Combating the Loss of Knowledge and Experience When an Employee Leaves

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    Kristie Swenson works with Seed & Crop Protection Products for WinField Solutions, a Land O’Lakes, Inc. company. Her job encourages her to partner with cooperative agronomists and producers in order to share agronomic insights and to ensure understanding of product placement and usage. Agricultural literacy and youth development are two of Kristie’s passions. Kristie can be reached via LinkedIn – visit her profile to learn more about her experiences and background.

    Q. What are the biggest challenges that organizations face when an employee leaves?

    One thing to keep in mind is that not only does an employee take knowledge, the employee also takes relationships. We learn who our “go-to” people are and we build relationships with those people. We learn who the decision-makers are, with whom we need to build support and consensus, and how to work with colleagues. When new employees come onboard, it takes time to develop those relationships. Time is often the biggest challenge – how long can you wait before filling the position? How quickly does an employee need to ramp up? How do you balance effective training with delivering results?

    Depending on the environment when a new employee comes onboard, sometimes the new employee just has to jump in – ask what needs to be done and figure out how to do it; while sometimes the employee can go a little slower and spend more time training. It may also depend on the circumstances of the former employee’s departure – for example, a phased retirement allows more time to train a new employee than a sudden exit.

    Q. Are there any “solutions” that have been especially helpful to resolve this dilemma?

    Here are some common approaches to combat the loss of knowledge and experience:

    1. Managers, teammates, and colleagues all have to be aware of the situation and know that they’ll need to carry a little more weight while the new employee is ramping up.

    2. Sometimes it can be very helpful to keep records, task lists, checklists, templates, etc. to help the new employee figure things out.

    3. Build your bench. Think of a sports team – when seniors graduate or players get hurt, who has the ability to step up? Use succession planning – look at the roles in your organization and identify who would be a good fit for those positions and how long it would take to develop those individuals.

    4. Put individual development plans in place. Again, identify how to help prepare individuals to move along a career path. Here are a few ideas: rotating or cross-training, shadowing, or mentoring.

    These approaches can be tailored to the position and individual. However, some people simply learn best by doing – they can observe a fellow employee or manager, but until you give the new employee the opportunity and responsibility to do tasks, he or she may not truly understand how to do the task. The effectiveness of the “solution” truly depends on the situation and players.

    Q. These are great tips.  Some people have proposed “online learning community” as a solution, what do you think?

    Initially, I picture an online classroom using a mix of video conferencing and webinar technology, so the learners and instructor are all able to see each other along with the material being covered. I think there are benefits to an online learning community, considering the advances in web collaboration and social media, but I do think you lose the value of the human connection when you work through cyberspace. I think an online learning community is a partial solution.

    I still believe the best training is classroom-based, instructor-led, hands-on training. When you incorporate all learning styles and therefore are able to engage all learners, it’s the most effective training and enables the most retention of material. I think online learning helps bridge gaps in time and distance, and I think the most effective solution would be a combination of in-person, hands-on training with online training.

    Q. Do you believe this could cause changes in the role of human resources or training & development professionals in the new 21st century landscape?

    Regarding training, I see most organizations taking one of two paths: either leveraging in-house training departments and placing more responsibilities on human resources professionals or outsourcing the majority of training. That means that T&D professionals need to become more comfortable with online training, including Learning Management Systems and individual online modules.

    For HR in general, I think the online component will continue to grow and I think organizations are struggling to determine which online pieces are the most valuable for them. There are so many items you can access online and so many different platforms to utilize, and I think organizations are trying to balance the social aspect with the productivity aspect. I believe that employees are expecting more and more information to be accessible online – both via internal and external sites �� which means that HR departments and professionals will need to be technologically savvy and confident that online information is secure, up-to-date, and can be kept confidential.

    Q. Are there any resources you would encourage our readers to check out?

    I encourage readers to stay connected to professional and interest groups – check their websites for current topics and information. I’ve found LinkedIn is also a great place to network, ask questions, and learn from a variety of perspectives, experiences, and backgrounds.

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