Between 2011 and 2014, NASA's Safety and Mission Assurance (SMA) community has seen an 11 percent net reduction in its workforce. John Marinaro, director of the NASA Safety Center (NSC), estimates that the civil servants leaving SMA had an average of 15 years more SMA experience than those replacing them. NASA says they need to maintain a strong SMA capability, or "we could get caught by surprise."
Don't get caught by surprise. Like NASA, you could find your group's people leaving from internal rotation, transfer, retirement, lay-offs, job hop, or some unforeseen accident or illness. Out the door goes their tacit knowledge --- the great stuff you have already invested in and the stuff that keeps your business going.
Stop knowledge from walking out your door. Document your critical and repeatable process content.
First, target your most critical processes of your business. Especially look for the repeatable types of processes that drive your business. For example, a consulting firm implementing EHR (Electronic Healthcare Records) systems for hospitals has their P&L tied to the success of these hospital engagements.
Next, identify the people in this process area with deep knowledge, experience, and built-up intuitiveness. They are usually the ones who have been around the longest. But, they could also be the ones who have shown innovative actions, including sharing ideas and helping others.
Then, document (or import) the process phases, action steps, and their detailed how-to knowledge content. This should not turn into a Microsoft Project work plan, a list of deliverable file templates, nor should it be a spreadsheet. Many companies do this, thinking they got it captured. It won't work. You can test it by giving your spreadsheet list of tasks to a new employee and see what happens. She or he will fail miserably. That's because the underlining experience content is not there. Get the real knowledge behind the list of tasks that makes a difference between success and failure when executing.
Finally, make sure all of the above is contained in a collaborative work execution platform that will make it easy to capture critical knowledge content, and also make it easy for team execution and constant improvement.
If NASA doesn't figure out how to retain tacit knowledge from those leaving the organization, how will it have all of the know-how to bring Astronaut Mark Watney back home from Mars?
You can't prevent people from leaving, but you can help keep their tacit knowledge from walking out too.
Written by Paul Dandurand
Photo by Rodion Kutsaev