I oversee the operations of a local news station. My chief engineer has been running the technical side of our station for more than 15 years. His performance is impeccable, but he’s in his early 60s, and I’m keenly aware that at any moment he might decide to retire and take all his knowledge with him. I’ve been trying to get him to start documenting and passing down his knowledge, but I keep encountering resistance. How can I get him onboard with succession planning, without making him think he’s training himself out of a job?
Dear Forward Thinker,
Perhaps the answers lie not within a change of strategy, but rather one of presentation and pitch. For example, rather than simply asking him to document and record his knowledge, create opportunities and excuses for him to share his expertise. Some ways you might go about gently approaching the topic include:
- Arrange for the senior employee to serve as a mentor for up-and-coming leaders or new hires on a consistent and running basis. (It also couldn’t hurt for the organization to spring for free lunch or breakfast when these get-togethers occur.)
- Incorporate the potential retiree into cross-functional committees, task forces, or project groups charged with improving workplace operations. Because he is older and wiser, it’s nice to let him know you respect his opinion—and that you’re providing opportunities for his voice to be heard.
- Offer new hires or junior employees the opportunity to “shadow” and learn from the more experienced worker.
- Make your longstanding hire a subject-matter expert and ask him to help with videos, articles, white papers, or blog posts that can be used as training courses or guides.
- Assign your experienced worker to projects and programs that require joint efforts between groups of people from different backgrounds and experience levels. The more time that people spend with each other, the more they learn from one another.
- Invite the soon-to-be-retiring worker to participate in on-the-job events such as executive retreats, planning sessions, and hackathons where he will have a chance to speak up and share feedback and insights.
- Encourage young workers to conduct “informational interviews” with your potential retiree about what his role, responsibilities, and workload entail.
- Ask your longstanding employee to be a guest speaker, panelist, or workshop presenter at internal or external events, especially those that encourage him to lead and guide others through instructional exercises or scenario-based challenges.
- Provide part-time or flexible work opportunities for the party considering retiring, which may help ensure that his learning and insights are available for the organization to draw on and learn from for longer than you expect.
People are a business’s greatest asset, and the most experienced people are often the most valuable sources of insight. If you want to encourage them to pass on their learning and wisdom, then it pays to remind them of just how important that their expertise truly is to your organization—and create myriad opportunities to spotlight and underscore it for the benefit of everyone involved.
Scott Steinberg is the author of The Business Etiquette Bible.
Do you have a workplace etiquette question? Submit to Scott by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.