When a key employee decides to leave your organization, a million thoughts fly through your head at once: Why is this employee leaving in the first place? Was there anything you could have done to prevent his departure? And, of course, what will you do without him?
If that employee had unique expertise in a specific area, losing him could be a serious threat to your organization. Don’t let important institutional knowledge slide out the door on that employee’s last day! Instead, develop a culture that values the effective and continuous transfer of knowledge so the loss of one employee doesn’t bring your company to a standstill.
You Need a Culture That Supports Knowledge Transfer
An employee serving notice isn’t the only scenario in which you may need someone else to understand a key process or how to operate a critical system. What if your office manager falls ill, leading you to fall behind on accounts payable? Someone on your team should be able to step up and address the situation to keep your company from getting hit with late fees. If your business suddenly experiences rapid growth, you’ll need processes in place to allow you to transfer knowledge and continue to scale quickly.
The best thing you can do to prepare for these situations is to develop a culture that supports the ongoing transfer of knowledge. Here are some ways to keep employees engaged in the knowledge-sharing process:
1. Develop a culture of support. Long before you ever need one employee to transfer knowledge to another, you should work on developing a company culture that’s supportive of these types of efforts. Show that you value continual learning and people’s ability to step in during a crisis. Both the trainer and the trainee should feel that their efforts are recognized and appreciated.
2. Create a checklist. As I described in a previous article on knowledge transfer, helicopter pilots go through a checklist of specific procedures before they take off. The same thing should happen during any knowledge transfer. Make a list of skills, processes, and anything else that’s important to a specific role, and use this checklist to guide training and to ensure consistency and repeatability.
3. Give learners time to transition. If an employee quits suddenly and forces you into an abrupt knowledge transfer, that’s a less-than-ideal situation to be in. In the best-case scenario, you’d give learners plenty of time to shadow the employee they’re learning from, ask questions, and gain hands-on experience for a smooth and comfortable transition.
4. Provide the right tools. While it’s sometimes good to let the departing employee help find his replacement, it’s more important that he feels comfortable in his role as a teacher. Remember: You’re essentially asking someone who’s been a doer to become a teacher, and the transition isn’t always easy. To position your team for success, train the trainer, and give him the necessary tools to teach what he knows.
5. Test the process. Don’t let the day of departure be the first time you test your process. Create simulations that force people to temporarily jump into new roles. Throughout the year, this happens naturally when people go on vacation. If a certain employee’s function comes to a grinding halt while she’s away, that may indicate that you have a gap in your system.
Ultimately, preventing brain drain and keeping your company’s collective knowledge intact rests on your culture and the value you place on people engaging in these types of behaviors. By supporting your team’s efforts to share their insights, you’ll keep all the knowledge where it belongs and ensure that your new employees are able to pick up the torch and run with it.
This article originally appeared on Forbes