The loss of knowledge and ways to mitigate this disruption is a key KM topic and practice. Here are some thoughts after reading "Lost knowledge" a new book by David DeLong, 2004.
Clearly we are at the start of the baby-boomer exit from the active workforce - a subtle demographics driver, whose impact and extent have not been fully explored. What does it mean when special skills, essential experience and boat loads of tacit knowledge disappear? - we have a foretaste from mergers, acquisitions and downsizing - major disruptions to knowledge flows and destruction of relationships along which knowledge happens - slow recovery while trust is rebuilt, meaning is shared and understanding is regenerated.
DeLong considers 4 paths:
* Beef up your knowledge transfer practices and increase awareness (CoPs, stories, mentoring, training, interviews)
* Review your HR resources, processes and rules (expertise audits, career development & succession planning, building a retention culture, phase retirements, examine recruitment drives)
* Revisit your explicit technologies to capture, store and share knowledge. (Expertise locator systems, knowledge harvesting & capture, mapping human knowledge)
* Implement a knowledge recovery program (utilize retirees, outsource lost competencies, regenerate lost key knowledge)
Harvesting knowledge just prior to leaving or an impending retirement is a risky and not very fruitful avenue in my experience. I advise clients to cement relationships, build continuing connections and support identity links where ever possible - that way the paths for knowledge flow are maintained.
My view is relationship retention, networking and identity enhancement are the keys to weathering the gathering storm