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As employees retire, make sure their knowledge doesn’t leave with them

When we talk about labor and recruiting, conversations (including my column last month) often turn to younger folks—how do we recruit a new crop of LBM stars? But you also need to be thinking about potential challenges with team members on the opposite end of the age spectrum: the droves of long-term employees who will be retiring soon and taking a whole load of internal knowledge with them.

Having career employees is wonderful— they’re dedicated, and they know their stuff. But it also means they know things you and the rest of your staff may not, whether it’s that your best customer only likes phone calls on Tuesdays or the latest requirements for making insurance claims.

In addition, the longer they’re in the job, the more efficient they get at it. Most people absorb more tasks as they get better at them or as they seek to expand their talent or as they face shifts in staffing. This means older and veteran employees are likely doing more in their role than if you put someone new into the job. But you can’t expect a new person’s first day to look the same as the retiree’s 5,000th day. In fact, you may need to consider hiring two people to take the place of one.

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The time to plan is now. Here are some key steps to take:

  1. Have frank conversations: For some of your long-timers, it may be tough to talk about retirement. For example, they may worry that you’ll force them out early. And it may be something you want to avoid facing, as well. But having the conversation, as early as five to seven years out, is important so that you can plan ahead and so they can leave their role in the best hands possible.
  2. Understand their job: Like it or not, your employees know more about doing their jobs than you do, and they’ve learned the nuances that equal success. Have a soon-to-retire employee write down everything they do or consider having someone shadow them for several weeks. This may be the only way to fully grasp the small parts of a job that will fall by the wayside when the employee leaves (not to mention where everything is kept or filed).
  3. Extract the knowledge: Just as important as what the employee does is how they do it. Have them provide step-by-step instructions for how they complete key tasks. For office staff and executives, one easy way to do this is with a Google Chrome extension called Loom, which allows them to shoot a screen capture video as they walk and talk through a task. You can also ask them to do quick voice recordings. Grant Leavitt, of Marcus Lumber in Marcus, Iowa, takes it even further by doubling up on staff for a period of time that ensures a smooth transition from the retiring person to their replacement hire. He also will have team members record themselves in mock phone calls or other sales conversations.
  1. Assess your workforce: Truly assess how much time it takes to do the soon-to-be vacant job. Will someone new to the role be able to accomplish it all? Should they? Younger generations place importance on work-life balance, and 60-plus-hour weeks are no longer a preferred determination of one’s value. If a job needs to be split, it’s probably cheaper to do so than to keep replacing people who get overwhelmed and quit.
  2. Leverage their loyalty: Soon-to-retire employees can be an asset to your recruiting efforts. We want people to build a career with us—and what better way to do so than by showing them the folks who have? Ask long-timers to record a testimonial or be part of a marketing campaign to promote their experiences and why they have enjoyed having a career in LBM—and with you.

Encouraging these types of conversations and requesting an in-depth knowledge transfer can feel daunting. But it’s a critical step to ensure a smooth transition from one generation to the next. Don’t wait until it’s too late.

Rikka Brandon is the leading recruiting and retention expert for the LBM industry. She’s the CEO of and founder of where she helps building products business owners and leaders solve their recruiting and retention challenges with strategy, best practices, and access to experts.

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