Knowledge transfer for succession planning

Passing on knowledge to the next generation of leaders

Knowledge transfer for succession planning
Brian Kreissl

By Brian Kreissl

While most of us like to think we bring something unique and special to our jobs, the truth is no one is completely indispensable. Notwithstanding the cult of personality that seems to pervade the reputations of senior leaders, organizational life generally goes on even after the departure of a highly respected and influential CEO.

A true leader recognizes that a big part of her role is to help groom one or more successors so there is someone to fill the vacuum when that person gets promoted, makes a lateral career move or leaves the organization.

This is never more important than when the leader in question is nearing retirement. However, leaders can move at any time in their careers or at any age.

Knowledge transfer must be part of any effective succession planning initiative because failing to properly document organizational knowledge can be catastrophic when that knowledge literally walks out the door. The focus should be on minimizing the loss of critical knowledge that can only be transferred through one-on-one coaching or gained through personal experience, while at the same time maintaining profitability, productivity and organizational continuity.

Questions to address in facilitating knowledge transfer

The following questions should be answered in determining how to successfully facilitate the transfer of knowledge through succession planning:

  • Has your organization defined the developmental experiences that it requires for its leadership positions and other key roles?
  • Have you documented the work-related and company-specific competencies of key employees to use as an inventory in times of crisis or short notice to identify the right team of people?
  • Do you have a completed succession plan, including a list of possible successors?
  • Have you had discussions with your employees regarding the various possible means of passing on their organizational knowledge, and are there plans in place to accomplish this?
  • Do you have work teams and employee cross-training in place to foster knowledge transfer and broaden employee skill sets?
  • Has your organization developed training courses or established leadership development programs to develop talent in key areas?
  • Have you explored whether employees who are planning on retiring within the next few years are interested in participating in mentoring arrangements, and, if so, are these arrangements in place?
  • Do you have a contingency plan for a backup or replacement executive to take responsibility of another's role in the event of injury, accident, disability or death?
  • Do you have insurance policies for individuals in key leadership roles?
  • Are your business and financial plans documented?
  • Are stakeholder agreements in place covering the rights and responsibilities of various parties in the knowledge transfer process?
  • Do you have retention programs in place for executives?
  • Have you documented your systems and procedures to ensure effective transfer of knowledge? Do you have some type of knowledge management solution?
  • Have you established a regular evaluation system (annual talent reviews) to hold both individuals and managers responsible for implementing individual development plans and passing on knowledge?
  • Do you have plans for bringing in new employees while incumbents remain in the organization to facilitate knowledge transfer?

Additional tips and strategies

Some leaders may need to be encouraged to do more knowledge-sharing, mentoring and developing successors. Ideally, they should be held accountable for developing others.

A collaborative, team-based environment is conducive to the sharing of knowledge. This can be achieved through the appropriate organizational values, effective change management, targeted organizational communications, competency frameworks, performance management programs and the right compensation structures.

Part-time, freelance and consulting assignments can also help facilitate knowledge transfer. With increasing longevity and changed attitudes towards aging and retirement, many retiring leaders and managers may be thrilled to have an opportunity to offer their services as consultants for a few hours per month. This allows knowledge transfer to extend beyond the official retirement date.

Email can also be an effective means of knowledge transfer, even after a leader has departed from the organization. Provided he is willing to be contacted, allowing a former leader to keep his company smart phone and email address for a while can be helpful to employees who need to ask a quick question.

This post is an edited and condensed excerpt from the HR Manager’s Guide to Succession Planning, by Brian Kreissl and Yaseen Hemeda. Quote promo code 61465 when ordering to receive a 30 per cent discount — offer expires Dec. 31, 2018.

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