Brain Drain: 3 Keys to Keeping Your Most Important Intellectual Property

I met a gentleman many years ago at a networking group and he invited me to meet one-on-one at his office. As we talked, he began to unveil things about his personal life. He had been a Financial Ambassador for the U.S Government to Turkey and several South American countries. That was all interesting. What was most intriguing was that his father was one of the two original scientists that had run the Manhattan Project. He then shared with me an insightful comment, ‘With everything that is known about nuclear bombs, there are still things he knows that he never shared.’ It makes you wonder, doesn’t it? Did that lack of knowledge transference cause the further development of nuclear technology to be slowed down? Could there have been different methodologies, processes, or products developed had that information been made immediately available? And, so many more unanswered questions.

The same thing is happening right now in your organization. How many times have you had an employee leave your company, or they had a personal crisis, and then you realized there was information they possessed that hadn’t been captured?

Here are a few of the affects you may have experienced:

1) A process that used to flow easily is now shut down because no one knows about a “missing” step

2) Your largest clients cease to do business with you because you failed to implement a promise that was made by the person that left

3) Chaos breaks out between departments because the person that left had information on how to create harmony between them

4) Some other catastrophic outcome

What can you do to have the competitive edge of keeping that all-important intellectual property? Here are 3 keys that will help immensely in creating a natural “Brain Drain” (Knowledge Transfer) process:

1) Treat your employees like volunteers.

Their paycheck will buy their sweat and time. No amount of money can buy their creativity, innovation, passion, and loyalty. Those are earned through building a strong relationship, both business and personal, and by building trust. Let me give you an example of how well this works when it is put into practice: I know a person that departed from their job a few months ago. The company and the person had an excellent relationship. The parting of ways was on very good terms. After being gone now for a few months, the person and company are still in regular contact, still volunteering and harvesting information that is needed for the company to continue flowing smoothly and easily. Because of the trust and loyalty between the person that left and the people at the company, the person is still acting as a ‘volunteer’ and helping fill in any missing information that would otherwise stopped the company in its tracks.

2) Create a culture that encourages knowledge transfer.

Most companies that I’ve been involved with unknowingly create a climate of distrust and encourage people to hold onto “special” information that they, and they alone, are aware of. The person believes that this knowledge makes them indispensable. It doesn’t. This actually creates an antagonistic environment between the person and the company, with the company feeling like it’s being held hostage and the person feeling like they must do everything within their power to hide the information in order to keep their job secure. As with any behavior, the creation of this type of environment and culture rests squarely on the Executive Team or top executive and this is good news. Why? Because just as they were the one(s) that created the environment that encouraged withholding of information, they are the one(s) that can create the culture of knowledge transfer.

3) Create the tools for knowledge transfer.

What are some of the tools that need to be made available? Opportunities for people to ‘shadow’ other employees and learn what they do and how they do it. This isn’t only good when an employee is getting ready to exit the company, but for many other uses, as well, like understanding how one job connects and contributes to others. Another tool is helping employees capture what they do and how they do it. I talk to many people who are great at what they do and they do it so well that it’s in the realm of unconscious competence, like driving a car. They don’t even think about it anymore. I’ve found that pairing a person that has absolutely no clue about the other person’s job function with them works great in bringing out all the why’s, what’s, and how’s (the minute details). The two people who have been paired can then catalog the information and create a flowchart as documentation for knowledge transfer when it is needed.

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