Professional Jeweler Archive: Holding on to Know-How

November 2000


Holding on to Know-How

When an employee leaves, make sure his knowledge remains

They’ll quit. You know they will. It’s just a matter of time. All jewelers experience staff turnover. You can try to reduce it, and may be partially successful. But you also should prepare for turnover to minimize the damage of the inevitable.

“You know up front that you’re going to lose people these days,” Dallas Bergl, CEO of Miles Federal Credit Union, Elkhart, IN, told The Wall Street Journal. “But from a long-term-strategy viewpoint, the loss of knowledge is an even bigger concern than the immediate disruption caused by the departure.”

Key people are always tough to replace. Develop procedures so you can continue with minimal disruption when someone leaves. Some strategies include:

Emphasize Teams. Reduce the amount of know-how one person has exclusively. At the Wilson McHenry public relations firm in Foster City, CA, teams rather than individual representatives handle all accounts. This way, defections don’t completely disrupt continuity.

Cross-Train. Train employees to fill in for each other. At Great American Marketing & Events, Scottsdale, AZ, each of the 25 staffers is trained to take on the duties of one or two others. Result? A receptionist studied the publishing software package QuarkXpress, and marketing assistants are versatile enough to manage computing tasks for a PC-allergic marketing director.

Get past the hierarchy. At Select Appointments North America, a Wakefield, MA, provider of contingency labor, managers are familiar with the people who report to them and the layer below that. This allows them to know who can fill short-term gaps and who are good prospects for succession.

Keep Records. Many small companies ensure themselves against sudden loss of background knowledge by documenting nearly every transaction. Knowledge-management software is available to track client projects, proposals and new prospects.

Capture Veterans’ Ideas. Employees turn over so rapidly that systems they develop often disappear along with them, then the company is really stuck. Sencore, a Sioux Falls, SD, manufacturer of test equipment for the electronics industry, responded by having its top cathode ray tube expert put his know-how on interactive CD-ROMs.

Exit Interview. They’re still among the most effective tools, but getting truly valuable insights may take some work. “Make it clear you’re really asking for help so you can prevent the loss of good people like them in the future,” says Allen Salik of, president/CEO of Management Recruiters International, Cleveland, OH. In Brookline, MA, Pilgrim Health Care pays “knowledge bounties” of up to $5,000 to departing information-technology employees. The amount depends on the value of the information they leave in a document and a conversation with senior managers.

– by Mark E. Dixon

Copyright © 2001 by Bond Communications