In 2003, executives at Raytheon Missile Systems decided they needed a plan to transfer knowledge between subject-matter experts and less experienced employees. Even without the problem of impending retirements, “You can never guarantee that people will be in the same place forever,” says Mary Contini Gordon, Raytheon’s manager of innovation services.
Gordon, with help from Sheryl Lain-Young, project manager for retaining corporate knowledge, created a pilot program that partners a senior technical expert with a junior colleague. A coach then helps the two work together. The first challenge was to find experts, who were identified by an executive coach. The experiences of Raytheon and other companies trying this approach shows that in most cases, subject-matter experts are eager to share their knowledge. Here are some tips to encourage your more experienced experts to get involved in mentoring and other types of knowledge-sharing programs:
n Let them know how much they are valued. Experts are usually proud of their work. When the company recognizes them and singles them out as valued employees, they are often more than willing to pass along knowledge that will help them leave a legacy of their work.
n Get support from top management. Even employees who are getting ready to retire may feel overworked and overprogrammed, leaving little time for meetings with junior staffers. If they are given the time or are relieved of some other tasks, they will not feel that it’s an added burden.
n Let the experts help design the knowledge-sharing program. Depending on the area of expertise, older and younger employees may work side by side, but in other cases they may have to work from separate offices and meet regularly in person or by phone.