Knowledge Transfer In Succession Planning


I’ve recently joined a new organisation and I was amazed to be told that two members of staff were soon to be retiring with 100 years service between them. Just let that sink in, a century of work between 2 people.


In an age when the rise of the gig economy is being communicated frequently, as is the assertion (rightly or wrongly) that ‘millenials’ move jobs more often than previous generations have, this amount of service made me feel really proud and passionate, about the organisation I had joined. In a way, it made me feel more determined to do my job as best I can, because I, like everyone else who works there, have a responsibility to keep up that level of contribution to the organisation. I wrote a little on loyalty in one of my earlier blog posts (Whose Loyalty Is It Anyway).

But this also had me thinking.

How do you capture 100 years of knowledge?

OK so the simple answer is, you can’t and don’t need to. In their respective 50 year careers they would have learned new skills, new technology, learned to make new products, out of new materials and during that time some of their knowledge would have become obsolete. But a lot of the knowledge they have is relevant, essential and needs to be transferred.

I thought further on this and delved into the area of succession planning and more to the point, knowledge transfer management specifically.

I realised that a lot of assumptions are made about knowledge transfer. My perception and experience is, for example;-

  • We usually assume that one persons role can be replaced by a ‘like-for-like’ employee in future.
  • We often assume that we CAN capture all of the relevant knowledge somehow.
  • We assume that the departing employee has the capability to convey their knowledge, the skills to train their replacement, and the self-awareness to understand the importance of the subtle nuances they may take for granted and therefore not be mindful to impart.
  • We often take for granted that the leaver and the new starter are compatible to create a teacher/learner, mentor/mentee, trainer/trainee relationship
  • We seldom apportion appropriate discernment to the additional elements that are transferred, such as attitudinal judgement and organisational cultural considerations, and whether this needs to be managed differently.

I don’t have answers here, and i’m sure others have considered much of this, but it’s not been my experience and is worthy of more dialogue and discussion.

I find the rise of Artificial Intelligence fascinating and with more and more technological advancements leading to more automation, it’s nice to hear CIPD promoting their opinion that ‘The Future of Work is Human’. With that being the case, more creative ways of managing knowledge transfer, putting what we learn about neuroscience into action, is worthy of further debate.