How often have we heard “What a pity Jane left (or retired) as she knew all about this area.” Did anyone try to create a process to pass Jane’s Intellectual Property (IP) on within the organisation, or did anyone think to ask Jane if she would like to continue on a part time basis (assuming she had retired) to help retain the IP and enable its orderly transition within the organisation?
No longer can we be complacent with regard to existing employees. You may need to let them go or they may choose to leave an organisation at any time due to enticement elsewhere, or as a result of planning and managing their own careers and deciding on a different direction (perhaps to phase down to a less stressful environment) or even retirement. Also, as much as we don’t like to think about it, there’s always the possibility of an unforeseen illness or death of an employee.
Do you have a clear plan mapped out so that every key employee has at least two potential successors available if the employee leaves? Also, in turn, who will fill their shoes? A succession plan, carefully prepared and regularly updated, allows you to have a readily available replacement in the event of an unforeseen departure, therefore, minimising disruption and additional costs. The probability of a replacement being successful is often much higher if an internal appointment has been made. Of course, an internal appointment is not always possible, particularly in roles requiring specific skills such as CFO or HRM etc.
By having a clear succession plan and ensuring a clear process is put in place to pass the skills and knowledge to the potential successor (and ensure it is well documented and retained within the company) will go a long way to ensuring an organisation is not vulnerable. One organisation we work with at Hunter Bligh has a unique method of ensuring IP is passed on. This company specialises in capturing the IP as employees transition to new roles or leave the organisation.
Another organisation we work with in respect to capturing IP of retiring employees commences the process twelve months before the expected retirement date. Employees reduce their work load to four days a week (on full pay) and six months before retirement it is reduced further to three days a week (on full pay). This has a dual purpose. Firstly, it forces the employee to pass on their knowledge while still working as they are not full time; and secondly, it contributed to a much more successful transition from the workforce to retirement for the employee as they had a blurring of leisure and work to help them start to adjust to retirement while still working (and possibly adding years to their lives!).
By engaging in an open discussion regarding the development of an active succession plan, some older employees may welcome the opportunity to document the vast knowledge they have built up, and phase down to a reduced level of responsibility, paving the way for more rapid promotion of younger potential successors. This strategy ensures retention and minimises the stifling of young workers’ aspirations, as well as retaining your extremely valuable intellectual property and not seeing it walk out the door.