Get Veteran Employees to Pass Along Institutional Knowledge Before They Leave and Take Valuable Information With Them.
By Steve Schumacher
Most of the mining companies I have worked with over the years have a significant number of veteran employees who are nearing retirement. The Baby Boomer generation is heading off into the sunset and is being replaced by younger employees who could learn a great deal from those veterans, prior to them leaving the company for good.
Unfortunately, it is the rare company that has a plan in place to pass along that institutional knowledge.
As a member of a project team recently, I visited a plant that has been in existence for a long time and has seen a great deal of employees come and go. The project team had the assignment of doing an assessment of the plant and learning as much about it as possible, in a short amount of time. In order to expedite that process, the plant manager called upon a former superintendent to guide the team and provide the necessary information.
The former superintendent had long since retired, but was happy to spend time with us and help however he could. The institutional knowledge he shared with us was critical to the success of our project team. A question came to my mind – “Isn’t there a way to keep that information in-house, and not have to rely on someone who is enjoying their retirement?”
If you, as a leader, have some employees who are nearing retirement, you may want to consider taking some proactive steps to pass along their wisdom to your younger employees.
Some things to consider:
Show that you value veteran employees. Way too often, companies focus the majority of the energy on young employees that will be able to provide services to the company for a long time. When that happens, older employees often feel de-valued and not important. Make it clear, as a leader, that older employees and their experiences are important to the future success of the company.
Set the expectation for knowledge transfer. Let everyone know that you expect that information about equipment, processes, operations, etc. are part of the company’s assets and they are to be treated as such. You would not let pricey, important equipment leave the company, would you? Vital institutional knowledge should be treated the same way.
Set up a mentor/coaching process. First, don’t call this a “program.” People perceive programs as having a beginning and an end. To effectively transfer knowledge, you must make the process an ongoing part of your culture. Identify the employees that are nearing retirement and partner them with younger employees that can gain learning from a mentor/coach.
Provide training. Not everyone is skilled at teaching others. On the same hand, we all have different learning styles. Provide both the older and younger employees with some training on how to teach and learn effectively. Good communication skills are an essential part of that for both parties.
Provide opportunities for learning. Mentor/coaching processes often fail because everyone is busy and spending time teaching and learning is often not a priority. It is your job, as a leader, to structure time for all parties to engage in the mentor/coaching relationship. You may consider participating yourself, in order to provide a model for everyone to follow.
Celebrate the process. Give some formal and informal recognition to the parties that get involved in the knowledge transfer process. Hold them up as examples to the rest of the company as models of what you and the company expect.
Monitor outcomes. Meet with participants regularly to see if the process of knowledge transfer is working. Remember: It is not what the boss expects, it is what the boss inspects that gets done. If you are doing the process well, younger employees should be getting higher performance review ratings and becoming more productive at their jobs.
As employees move through their careers, they gain a great deal of knowledge and experience that is an asset to the company. Those assets should be retained in the company, and passed along to members of the current workforce. As a steward of the company, it is your responsibility to make that happen.