Development and implementation of a knowledge transfer for the retirement of (older) employees

Sabrina Renz

12. February 2020

Save the knowledge of departing employees

Employees are increasingly leaving the company, be it for reasons of age or because they change jobs. Valuable knowledge is lost for the company. The advantages of capturing experience and knowledge are obvious. Who wants to reinvent the wheel every time? Nevertheless, many managers do not recognize this problem – or simply act too late.

Timely planning of knowledge transfer

The demographic change in our society is progressing. The know-how of older employees is lost unless companies take countermeasures. Efficient and systematic knowledge transfer requires timely planning as well as building a knowledge transfer system. It is not just a matter of passing on specialist knowledge, but also the knowledge about the company that has been gathered over the years. A long-time employee knows the all internals, he knows about the structures and connections within teams. Who can help me the fastest if I have a problem? Who will deliver the required spare part to me immediately? Or where can I find certain documents?

Germany is world champion in exports, which means, employees do not simply handle projects at the doorstep. Each country has its own peculiarities that have to be considered. This knowledge is the key to success, the outgoing knowledge holder has it. This knowledge must not be lost.

Methods of knowledge transfer

As a manager, what can you do to maintain this experience of the company? How can you transfer knowledge ahead of the departure?

Knowledge management methods help to accomplish this task. Professionally implemented processes and procedures guarantee systematic knowledge transfer. A transfer of knowledge from long-term employees to potential successors can be planned. On the one hand, you have to identify the knowledge carriers early enough, on the other hand, you have to train or recruit successors reasonably ahead of the departure.

There are different methods for knowledge transfer, an efficient method is the tandem partner process. Partners can be individuals or small groups. Successors learn from the knowledge provider, but also bring in new knowledge.

Both partners learn from each other, so deficits and discrepancies can be quickly identified. Thanks to this direct cooperation, the transfer of the existing network takes place seamlessly to the successor and simplifies his entry into the company.

Another possibility for systematic knowledge transfer is the storytelling method. Here, employees talk about highlights and crises in their professional lives. Experience stories stay in the listener’s memory longer than pure facts. A neutral moderator is recommended for these discussions, as he can elicit things that are easier to do from the departing employee.

Prerequisite for a successful knowledge transfer

Regardless of which method you choose, one point is crucial for all types of knowledge transfer. You should motivate the provider of knowledge and give them operational freedom accordingly. You have to show appreciation and a willingness to work together. The departing employee must feel how important this transfer is for the company.

Furthermore, the tandem process requires good communication between those involved. This requires a clear definition of the purpose of the measure and a specific timetable. Regular meetings with an external participant, for example from the HR department, to promote the transfer of knowledge. As a manager, you have to support the process.

In storytelling, the moderator should clearly emphasize the importance of knowledge transfer and the added value for other colleagues. The provider of knowledge must be able to freely determine which knowledge he wishes to disclose. The moderator should under no circumstances push the employee.

Concrete steps of implementation

You should start the process of knowledge transfer at the latest when the employee reaches the age of 58. Experience has shown that around 25% of employees are eligible for knowledge transfer due to their special knowledge. Build up a knowledge transfer system and use the digital possibilities for the documentation. Save the experience and publish it for a larger group of users.

Together with the HR managers, create a personnel file that lists the qualifications, competencies and activities of the employee. Update this information on an annual basis.

Analyze the employee competencies together with the HR department and the employee at the appropriate time – but in a playful way. Often the person concerned is not aware of his knowledge and experience. Use these documents to create a transfer plan. Determine the successor. The timing of the start depends on various factors. The knowledge taker can be a junior employee or a new employee. The knowledge taker should take over the tasks at the latest when the knowledge holder retires.

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