There are several practical ways to capture and transfer organisational knowledge. Not every technique will be useful for every agency – agencies will need to consider the profile of their workforce, consider the type of knowledge held, and make assessments about what the agency’s key risks are from knowledge loss through the departure of experienced mature employees. Many agencies are likely to be using some of these techniques already, either deliberately or unconsciously, while other techniques may be new.
Retain high performing late career employees longer
Retaining key mature workers for longer can provide a greater window to capture and transfer their critical knowledge before they leave the workforce permanently.
The 2010 Retirement Planning Survey found that there was an interest among mature workers in flexible work options as they approached retirement. The Survey found that some retention options were more attractive across the board to late career workers than others. In order of attractiveness to mature workers, the options canvassed for flexible retirement were:
- Alternative job at the same salary
- Permanent part time
- Transition to retirement
- Temporary part time
- Working from home
- Job sharing
- Reduced responsibility
- Purchased leave
- Leave without pay
- Alternative job at a lower salary
The Retirement Planning Survey contains further details on implementing these options, which agencies may wish to consider. The PSC’s Flexible Working Resource can also provide guidance for agencies on flexible work options that can be made available to employees.
Mentoring and coaching
Mentoring and coaching can be a highly effective ways to transfer knowledge – including tacit knowledge. As well as transferring knowledge, they can help to foster good professional relationships within an organisation, enabling a more positive organisational culture.
Detailed guidance on how to implement an effective mentoring program is available in the NSW Government Mentoring Made Easy: A Practical Guide booklet.
Teaming up a less experienced employee with a mature worker, to shadow a role the newer employee may take on following the retirement of the mature worker, can be a useful way to transfer knowledge. In particular, it can be a highly effective way to maximise transfer of critical tacit knowledge – job shadowing allows less experienced employees to understand and hook into the networks the outgoing worker has within the organisation, and with key external stakeholders. Job shadowing allows an experienced worker to share know-how with a less experienced employee, including how to deal with difficult or unusual problems that come up on the job.
A workplace built on mutual trust and respect – where new ideas are welcomed and the focus is on achieving goals – is likely to enhance productivity, encourage collaboration and improve service delivery. A positive and constructive culture is also one where information sharing is encouraged and rewarded, and information hoarding is discouraged.
Many factors influence the culture of a workplace: its people, leadership, systems, practices, written and unwritten rules, official and unofficial priorities, perceptions and beliefs. The way things are typically done has very real and significant effects on individual employees’ behaviours and the performance of the whole workplace.
To help agencies deal with these and future challenges, the PSC is developing a comprehensive package of resources to support all employees, including managers, to effectively embed the values in their workplace policies, practices, services and conduct.
As part of broader cultural change initiatives, agencies should consider how to make information sharing a positive and valued part of an agency’s organisational culture.
Communities of practice
Communities of practice enable the exchange of examples of ‘best practice’, networking between individuals in similar roles in related organisations; and peer review and recognition. They can also be excellent ways to facilitate the exchange of explicit knowledge (i.e. new policy documents, facts and figures in the industry) as well as tacit knowledge (how to solve common problems, social networks).
The Public Service Commission supports formal Communities of Practice across a range of skill sets – see www.comprac.nsw.gov.au to find out more information or to join a relevant NSW Government Community of Practice. Encouraging outgoing experts, and their upcoming replacements, to participate in Communities of Practice can be an effective way to tease out best-practice knowledge and to transfer it to newer employees both in your agency and across the government sector.
Process documentation can take a variety of formats, including flowcharts, procedure manuals, process maps, workflow charts, and story boarding. Regardless of the format, the concept of process documentation is to record a step-by-step guide, using text, pictures and symbols to represent what, when and how to do a particular task. Process documentation can be particularly useful for transferring knowledge about technical tasks.
Because knowledge is ‘captured’ through this documentation process, it can be easily stored for future use. Storing process documentation, particularly in a commonly accessible area, including databases and intranets, allows a wide range of employees to access the knowledge. When it is stored in this way it can be also used long into the future to assist intakes of new employees.
'Critical incident' reporting
This form of knowledge capture has a variety of names, including critical incident reporting, lessons learned reviews and debriefs. These reports typically include a description of the difficult situation; an account of the actions taken in response; and the outcome of the situation. Reviews usually assess which actions were more or less effective in dealing with these situations.
Having a formalised process for debriefing can have many benefits. It encourage this reporting to actually be undertaken; ensures that debriefs consider all relevant questions; and ensures there is an identified repository for the debrief information so it can be tracked down and accessed in future when employees in that area are facing a similar situation.
Exit interviews are a widely used – and valuable – tool for capturing knowledge from retiring workers.
In some cases it may be useful to have two exit interviews – one that deals with why the employee is leaving and how satisfied they were in the job (the results of which should remain in confidence) and one that focuses solely on knowledge capture (the results of which should be shared with relevant successors). The knowledge capture-focused exit interview should seek to obtain knowledge about what the departing employee does and how they do it, with a view to transferring that knowledge to remaining employees.
Detailed information on conducting exit interviews is available at pages 80-82 of the NSW Public Service Personnel Handbook issued by the PSC.
Information technology solution
While IT cannot alone provide effective knowledge capture and transfer, it can be a highly effective tool. IT is particularly useful for storing captured explicit knowledge.
Ensuring that organisations have electronic document records management systems in place ensures not only that agencies are meeting their record keeping requirements, but is vital in ensuring that precedents, decisions and policies are recorded and available to relevant staff. An effective and accessible agency intranet, with relevant policies and guidelines, can also assist in transferring and disseminating knowledge from older to less experienced employees.
Alumni networks are valuable because they allow managers in an agency to remain in regular contact with experienced employees who have retired. These connections can provide a basis for current managers to call experienced retirees for informal guidance where required. For retirees, these networks provide a way to keep up to date with the current work and direction of their former employer, which can be useful should there be opportunities to re-engage the retired employee on a contract basis for particular projects where their expertise would be useful.
These networks sometimes exist informally, though organisational support for more formalised alumni network events can boost participation and facilitate post-retirement knowledge transfers. Back to the Top