When senior employees leave your company, they may take years or decades of wisdom with them. Especially at smaller companies, where one person may make up an entire department, the loss is keenly felt. An employee may have established deep client relationships and complex systems no one else in the office even knows about.
Further complicating matters is the lack of a digital footprint left by senior employees who were accustomed to completing fewer tasks electronically. Sifting through paper records, for instance, is more challenging than searching an email account or CRM entry. It’s often much harder to find necessary documents or contact information once an older team member retires.
That’s why, before your senior employees depart, it’s important to have a knowledge-sharing plan in place. If you’re in a leadership role, you need a method for retaining their skills, contacts, passwords, and other data. Here are some key ways to plan for a smooth transition as your senior employees move on.
1. Document, Document, Document
Perhaps the most crucial way to prevent knowledge drain is to get all policies, procedures, and institutional data in writing — preferably of the digital kind. This starts with having senior employees document how they conduct their most important tasks. From there, you can start creating training manuals, procedural guidelines, and other resources to share with new and remaining employees.
It may be worthwhile to enlist outside help, such as technical writing services, as you compile all these necessary resources. A trained team of technical writing professionals can organize all this information into a useful, intuitive knowledge base that remaining employees can easily access. They can also assist with things like version control and consolidating redundant files and records.
2. Start a Mentorship Program
Long before senior staff start leaving, it’s a good idea to start connecting them with mid-level and junior team members. Having more experienced employees directly train newer ones can help preserve knowledge and promote a positive workplace culture. It also gives junior employees a chance to ask questions that might not arise if you rely purely on documentation to transfer knowledge.
Take time to pair senior and junior employees on the basis of shared goals, roles, and — when possible — interpersonal compatibility. Set aside time for them to meet one-on-one at least once a month, if not more frequently. Agree on specific, measurable goals for these mentorships so you can track their progress. And don’t neglect to provide senior employees with training and resources on how to be good mentors.
3. Connect With Key Contacts
Employees who have been with your company forever tend to have lots of contacts. If they’ve been around long enough, these might be found in actual, literal Rolodexes. Whether this contact info is in physical or digital form, though, it represents the long-standing rapport senior employees have built with important individuals. Losing these connections could be devastating for the company, so it’s crucial that they be handed off when employees retire.
Before your senior employees leave, make sure their clients, prospects, and other important connections are documented in a shared platform. Entering all analog information into a CRM is ideal, but a spreadsheet or email address book will work in a pinch. Wherever possible, senior employees should introduce their contacts to greener employees in a meeting, or by phone or email. As a last resort, junior employees can email retirees’ contacts to introduce themselves right after the transition.
4. Conduct Exit Interviews
Exit interviews are a good failsafe to make sure nothing is missed when a senior employee retires. These can be used as an opportunity to find areas for improvement or to learn more about how employees accomplished their tasks. They should be kept brief, though. You shouldn’t expect your outgoing employees to perform any last-minute job training at this time.
Ideally, you should aim to conduct two exit interviews when a team member leaves. The first should be with a manager one or two steps removed from the employee. An employee will be much more likely to give complete, unbiased information to a person with whom they haven’t worked as closely. The second interview, whenever possible, should be conducted by an external consultant. This person’s expertise in the practice and complete lack of bias will yield data you can rely on.
5. Keep Alums in the Loop
Lastly, develop a system for keeping your former employees involved with the company and accessible to current employees. This could take the form of contracting with them for additional trainings or information sessions. Or it could simply mean maintaining positive relationships so former employees will be more amenable to a quick call or email when necessary.
You can also create a strong employee alumni network by offering perks and incentives to stay involved with the company. This might include inviting them to company dinners, retreats, and other enjoyable outings. Or it could entail offering other benefits, such as continued access to employee perks like the office fitness center, corporate discounts, and more. Fostering loyalty among former team members can help mitigate brain drain and encourage referrals of potential employees.
Make New Friends But Keep the Old
While your newer staff may have the most up-to-date tech skills, don’t underestimate the value of your senior employees. Those on their way out possess a wealth of expertise you don’t want to risk losing when they leave. At the end of the day, an “employee” may be replaceable, but a human being with unique traits, talents, and methods is not.