How to Build and Maintain a Premier Organization

An important trend facing organizations across all industries is bridging the knowledge gap between outgoing employees and those who remain or are hired to fulfill their work. Despite a stubbornly persistent unemployment rate in the U.S., attracting and retaining people who can positively impact your company remains a considerable challenge to building and maintaining a premier organization. Triggered by Baby Boomer retirements, companies must develop systematic ways to attract the best, retain the best, and hold on to the knowledge that the best contribute to their organizations.

This paper is based upon my extensive experience in executive recruiting and 22 years as a Human Resources practitioner and offers ways to ensure that when key people leave, the intellectual investment made by your organization remains for the next generation of employees.

Knowledge Transfer
How do we take the knowledge accrued by experienced employees and transfer it to those succeeding them? How do you bridge the knowledge gap that exists between those with extensive experience and those with clear potential but less tenure? How do you retain the knowledge that younger talent invests into an organization when they decide to take the next step in their careers?

For organizations across all industries, retaining the knowledge that you’ve invested in creating is important. When people leave, it’s too late to retain what they take with them. To counterbalance that, it’s important to have processes in place to harness and retain that knowledge before they depart.

Knowledge transfer is not easy. It requires discipline, a plan, and a process. But there are important steps companies can take to enhance and retain crucial, experiential information.

Inventory your talent. Identify which positions are most crucial—executives, business development, sales, product development, risk management, team leaders in project management, etc., and initiate knowledge transfer accordingly.

Plan ahead. Retirement, maternity leave, and employees deciding to return to school full time usually provide you with months or weeks of advanced knowledge. Hire replacements for these departures as soon as possible and allow the new hires to job shadow before they take over.

Know where your talent lies. Create an experts’ list or a skills database for who in your organization manages risks and opportunities. They may not always be at the top of the org. chart but they are important sources of institutional knowledge.

Conduct exit interviews before an employee leaves. Candid and credible exit interviews are beneficial. But don’t wait until the exit interview to glean important information. Regularly ask employees the types of questions you would in an exit interview. It may help you retain great talent and will minimize the impact of their departure if they choose to leave.

Keep in touch. Consider creating ways for retired employees to stay involved by inviting them to breakfast briefings, engaging them in market research, asking them to share business intelligence, and encouraging them to send you emails or reports on trends or nuances in your industry. You will garner goodwill and good knowledge.

Establish and track your metrics. These must be tied into your organization’s goals and objectives and should track how HR is contributing to meeting them. For instance, one metric that makes sense to track is the cost of employee turnover.

There are multiple ways to track turnover costs including this method explained in a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) webcast. SHRM predicts that it costs six to nine months salary to replace a salaried employee. If you lose a petroleum engineer making $85,000, it will cost you $42,500–$56,100 to replace her. Regardless of the methodology, understanding and tracking these types of metrics will help you directly link the HR function to your organization’s strategic and financial objectives.

How do you fill this knowledge hole? There are a number of successful strategies that I’ve seen companies employ.

Mentoring and reverse mentoring
The CEO of SAP, Bill McDermott, announced to a group of executives in Northern Virginia that he advocates promoting Millennials as innovation leaders. While a bit controversial, he appreciates that older employees can learn from these digital pioneers and that experienced professionals have a great deal to offer their younger counterparts. With our workforce soon to consist of five generations, mentorships and reverse mentorships are a smart strategy.

Team projects to train and advise
Diverse project teams are smart operationally and provide a valuable method of knowledge transfer. They offer a broader perspective than solo assignments. They change office culture with communal workspaces, video conferencing, and the flexibility to work from home. And they provide a forum for capturing knowledge by documenting achievements, errors, and omissions for post-project review. This rich institutional knowledge can guide future projects and future employees with meaningful content.

Job Rotations
Best practices show that companies who regularly provide new opportunities to employees not only increase retention but build institutional value. Taking an Operations Specialist and putting him into HR, or moving an Engineer into a Sales role takes effort and planning. The moves must meet needs of the employer, however, and must build upon the interests and competencies of the employee.

Succession Planning
Succession planning helps your organization effectively plan for your future human resource needs. It allows you to build strategically important competencies and helps your organization grow an internal talent base necessary to replace those who are promoted, leave, or retire.

Today’s highest-performing companies are succession planning well beyond the C-Suite. Regardless of whether people stay 5 or 35 years, the knowledge that they gain during their tenure is valuable and it’s important that you take the necessary steps to retain it.

Once your succession plan is in place, you have to create a succession process. Your company’s priorities should be embodied in your succession process. Want to become more nimble in social media? Take direct steps to achieve it now. Want to outpace your competition in Big Data? You’ll need to recruit, hire, and retain data scientists. Considering merging marketing and IT into an integrated unit? Plan for how such a move will impact future hires.

As you go through this important process, always remember that who you hire today may become your CEO in eight years.

Building your own talent
When talent walks out the door, do you have the bench strength and knowledge base you need to supplant it? Despite a dizzying array of technological advancements, business remains profoundly personal in many ways. The final way to offset talent loss is through internal talent growth. Combined with knowledge transfer and succession planning, talent growth is the third leg of the premier organization stool.

One of the best ways to build internal talent is to provide cross-functional growth opportunities for those with promise. Sales and finance have historically been the most fertile grounds for nurturing future CEOs. But that dynamic is changing. CMOs and CTOs are beginning to move into the coveted corner office. Whether you’re grooming CEO successors or mid-level managers, opportunities to broaden experience and exposure are golden.

Creating professional challenges, mentoring with talent, and delivering systematic training opportunities can help your organization build a strong internal talent base. A surfeit of talent is one of the most important challenges facing the business world. Internal talent development is vitally important for organizations of all sizes.

External recruiters can help organizations address these needs. Every day, our goal is to match the right people with the right opportunities and we keep abreast of what’s happening in the industry, best practices, and important trends. That is valuable external perspective. By employing knowledge transfer, succession planning, and talent building into your business strategy, you can take important steps to building a competitive, premier organization.

Are you building a premier organization? Do you employ an integrated approach as described above or have your found other methods to achieve your objectives? I will be blogging more about these issues at Your Career Intel in the near future and I’m very interested in hearing how you are building a premier organization.

About Mike Kahn, SPHR
Mike’s parents owned a retail store while he was growing up. After graduating from Tulane University, he began working for Foley’s Department Store in Houston, Texas. There, one of his mentors stressed the importance of knowledge transfer between Salespeople and Store Buyers in order to better understand the consumer. It was a lesson he never forgot. Mike has worked in Human Resources for more than 20 years and joined Lucas Group’s HR Practice Group in 2009. He is Director-elect for Texas SHRM, representing some 18,000 HR professionals, and will become its Director in 2015.

About Lucas Group
Lucas Group is North America’s premier executive search firm. Since 1970, our culture and methodologies have driven superior results. We assist mid-tier to Fortune 500 Clients find transcendent, executive talent; Candidates fully realize their career ambitions; and Associates find professional success. To learn more, please visit Lucas Group at and connect with us on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

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