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Expert Debriefing: How to Secure the Knowledge of Experienced Employees

Lars-Thorsten Sudmann
Feb 26, 2020 6:15:00 PM

Retiring professionals and executives have lots of implicit knowledge - on activities, processes, networks and contact persons. In an expert debriefing, this knowledge should be permanently secured for the organisation.

  • Increasingly, businesses carry out debriefings to secure the implicit knowledge of retiring professionals and executives.
  • Such a debriefing usually entails a “job map” visualising the expert’s knowledge and project history.
  • Debriefing will gain importance in the coming years when the current generation of experts will leave their companies.

When employees leave a company, they take with them a lot of personal knowledge and experience, especially when it comes to "key employees" with important functions and a significant share of relevant business processes. To minimise this loss of knowledge, companies have developed a so-called "expert debriefing" procedure, which preserves a retiring executive’s implicit knowledge for the organisation. The core of this process is the creation of a “job map” and a debriefing interview, conducted professionally.

A Job Map Provides Information on Knowledge, Activities and Projects

The content of a job map is the accumulated knowledge from different areas of work. This includes the subject and product knowledge of an expert as well as the knowledge about processes and contact persons within their organisation. Depending on the job of an employee, their valuable knowledge also includes information about customers and suppliers as well as the market in general. If the employee is an executive, this also naturally includes implicit knowledge of leadership. From such a job map, a potential successor should learn which activities his predecessor has executed and which projects he was involved in. As an expert, the employee leaving the organisation was undoubtedly part of different (informal) networks. The successor should receive access to these as well.

Ideally, the Successor Is Attending the Debriefing Interview

The debriefing interview should be conducted by a neutral facilitator - not necessarily by a supervisor or direct reports of the replaced experts. Ideally, the jobholder’s successor will attend the debriefing to ask questions. If this is not possible, the job map must be explained later to the successor by the interviewer. Just as important as the interview itself is the "homework" which the interviewee gets after a preliminary talk. This is necessary because many questions are difficult to resolve effectively in a spontaneous setting with subject to time constraints. To secure as much knowledge as possible for the organisation, some HR experts suggest that key employees should create a personal job map as an ongoing task, which can then be updated at annual employee reviews.

From Paper to Software

The topic of expert debriefing will surely gain importance in the coming years when a whole generation of experts leaves their companies. Moreover, handing down the baton is challenged by the fact that the retiring professionals and executives belong to a generation that has been socialised before wide-spread digitalisation took hold. The knowledge transfer will, therefore, include a transition from paper to software. In this process, a lot of implicit knowledge must be recorded digitally. Only in this manner can companies successfully prove to be evolving organisations.

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