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SME Systems: Knowledge Transfer Between Generations

Of the 2 million small businesses in Australia (and millions more in the US, UK and other nations) many are facing a critical challenge: How can they best transition knowledge from Baby Boomer staff and owners to Gen X and Y employees?

‘Has anybody else seen that elephant in the room?’ With many Boomers facing retirement in the coming years, the retention of knowledge is a growing concern for business owners right now. Having years of knowledge walk out the door can cause major interruptions, not to mention the situation where health concerns of Boomers (or their partners) unexpectedly bring about premature retirement.

Yet, ‘nobody is mentioning the elephant’: when and how are we going to move that knowledge out of their heads and into the heads of other staff …and ideally into a system that all staff can use?

Maintaining profitability while knowledge is being passed on and often within a relatively short time is the challenge. This is being done with mixed results across all business sectors. In addition, there are also major differences between generations in terms of their preference or aversion to the use of technology, which can make the task of knowledge transfer an interesting one.

Systemisation is one important approach to mitigating the risk of knowledge loss. If you operate a business with a reliance on highly knowledgeable staff, your business may be vulnerable. While the loss of knowledge can threaten some staff, with good leadership and communication this knowledge transfer can be achieved. If you systemise the norm and allow staff to manage the exceptions, you can show any concerned staff that systems do not make staff redundant which is often the fear.

Systemised businesses are highly attractive places to work and manage, they allow staff to have time off, plus the business as an asset is considerably more valuable.

It is clear the clock is ticking for many businesses to determine a plan, action it and remove this risk of knowledge loss. If this is something you must face, what are you going to do about it?

Here are some questions to consider:

  • Do stakeholders support this knowledge transfer and have commitment to complete the task?
  • Have you considered which staff to involve? • Do your staff have the right skills to complete this?
  • Is there a need to get external help due to expertise or time availability?
  • Will time be set aside from day to day responsibilities to complete the task?
  • Have you consulted staff on how they think it can be best approached?
  • Should knowledge be documented or build it into a system?
  • Can an existing system house this knowledge?
  • Have you formed a realistic plan for these activities?
  • Do you have the end picture in mind?

In future articles, I will take more time to outline the obstacles and offer some points to help navigate this multi-faceted quandary of systemization and knowledge transfer.

In the meantime, remember that systems and technology exist to be leveraged in order to give time back to you and your staff. The aim is to use your systems to make a profitable business without unduly relying on key personnel.

About the Author

Matthew Green is a business advisor with the Infinite Group. He has developed a reputation as a creative and systematic thinker, who brings proven tools, techniques, tactical and strategic advice to deliver value to any business. Matthew has a Bachelor of Information Systems and over 12 years experience across many companies and industries.

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