Since I started at Hastings Mutual, I have seen several people retire from the company. That’s no surprise; most people retire from the workforce eventually. But it always is kind of a loss — each person has a unique voice and way of looking at things that makes work interesting. It’s also a loss of knowledge, the institutional knowledge of what things were like years or even decades before.
Maybe there was a tradition that’s worth revisiting, or a way of accomplishing a task the staff today doesn’t know about. Those are the kind of things only an experienced employee could bring to the workplace.
How can you take advantage of that institutional knowledge and use it to improve the workplace? SCORE, the national small business advisor group, connects small businesses with experienced businesspeople, many of whom are retired. But you don’t need an organization that partners with the U.S. Small Business Administration to make those connections.
Start with your own employees, while they’re still on the job, and as they’re looking at retirement. Ask them to highlight some of the activities they do each day, and try to follow along. Write down each step in the process they describe to spot gaps where you need more information on how to complete a task, then fill in those gaps. The more complete the instructions, the easier it will be to get work done.
Some companies are reportedly taking this idea a step further and creating “knowledge hubs” where experienced employees lead classes for newer staff members. (It works the other way around too, when older workers learn how to use new computer software.) At Hastings Mutual, we still have several bookshelves full of business books, and plenty of information available to employees online.
Mentoring programs offer long-term one-on-one contact between employees, which can go beyond simply showing a new person how to do the tasks the person they are replacing knows how to do. It can also match people of similar personality types (determined by whatever personality test your organization might use) and develop stronger relationships between employees.
There are many opportunities to take advantage of existing knowledge in a business before it is lost to an employee retiring or leaving, opportunities that can serve a company well for years into the future. And remember: The learner doesn’t always have to be fresh out of school, and the instructor imparting their knowledge of how a business works doesn’t have to be weeks from that final day on the job.
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