Harvesting your most valuable resource

Mature workers maybe postponing retirement, but is your company doing anything different to capture and retain their experience and insights? And what about your younger workers? How are you harvesting the new skills and fresh ideas they are bringing to the workplace?

There are two approaches used to address the capture and retention of knowledge in an organization. The emergency approach or the sustainable approach.

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Valuable knowledge is about to walk out the door…

The emergency approach is needed when someone says, “Uh-oh, Joe’s retiring next week and he’s the only one who knows how to deal with our biggest customer!”

Knowledge Interviews:

One of the most common solutions is to interview the person using a knowledge elicitation method to draw out their critical know-how and personal experience. This link takes you to a download that will guide you through the interview process. If you have some experience interviewing people and are able to create a set of open-ended questions that target the critical knowledge areas most important to retain for your organization, then you can probably do this yourself. However, if this needs to be done right the first time around then you might want to seek our help. Especially if you want to take the next steps of distilling, packaging & publishing the interview results in ways meaningful and accessible by others.

Peer to Peer Knowledge Exchange:

Another thing you can do, if time permits, is to get this person together with some of their peers for a knowledge exchange session. Simply ask the person that’s leaving to identify a handful of their peers they think might want to ask him or her some questions. There are a number of ways to design a peer knowledge exchange, and the most successful ones, such as Peer Assists, require facilitation by a person outside the group. If you would like help to quickly design and facilitate a peer exchange, contact us. We can even do this virtually if it’s really last minute!

Making Knowledge Retention Routine

A more rational, approach is the sustainable one. In this approach, the goal is to make knowledge capture and retention routine. This can be accomplished in formal or informal ways, or a combination of both.

If your organization takes a rigorous approach to everything they do, a formal knowledge capture and retention program may be the best option. This takes a systematic and holistic approach that factors in your companies growth and workforce strategies, and integrates a variety of methods and programs such as critical knowledge assessment and strategy development, mentoring, communities of practice, and routine team learning processes others to create and maintain organizational knowledge assets

The investment required for this approach is significant, which means you want people with a track record to help you engineer this for success and deliver meaningful returns to your stakeholders. We are one of the very few knowledge management practitioners with the experience and reputation to back this up.

You have to start somewhere!

However, there are informal ways to make the capture and retention of knowledge routine that don’t require a major upfront investment. Instead of using a programmatic approach to identify all of the critical knowledge needed by your organization, we can help you can take an opportunistic approach. We do this by identifying where some knowledge is needed now to meet specific strategic and / or operational performance improvements. Then, through the introduction of simple, proven and fast learning techniques, we help teams and work groups harvest and transfer good practices, lessons learned and insights to solve a specific problem, or deliver on a specific challenge in a task or project. And, because these techniques really do benefit a team’s performance, they are typically adopted as part of their work process in the future. Over time, these techniques spread across the organization based on their usefulness and need, without making a big corporate splash or having to take out a loan to fund it…does it get any better than that?

Learning from Younger Workers

What are you doing to harvest and transfer the new knowledge and skills young people are bringing to the workplace? Think about it…who knows best how to use the new social media that your company is trying to introduce and exploit? Here are couple things making a difference in companies that have realized the importance of leveraging this new experience and skills:

Reverse Mentoring:

Pair up a young worker with one that has a lot of years in the workforce and wants to learn how to use Facebook, Twitter, instant messaging, or wants to start a Blog. Check out this guide to Mentoring some hints and tips to get started. Contact us if you want some help in piloting this practical approach to retaining knowledge or making this a more routine part of the way people work in your company.

Communities of Practice:

Encourage younger workers to join existing communities where practitioners and experts are sharing what they know about problems and challenges in a specific domain, subject area or topic. But don’t just leave their participation to chance. Facilitate their involvement by asking them for their ideas on using social networking to enhance the community experience. Check out this guide to Communities of Practice for some hints and tips on generational adaptations to this common knowledge management process used by many companies. We’ve established more that 700 communities over the last 15 years, so don’t hesitate to contact us if you want some help in leveraging this practical approach to retaining knowledge or making this a more routine part of the way people work in your company.


Encourage your young workers to express their challenges, as well as the work practices and tools they are using and experimenting with. You never know when a more experienced worker may be searching for something that’s mentioned in a blog. There’s a good chance this could lead to new connections and relationships. and bridge strong and weak ties in the social network of your organization.

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