customer information, and other data.

Knowledge base solutions don’t have to be costly to be effective, either. Look for one that fits your budget. Just remember, however, that it’s very expensive to lose decades of insider know-how. It’s much cheaper to collect facts upfront, even if you have to pay for access to a cloud knowledge base system.

2. Insist That Everyone Write Up SOPs.

People don’t talk as much anymore about standard operating procedures (SOPs.) After all, many professionals rely on process maps or project management software instead. Nevertheless, formal SOPs can be a huge asset.

Think about the last time someone in your company left who had been there for a while. Did everyone scramble to figure out how he went about his business efficiently? Were a few deadlines missed because no one realized the extent of what he did? An SOP would have closed those gaps. You can get the ball rolling by creating SOPs for your position. Afterward, encourage everyone to get in on the act. They’re extremely helpful.

3. Ask If You Can Be A Fly On The Wall Occasionally.

Do you have someone in your department who’s talking about retirement? Good for them, but bad for you if you’re left without their knowledge. In advance of them turning in a resignation letter, ask to shadow them from time to time. Go on sales calls together. Sit near their workstation and find out what their workflows are like. 

Don’t be a pest, of course. On the other hand, don’t be afraid to ask questions and write down answers. You might learn far more than you expect. In fact, your sessions could lead to changes in the way you perform your duties. If nothing else, you’ll feel more confident after they’ve left the fold.

4. Find Out If Your Seasoned Coworker Will Mentor You.

About three-quarters of all professionals laud the idea of mentorships. Sadly, only about one-third of them have ever had a mentor. Even if you’re not sure your older colleague would be willing to be a mentor, you shouldn’t avoid asking. 

Mentoring doesn’t have to be formal or official to work wonders, either. Going out once a month for drinks on a Friday can help you learn the ropes. So can weekly coffee breaks spent discussing your biggest challenges or concerns. Again, not every professional will be eager to become a mentor. But you can’t know until you bring up the subject.

5. Become More Observant.

Let’s say that you have an older colleague who’s downright impressive. Problem is, she isn’t very approachable. No worries: You can still get a lot of knowledge from afar. (Call it the “Harriet the Spy” tactic.) This strategy involves you thinking more like a detective than a coworker. For instance, when she talks with a customer on the phone, pay attention to her language and tone. 

Obviously, you want to be very subtle with this technique. At the same time, don’t be afraid to pay attention. You may pinpoint exactly what makes her so effective at some aspect of her job. You might also realize that she’s doing some things that no one told you about. Be sure to incorporate everything you observe in a physical or digital notebook so you remember.

6. Request A Specific Lesson.

Perhaps you don’t want to know everything about your colleague. Nonetheless, you want insights into how he completes a few of his tasks so reliably. You can always request a one-on-one tutorial. 

Most professionals will be willing to give a lesson now and then to interested colleagues. This could be anything from how to manage an irate client to how to negotiate with vendors. Allow your colleague to control the time, place, and duration of your private lesson. Be sure to take everything in. This is a terrific opportunity for you to upskill yourself.

7. Turn Leaving Employees Into Training Partners.

As a final suggestion, why not ask your mature employees who are leaving to take up training positions? They can still do their daily work while routinely setting aside time to train other personnel. Their training topics may range, but they should be relevant to what’s most important to your company’s workforce.

Worried that your retiring colleagues aren’t going to want to give away their so-called “secrets?” You might be surprised. Since they’re not fussing about promotions anymore, they’re likely to be more open than you might assume. Besides, they might be flattered that everyone wants to hear their “been-there, done-that” tales.

Last Words

The last thing you want is for knowledge to leave your organization. Whenever possible, help collect the information that’s stored in the heads of people poised to retire. You’ll not only increase your own capabilities, but you’ll do your team and company a favor.

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