How to Preserve Institutional Knowledge and Prevent Brain Drain

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How to Preserve Institutional Knowledge and Prevent Brain Drain

Brain drain is a situation where organizations are faced with older staff leaving and retiring at a faster rate than new employees reach equivalent levels of skill and expertise. This can be a problem in organizations of all sizes.

While especially relevant to fast-scaling startups who often outpace their own ability to onboard effectively, brain drain impacts even massive companies with tens of thousands of employees.

Preventing knowledge loss often means creating preventive strategies, effectively onboarding people, and hiring to incorporate new expertise while retaining existing knowledge.

These tactics will help you preserve institutional knowledge across your organization, so that the workforce remains productive, valuable, and capable of delivering on strategy and vision.

Implement Succession Planning

Succession planning is one of the most valuable strategies to prevent brain drain, because it ensures you always know who will take the place of existing skilled or valuable persons. This often means developing a matrix to highlight your most value-added or key employees, using competency frameworks and job profiling to determine why they add value and how to replace them, and then generating succession planning based on predictions of their likelihood of leaving the role within x amount of time.

This strategy approaches brain drain from the idea that it will happen, you have to plan for it, and you have to have people ready with the right knowledge, skills, and behaviors, to prevent drops in performance when key people do leave.

Create Mentoring Programs

Lack of proper onboarding is very common in new and old companies alike. Here, new people are often hired on, very quickly introduced to their roles, and then left to be productive under a manager or Scrum leader with no real follow-up or intensive mentoring.

When more experienced individuals do leave roles, these new people are left with very little idea of how or why things are done the way they are, no idea of backlogs, and no real way to add value without changing processes, reverting items, or making a lot of mistakes.

Introducing mentoring programs as part of onboarding helps subvert this issue by ensuring existing employees always pass their knowledge, documentation, and organizational insight on to new people. While most people don’t want to make time in their role for mentoring, it is an important part of a role. The faster you’re hiring, the more time experienced people should be making for mentoring.

Focus on Employee Retention

While replacement strategies are important, employee turnover is still one of the most crucial contributors to skill loss. If you slow down how quickly employees leave, you slow down brain drain, giving your other strategies more time to take effect.

Here, you should focus on employee satisfaction, employee empowerment, fitting individuals to their roles and teams, and creating an environment people want to work in. While you’ll always have individuals who don’t fit, employee retention will make it easier to reduce losses in other places throughout the organization.

Brain drain will slow productivity, decrease profit, and force the organization to change direction or focus as individuals with crucial knowledge leave an organization. Adopt strategies to share knowledge throughout the organization to prevent losing key employees as quickly, and have a plan in place to replace key individuals when they’re ready to move on.


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