Estimate the Brain Drain

65 – Do you know which key employees will soon retire?

Do you have the kind of company in which your employees warn you, months or years in advance, of their plans to retire…so that you have ample time to resolve brain-drain and skills shortages? Probably not. more likely you look up to see a cluster of silver-haired key people, whispering words like “downsizing” and “new boat.” The reason you are not likely to know who plans to run, not walk, on their 65th birthday, is that they are afraid that – as soon as they tell you their plans – you’ll tell them to just leave now.

Such is the state of our mutual loyalty failings. Employees and Employers have been living in mistrust of one another for years. Yet, as their leader, you must find a solution to brain-drain or you will face a much less safe corporate future.

This situation leaves you with two options:

  • Announce that you are beginning a knowledge transfer program, or a skills sharing and saving program and you need to know their plans. Promise them you won’t use it against them…and keep that promise. Bring in a “middle-man” to spearhead knowledge and skills sharing. Open a new channel – it’s done is science every day.
  • Or…guess. Your files include their date of birth, family history, medical records. Even an educated guess is better than taking no action at all.

Have you considered which members of your staff hold significant knowledge in the top three knowledge categories?

  • Intellectual Knowledge – such as how this machine works or why that funding program is most useful.
  • Relational Knowledge – such as a sales director might have with clients, or the personalities of those within the supply chain.
  • Institutional Knowledge – already documented in training manuals.

Identify these individuals. Assure them that they are valuable to the future of the company and to all of it’s future workers.  Ask them tell you, in their own words, what they do. Otherwise you will suffer significantly without them. And you will suffer again and again as one ill-trained employee is replaced by another.

Have you considered which members of your staff protect your company security and the safety of your intellectual property as well as the physical structure.

Make a list of those individuals, whether they are retiring or not, because they hold sacred knowledge and they could leave your company any day.


Take the first steps toward building a knowledge sharing and skills sharing culture, in which all ages find value in sharing what they know, and in learning from other employees. Don’t expect smooth sailing.  Authors of Facing the Challenges of a Multi-Age Workforce assert that patient and personalized leadership will be essential to build success. If this is not your nature, bring in someone who reports directly to you and fills this this critical function.

No matter how long you manage to hold on to your experienced employees, eventually – all those who can retire, will do so. Better keep after that skills and knowledge capture, no matter what.

In Summary:

  • List the workers you know, or expect, will soon retire.
  • List the kinds of jobs that encompass the top two knowledge categories: intellectual and relational.
  • List the jobs that require specific skills: whether industrial skills or relational skills.
  • Set your own mind to openness and sharing. Tell your employees that you have done so and that you need their support in this.
  • Take a step, and then another.

Keep this in mind – you can’t dictate sharing, you must demonstrate it.


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