Safeguarding knowledge

What does it mean?

Experienced employees take a lot of knowledge and skill with them when they leave your organisation. ‘Safeguarding knowledge’ means passing this expertise on to colleagues.

‘Knowledge’ refers here to the totality of their information, experience and skills: everything in their head and hands. So it’s not just specialist knowledge, but also knowledge about relevant networks, the (history of the) organisation, and so on.

In order to safeguard continuity within the organisation, it’s important that essential knowledge is transferred to successors as much as possible.

The departing employee and their manager should schedule time in for safeguarding knowledge in the final months before they leave. Ideally, the outgoing employee and their successor will be able to work together to transfer knowledge, skills and duties during this period.
Kennisoverdracht (by Frans van der Burgt), public domain (via Wikimedia Commons)

How do you keep knowledge within your organisation?

There are several ways to transfer knowledge within the organisation. In every knowledge-safeguarding process, it’s crucial to thoroughly document the departing employee’s specific duties and activities. This can be done using task analysis or a task sheet.

If the successor can shadow the departing employee for a period of time, the knowledge transfer can be organised using the knowledge transfer plan.

If the successor only joins the organisation after their predecessor has left, then a survival kit can offer some solace.

Task analysis or the task sheet

The idea behind a task analysis is that the employee who is leaving the organisation takes some time to draw up a detailed overview of all the tasks and activities they perform. Helpful questions here might be: ‘What are my tasks?’, ‘What do I manage?’, ‘How do I spend my time?’

You can possibly divide tasks up further into specific sub-tasks. You should also pay special attention to so-called ‘critical’ tasks, which are crucial for optimal operations or continuity within the organisation, but often aren’t experienced as such by employees. Ask yourself: what would go wrong if these tasks were stopped from one day to the next? Where do risks of complaints come from? Which tasks do successors risk making big mistakes with? Prioritise these critical tasks in the knowledge transfer.

Consultation between the departing employee, manager and other colleagues is crucial for carrying out an adequate task analysis. Some issues and actions are so obvious to employees that they might forget to include them.

The knowledge transfer plan

This is an action plan based on the task analysis. It describes the actions required to transfer as much knowledge as possible from the outgoing employee to their successor(s) in clear and structured steps. It concerns the critical (sub-)tasks first and foremost, but not exclusively.

The knowledge transfer plan can be drawn up as a table, with a view to finding the best method for transferring the knowledge for each (sub-)task. The following questions must always be answered:

  • What actions need to be taken (e.g. software training)?
  • Who is involved in these actions?
  • How much time does each action take?
  • When is each action scheduled?
  • Has the action been carried out (and what is the result)?

This gives everyone concerned a good picture of how the knowledge transfer will take place. Where possible, put the actions in the diaries of those concerned, so that the transfer can be set in stone straight away.

The survival kit

Sometimes it isn’t possible for successors to shadow the employee they are replacing, so there’s no time or opportunity to carry out a knowledge transfer plan. In this case, you can use a survival kit, which is a document where the outgoing employee writes down all the knowledge their successor will need.

An overview of the following issues is drawn up for each (sub-)task on the basis of the task analysis:

  • What are the regular procedures or step-by-step plans?
  • What sources of information are needed to carry out this task properly (e.g. documents, literature, contact persons...)? And where can they be found?
  • What are the ongoing cases?
  • What’s the background information and history (including difficult moments and main successes)?
  • What’s the vision for the future? What challenges can still be expected?

It’s essential that the departing employee puts the survival kit together in collaboration with their manager and colleagues to ensure it is as complete as possible. They can then also be asked for feedback if required.

A colleague can be appointed for the departing employee to go through each task in the survival kit with. This ensures the successor knows which colleagues they can ask for help when carrying out new tasks for the first time. The colleague might not be able to provide specific expertise, but they can still offer assistance thanks to their knowledge of the organisation and network.

Read more

Anyone who wants to find out more about this subject should read the FARO guide, Help mijn collega vertrekt?!

Share this article:          

TRACKS is a collaboration between these partners: