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A large cliff
April 9, 2021

How to Keep Institutional Knowledge from Falling Off the Demographic Cliff

A large cliff

This article appeared originally on Sales & Marketing Management

You may have heard about the “demographic cliff” that’s looming over our country’s workforce. This is the point at which the number of people leaving the workforce will outpace the number of new entrants. This cliff means a loss of long-held expertise and customer relationships that have taken years to foster. The challenge facing organizations is to capture, preserve, and share this wisdom—before it’s too late.

For example, in Massachusetts, where I live, employment growth will slow to less than half a percent by 2021 as retirements by baby boomers outpace additions by younger people. This change was accelerated by the pandemic. According to Pew Research, the rate of retirements nationwide rose more in 2020 than any previous year, doubling over 2019.

Preserving Institutional Knowledge

When retirees leave, they’ll take twenty, thirty, or more years of experience with them, leaving younger players to pick up the slack. For many industries—financial services in particular—the customer insights and product knowledge they take with them are critical to revenue generation and growth. Many financial services reps were hired between 1987 and 1994. It’s a ticking clock.

Organizations can not wait until veterans retire to capture their knowledge. They must take steps now to identify the insights that are mission-critical, and be proactive about preserving them. This planning will pay dividends long into the future, as the process can be used not only to harvest the wisdom of retirees but of any top performer at the company.

Replicating “A” Players

Every year, millions of people change jobs for a variety of reasons—advancement, flexibility, layoffs, stress, or a bigger paycheck. Estimates say most of us will change jobs an average of 12 times from ages 18 to 52.

It’s a fact of modern life. We’re a mobile and ambitious culture. But think of how many resources go into hiring and training new workers to replace departing ones. Not to mention the loss of productivity while new hires get up to speed.

This impact crosses corporate functions, but is especially concerning for sales teams. Every sales organization has its top performers—the standout sellers who beat their quotas month after month, quarter after quarter, year after year. No matter the industry, they all have one thing in common: a deep understanding of how a company’s products or services solve specific client problems.

These pros deploy best practices and insights into customer needs that set them apart from the rest. No matter whether these “A” players are about to retire or move to another organization, they’ll take experience with them, leaving green teams scrambling to catch up. Wouldn’t it be better to leverage that expertise now, to raise seller proficiency across the board?

Capturing and Sharing Institutional Knowledge

Harvesting the institutional knowledge of contributors and subject matter experts (SMEs) is essential. You need to be able to preserve it so that you can pass it onto the next generation, preventing a massive outlay for training. And you need to be able to train new hires so that they can model their behavior on the best practices of current stars.

Depending on your industry, you may want to capture these insights:

  • “A” player talk tracks and best practices
  • Product knowledge
  • Customer problems and solutions
  • Customer application-specific knowledge
  • Shifting market needs
  • Technical requirements
  • Compliance changes

Taking the First Step with Video

Recognizing the looming cliff and taking steps to improve internal knowledge sharing is the first step. Identifying a solution comes next. Today, proactive companies are turning to mobile-video to capture institutional knowledge.

According to Aberdeen Group, best-in-class sales organizations are 30 percent more likely to formally collect and share sales “tribal knowledge” than under-performing firms. Having a best practice library of short videos capturing and categorizing this is proving to be the most effective way.

By simply asking your SMEs to speak on a particular topic, you can create a catalog of assets that can be easily shared and accessed across the company. Imagine how much better equipped a sales rep is when they have access to recordings of other reps delivering the perfect pitch and handling any potential objections?

This kind of just-in-time access to company-specific insights on how to deliver customer solutions has raised the bar for sales and other organizations. At many companies, it has created an environment of ongoing peer-to-peer learning where executives and managers can leverage the collaborative strength of their teams—even when spread out over large territories.

Preparing for a New Era

The pandemic has ushered in a new era of remote training. As our steep learning curve ramped up in 2020, it brought to light new opportunities that will benefit us after the virus has run its course. One of those is the value of preserving company information on video—to harness the wisdom of your workforce and prevent organizations like yours from falling off the demographic cliff.

Learn More

To find out how you can prevent “brain drain” and capture critical institutional knowledge to drive seller proficiency now and in the future, watch: Beat the Brain Drain: Learn How to Clone Your Top Performers (Without a Lab).

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