How to Retain Institutional Knowledge When Employees Retire

Every day, 10,000 baby boomers reach retirement age. Although many work well past their 65th birthday, most veteran employees take valuable company know-how with them when they finally walk out the door for the last time—leaving less-experienced employees struggling to fill their shoes.

The insurance industry is aware of this impending transfer of knowledge—or lack thereof. In a recent survey of more than 2,200 members of the community, insurance pros listed recruiting and retaining talent as the top challenge facing their organizations in 2016. 

The survey also found that insurance organizations are combating the talent gap by encouraging retiring workers to pass on institutional knowledge in the form of industry contacts, relationships with clients, informal best practices and more. This is one of the top three approaches, which also include increasing recruitment efforts of recent college graduates and encouraging experienced employees to mentor younger employees.

Mentoring as the Medium

There's no reason why a mentoring program can't serve as an essential component of how your retiring workers pass on organizational knowledge. Formal mentoring setups, which pair a knowledgeable worker with a less-experienced one, are often very effective, but informal mentoring relationships can be just as beneficial.

Here are three steps insurance organizations can use to make these programs a priority for departing workers.

1) Review your workforce. Take a look at your employees to identify which veterans have the most important knowledge and will be the most effective at imparting it. Use this information to set up succession plans, adjust training schedules and create a strategy to fill cracks in institutional knowledge.

2) Make knowledge-sharing a priority. Put a greater emphasis on formal or informal mentoring, training sessions and organizing institutional knowledge. Urge those who are approaching retirement to document the steps and details of day-to-day tasks to prepare less-experienced workers to do the same work in the future. You could even take a page from Intel's book and have older workers create a corporate wiki.

3) Make it part of their jobs. If you give retiring workers additional time to impart knowledge, make sure you lay out your expectations. Managers should explicitly list related tasks as part of the retiring worker’s responsibilities, such as passing on information through training, mentoring and updating written processes.

Making It Work for Millennials

With so much knowledge to pass on, insurance pros should focus on making the transfer as efficient as possible. Ideally, the employee who inherits the information will stay with the company for a long time.

The trouble is that young professionals don't tend to stick around for more than a few years. There's little to keep these young employees from soaking up lots of valuable institutional knowledge—and then using that insight to land a new job somewhere else.

Just as you want to vet your experienced employees who are sharing the information, you should pay close attention to the employees who will inherit the knowledge. While some millennials will undoubtedly jump ship, investing in the development of your best young workers can boost long-term retention. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, millennials' three most desirable workplace qualities are opportunities for career progression (52%), competitive wages and other financial incentives (44%), and good training and development programs (35%).

And it's not just millennials who react positively to a long-term career track. According to a recent Mercer study, more than 75% of all workers would remain with their employer longer if they saw a clear career path within their current organization. Tying the institutional knowledge to a detailed career development plan can go a long way toward keeping your most prized information in–house—and engaging your most promising young employees. 

Angela Pilotti, CPCU, ARe, is managing director of content development at The Institutes.