5 Ways to Stop Squandering Your Company’s Knowledge

Stacy’s a total pro, and she should be — she’s been the lead project manager on your team for nearly a decade. Only now, she’s put in her two-week notice, and you’re in a bind. The 14-day countdown is on to try to capture her institutional knowledge before her last day. If only you’d planned for the day when longtime talent moves on.

If this sounds like a nightmare, you’re not alone. Thanks to the Great Resignation currently underway, long-term employees have been jumping ship for new opportunities. While some staff churn is inevitable, mass talent exits can be overwhelming, especially for teams whose members have closely guarded their work. Fortunately, smart leaders can create a framework that protects their company knowledge before the next exit interview.

1. Examine Your Training Programs

On an employee’s first day, what’s their experience like? If they’re thrown to the wolves or tutored casually by veteran employees, it may be time to rethink your procedures. Ill-defined training programs are destined to fail, as they leave much to interpretation. Without a clear framework, managers and staff can make assumptions that lead to a game of Telephone: Work Edition.

Top teams have a structured training program that’s developed in partnership with organizational leaders. Immersing your new hires in company business, culture, and best practices lays the foundation for productivity and consistency.

You’ll want to outline expectations, team structure, and job duties so colleagues know whom to ask for help. Review your training program twice a year to ensure it remains relevant to your current business needs. Maintain several training levels, so managers feel capable of executing and reinforcing the organization’s approach.

2. Document Processes and Protect Them

A Word document on a team manager’s desktop is a key indicator of loose or nonexistent company processes. When teams are left to develop the “how” of getting their work done, mistakes can be made. And when an employee is left to their own devices, they’re apt to develop ad-hoc processes that don’t consider risk.

On a good day, this can mean missed compliance deliverables, poor fact-checking, and skipped testing. On a bad one — when team members leave — their self-made processes can be lost, leaving you and your team in the lurch.

Protect your team’s ability to get work done, even in the wake of an employee exit. Outline a process documentation protocol that drills down to the detail of how your work is done. This effort will take time, focus, and acute attention to detail. To start, launch an internal-facing project dedicated to creating this essential documentation. Host tabletop exercises where your team reviews data extraction requirements, client-facing factors, and otherwise minute details.

3. Consider a Job-Sharing Program

The moment someone goes out on medical leave is not the time to cross-train. Instead, consider launching a job-sharing initiative where colleagues learn one another’s roles. While they won’t be performing the same duties daily, they’ll gain the knowledge needed to step in when needed.

Review your staff members’ expertise to identify transferable skills and opportunities for additional responsibilities. For example, a project manager could train alongside a business consultant to cover the latter’s duties when needed. This collaboration can deliver benefits for day-to-day projects, due to the deeper understanding of shared roles and responsibilities. Create a structure for the duties to be shared and facilitate occasional duties swaps to keep both parties’ skills sharp.

4. Maintain a Detailed Description of Role Responsibilities

Does your team joke about what would happen if one of you were to get hit by a bus? If the thought makes your cortisol spike, it may be time to develop a master roles and responsibilities document. This document drills down to the details of a team members’ duties. A simple job description is not enough; this rundown gets into the minutia, and for good reason.

Develop a template to help your team members get started, first identifying the responsibilities on their formal job description. Next, have them track their daily duties over the next month. No task is too small for this effort, so reiterate the importance of detailed descriptions.

Review quarterly or annual projects that won’t be captured by this exercise and document the effort required for those tasks. Finalize what you can, but have your team track tasks for a year to capture the details alongside active work.

5. Develop Shared File Standards

Saving files to your desktop is easy, especially when remote work makes connecting to the network a drag. But lazy filing systems can be a near-death sentence for your business when a key team member resigns. Even top performers get distracted and forgetful when they have a new job on the horizon. Adding the task of transferring personal files to designated common folders is a step that’s easy to skip.

Manage risk by developing shared file standards that keep your files organized for daily work and protected against turnover. Keep things simple by limiting file path depth to five folders. Align folder names with project titles and billing codes to create consistency that’s easily transferable to new staff.

Take it a step further and encourage your team to follow this format for email folders and subject lines. Adding this framework can also help colleagues self-serve while searching in shared files, reducing unnecessary touchpoints.

Review Knowledge Protection Processes Regularly to Stay Current

Protecting your organization against knowledge loss is a big lift, and completing this project is something to celebrate. But the work doesn’t end there. Require your team to use the processes and protocols you’ve developed in their daily work. When business needs change, update your process documents right away to keep things running smoothly.

Schedule an annual review for all processes, requiring each team member to confirm their understanding. Track their responses to create accountability and facilitate engagement in the process. Your team’s efforts will pay off when a colleague moves on to their next opportunity. In fact, your well-run machine might just encourage them to stay.

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