Someone retiring? How to Capture Their Knowledge

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Tom Sheehan.pngEmployers in the U.S. are facing a quiet crisis of aging. The number of people opting to retire has continued to steadily grow, partially as a consequence of a thriving stock market. Organizations facing this retirement tidal wave are scurrying to put some form of succession plans into place.


As employers think about their succession plans, they are faced with an immediately pressing problem: How do we preserve the institutional knowledge of long-service employees and transfer that knowledge to ongoing workers?


There are a number of strategies that may help companies transfer valuable lessons learned before their most experienced workers retire:


Strategy 1: Process Documentation

Process documentation involves flowcharting how work is performed. Clear, defined processes increase the likelihood that a new person can step into the role and hit the ground running. A side benefit of this approach is that you may uncover process gaps, outdated processes or redundancies in your current processes.


Strategy 2: Critical Incident Interviews

A critical incident is simply a time when the worker faced a difficult situation that may have resulted in success or failure. The purpose of this interview is to gather “lessons learned” from the individual in order to avoid making a costly mistake in the future. One approach is to ask the employee to discuss difficult decisions that they have to make on their job. These are decisions that may have or would likely have resulted in the success or an error of some critical incident. It is important that they focus their discussion on the incident and what led to it.


Questions to ask:

  • What are the most difficult situations you have faced in your current job with the organization?
  • What decisions were you forced to make?
  • What happened as a result of what you did?
  • What would you differently next time?


Strategy 3: Job Shadowing

Job shadowing involves pairing a less-experienced performer with the veteran performer. The veteran is asked to share their knowledge and provide “hands-on” practice. The job shadowing experience should address the entire spectrum of duties including regular day-to-day activities, problem-solving opportunities, and difficult situations.


Strategy 4: Job Aids

A job aid is anything that helps people perform their job in real time. One example of a job aid is a checklist. Laminated job aids that contain important job duties and procedures are a great way to ensure that knowledge is accessible when the need arises.



Organizations that are facing the retirement loss of key experienced workers would do well to develop appropriate succession plans for their sized business. At a minimum, organizations should employ the aforementioned strategies to prevent workers from leaving and taking their lessons of experience with them. Finally, the end result of each of these approaches must include complete, detailed documentation for future use.


Give me a call if you want to brainstorm other ways to capture the knowledge of your retiring workers.  You can reach me at (919) 325-4113 or