The following story was described by Lindsey Schantz, a Boston-based consultant with Novations Group.
Client: A large pharmaceutical organization.
Problem: The company was at risk of losing the organizational knowledge held by a group of long-tenured employees preparing for retirement.
Cause: The retiring employees were scientists who loved their technical work, but had no interest in learning about the organization's hierarchical structure, developing better interpersonal skills, or being groomed for management. In fact, the scientists had seen colleagues who excelled at their jobs move into leadership positions and fail because they did not have the skills or desire to manage. For these reasons, the scientists were wary of any formal process intended to transfer their technical skills and organizational knowledge to other employees. They simply wanted to come to work and do the job they loved.
In addition, due to several organizational changes, the company's top management had changed over recent years, and the organization's leaders were now a group of new and young employees. This dynamic made the longstanding employees feel disconnected to the organization as a whole.
Method/Tools: First, Schantz conducted a behavioral competencies assessment to learn how the group of scientists—as well as the entire organization—was behaviorally contributing, and to determine what development opportunities were available to bridge the knowledge gap. The assessment measured behavioral competencies such as learning new knowledge, learning from experience, and working within organizational culture.
Schantz aggregated the data and then facilitated a series of focus groups to provide the employees with an informal setting in which to discuss the data and voice their perspectives. The data was combined for the entire group of scientists, so the employees felt more comfortable giving and receiving feedback, as no one person was spotlighted.
Diagnosis: During the focus groups, the scientists expressed the feeling that their work was not appreciated by the larger organization, including the top leaders. Also, the scientists equated coaching and knowledge transfer with management competencies, and so they assumed that they would have to become a manager in order to develop other employees.
Solution: Schantz reintroduced a development model and explained its supporting research and data, which was convincing for the analytically minded scientists. The model mapped out how an employee's individual behavior and contributions affected the organization. The scientists then brainstormed ways that they could develop up-and-coming employees without having to leave their current positions.
Currently the knowledge transfer process is under way, and the final result is yet to be determined. The scientists agreed to several solutions, including to engage in informal mentor relationships with newer employees, and to host weekly conversations about industry trends and scientific research.