KM-Leaving ExpertsOne of my Knowledge Management projects was finding ways to retain and redistribute the knowledge of experts that were leaving the company.

At that time, before the recent economic crisis, most leavers were job-hoppers or retirees.

Knowledge management tactic at that time was focusing on manuals, learning histories and other formal tools that take lots of time and effort to create and that nobody has the time or patience to read nowadays. :-)
Video was still a lot of hassle with studios and tons of large equipment. Social media did not exist.

In the meantime, many things have happened and there are so many new ways to capture and distribute knowledge that I have modernized and streamlined my old “Leaving Experts” documentation. The concept is still valid, though!

Before you jump headfirst into applying the principles to every employee that says goodbye, please answer these questions:

  1. Is departure hostile, e.g. is someone being fired or made redundant?
    If yes, be very careful. People may not want to leave their knowledge behind. In most cases, doing nothing is the best thing.
    You can try to ask for the very tangible things that you know they have, such as manuals or reports they have created, or a contacts list, but do not expect them to spend any effort to make things easier for you.
    Losing company knowledge is a long-term side effect of making people redundant. Most organizations only look at short-term results, especially at times of financial panic.
  2. Does the person have unique knowledge?
    If not, do nothing.
  3. In which timeframe will this person leave?
    A jobhopper will probably leave in less than 3 months time and you will need to take action fast.
    A retiree’s departure is generally planned beforehand and you will have more time to capture knowledge. It may even be very rewarding to the retiree to be asked to capture his/her knowledge for posterity!
  4. Will the person stay in the company?
    It is always a good idea to agree to keep in touch. Get connected on LinkedIn, at the very least.
    If the person stays within the company you have a little more room to maneuver, but keep in mind they have moved to another department for a reason! Still, it may be good to agree on a certain time that the person will be available for questions.
    If the person moves outside the company, you have even less time and opportunity, so focus on the essentials.

This is the first part of my “Leaving Experts Decision Tree”.


The first questions to ask if someone leaves the organization.

The above has nothing to do with technology. (Well, except perhaps LinkedIn :-) ) But you know that Knowledge Management is not just about a tool. It also means you will need to have some processes in place:

  • A succession and risk planning process. This will give you an overview of everyone with critical knowledge, their expected “lifespan” at their position, the exact problems you foresee should they suddenly leave (including serious illness or death), their likely next career steps and/or retirement.
  • A fast-track procedure to recruit new personnel if someone with critical knowledge suddenly leaves. At the moment, a 3 to 6 month gap between roles appears to be common. This does not help knowledge transfer.
  • And of course, a process to capture knowledge on-the-go on an ongoing basis to avoid stress and emergency measures when someone suddenly leaves. I recently learned about Microsoft’s knowledge management process. I have one at my company, focusing on IT-related knowledge. Unfortunately, the processes appear to be in place mostly at consulting and IT-organizations, but I hope that is because of my own “filter bubble”.
    Fortunately, “working out loud” is gaining traction in other places.
    I hope we all end up at the same place.

Next time I will share the toolkit for those people that need to transfer their knowledge.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at