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Leaders, Don't Let Knowledge Walk Out the Door

Here are a few strategies to keep critical skills going.

I visit a local bakery every Friday afternoon to purchase Challa bread, a sweet egg bread that just seems to go well with just about every meal. I've been buying a loaf there, each week, for years. Unfortunately, of late, the quality just hasn't been there. We've noticed the bread is not as it should be—and oddly doughy at the center. It was such a surprise when this began to occur. We realized this was a sign that something was off track.

Of course, we let them know what we were experiencing. (It's wrong to leave without offering diplomatic feedback. As it turns out, many other customers voiced their concern, as well.) The root of the problem began with a personnel change in the bakery—as a highly experienced baker left quite suddenly. With her, left all of the subtleties of the trade that were so important to continued excellence. Sadly, her legacy was lost.

This is an issue that organizations both large and small, must address. How do we effectively capture all of what our valued employees know—all of the strategies and nuances that set them apart as contributors? How do we ensure that this information can be shared going forward? How do we, as individuals, leave our own mark?

Here are few ideas for starters. Please add your strategies to the mix:

  • Create "master classes." As I mentioned here, high performers may not have the time to coach each and every new hire. However, organizations can capture what they know. There are platforms designed to help them create content to share with others organizationally, including the open education project P2PU (Peer to Peer University) and the SAS company LearnCore.
  • Organize an internal TED Talk. I have a friend (he happens to be in the oil and gas industry) who brilliantly started a departmental TED Talk program to capture the ongoing work of his team (a group of scientists). The talks were meant to be brief (which is much less stressful) and record information that might have otherwise been lost. Of course, the talks are available to view, which can be especially helpful for new team members.
  • Initiate a white paper program. If a contributor has happened upon a unique strategy to solve a business problem, it is critical to capture that information. Offer contributors and afternoon (or two) to sit down and write about it.
  • Support a different kind of company blog. Obviously this is not a new idea—but this tool can be a vehicle to capture legacy. View the blog as a dynamic forum, targeting performance focused content, such as case studies, customer successes (and failures with ideas for the future), unique product installations and other relevant industry topics. Include content from all of the functional areas. Frame the blog as an open platform to share relevant experiences.
  • Support an employee alumni network. Creating access to past employees (who have left in good stead), can be quite powerful for current employees. Those that have left the organization can help current employees succeed—providing a unique perspective concerning industry trends, your culture, processes and people. (The Alliance offers a guide to help accomplish this.)
  • Mentor, mentor, mentor. I cannot think of a more worthy action than sharing what you know, with someone who is "up and coming." There is no greater legacy—than helping others develop. (You can check out options like MentorCloud, if your organization doesn't have an ongoing program to help you find the right match.)

How do you help your employees leave their legacy? Share your ideas here.

Marla Gottschalk is an industrial/organizational psychologist. She is the director of thought leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto/NewYork.

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