Few Organizations Have Plans To Stem Brain Drain

By Kathy Gurchiek Oct 1, 2007
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The number of baby boomers poised for retirement should serve as a warning to organizations about the importance of a formal strategy to retain institutional knowledge, but very few organizations are making knowledge retention a high priority, according to a new survey.

While they recognize it as a looming issue, many HR managers face barriers to establishing strategies and tactics that help pre-empt that loss, according to findings Monster released Sept. 25, 2007.

Only 12 percent of 550 HR managers surveyed in November 2006 said knowledge retention is a high priority within their organization, even though one-third of all respondents said more than 20 percent of their current workforce will be eligible for retirement over the next 10 years, Monster found.

About one-fourth, or 23 percent, said their organizations have a formal method to identify the knowledge that needs to be protected and retained. Sixteen percent consider themselves very effective in informally sharing knowledge, 10 percent very effective in formally doing so.

Knowledge management is not an issue limited to large enterprises.

“Many small businesses don’t think they’re big enough to start a knowledge management program, but they’re more vulnerable because their knowledge is concentrated in some very key people,” said Paul Jamieson, vice president of Monster Intelligence, during a Sept. 25 webinar.

Knowledge management can be something as simple as starting a shared library of books, online tools or both.

Steps To Take

“There is no one tool that readily enables companies to effectively meet knowledge-retention challenges,” said Jesse Harriott, vice president of research for Monster, in a press release.

“Organizations should aim to manage information with a broad strategic approach, utilizing various tactics to determine what will be most successful,” Harriott said.

“Companies that aggressively manage and protect their knowledge can readily increase their value as an organization.”

Among recommendations from Monster’s report, Building and Securing an Organizational Brain Trust in an Age of Brain Drain:

  • Pinpoint key knowledge assets and sources. Often the knowledge can be related to customer, product and service insights. It will differ from company to company.
  • Obtain C-level accountability. Larger employers could appoint a chief knowledge officer to be responsible for organizational knowledge.
  • Give employee incentives. Only one-third of organizations reported that their employees are rewarded or encouraged to share organizational knowledge with colleagues.
  • Create tools for involvement, such as launching a blogging forum and mentoring program where employees can redistribute and access organizational knowledge.

A culture that promotes shared knowledge has to start with the CEO, Bruce said.

“If you have a culture that is a protectionist culture, and those who hold in knowledge get rewarded, then you’re going to lose that gain. Try to talk to your executive team to overtly reward those [employees] who demonstrate sharing tendencies,” as well as penalize those who don’t share knowledge, Bruce said.

Organizations can learn from industry leaders. There is a lot of information available, and much of it is free on the Internet, he noted.

Regarding knowledge management systems, though, Bruce advocates spending a little more money for a closed model that turns your knowledge management system into a competitive advantage. “The cheaper ones or the free ones are public and searchable,” he said.

Bruce recommends organizations have their business unit people take ownership of knowledge management, but make HR the facilitator.

“Co-ownership is a good thing,” he said. “I would encourage your business unit people to be the sponsors … to capture the knowledge, redistribute the knowledge, but HR can be the evangelists,” giving HR more credibility at the C-level.

As for the looming retirement of baby boomers, that may not happen, Jamieson noted.

Most boomers are fiscally sound but many don’t want to retire, he said, citing a Monster survey. They prefer to remain in the workforce in a lower capacity if given the opportunity. Access to health care is a big motivator, more so than salary, for boomers to continue working—something employers should keep in mind as a retention tool, he observed.

More organizations consider conventional turnover—not retirement—riskier to their loss of knowledge as younger workers not only take knowledge when they leave, but typically bring it to competitors, the survey found.

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News. She can be reached at kgurchiek@shrm.org

Related article:

‘Lost Knowledge’ Threatens Business Growth, Safety, HR News, April 10, 2006

Related resources:

SHRM Workplace Forecast, 2006-2007 Executive Summary

For the latest HR-related business and government news, go daily to www.shrm.org/hrnews

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