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Handling challenges in retiree knowledge retention

1 July 2010
Mila Pavlock
A book with a light bulb head and a paper boat

A popular misconception states that in our day and age, technology is the solution for nearly any problem. With all due respect to the great importance of technology, in many cases it isn't enough- not even in fields that involve monitors and keyboards. This is mainly reflected in processes such as Retiree Knowledge Retention, whose success depends on human advantages, flexibility and out ability to adapt to the situation.

Well, what is Retiree Knowledge retention? Organizations have already understood that workers' brains (especially veteran workers) hold knowledge that is valuable for the organization's future. Therefore, organizations tend to lead Retiree Knowledge Retention processes which are essentially lengthy interviewing of retirees that hold the most vital knowledge.

As in every Knowledge Management activity, these processes may raise some objection; furthermore, in many cases the retirees oppose these processes since this is project is the first time the retiree is confronted with their retirement, a notion that might raise some dilemmas and worries.

This piece therefore presents you with tips and recommendation that may help you handle the various objections that a Retiree Knowledge Retention process may encounter.

Imagine a situation in which your product and its quality depends on a person resisting any cooperation, that might even be bitter towards the system and can freely refuse to assist you without fearing being fired. This is an abstract of a plot that still hasn't reached its conclusion; it is your responsibility to ensure that all ends well despite these obstacles.

Let me delve into the details: The person refusing to assist you is a retiree that has given 40 years to the organization from which they are retiring in a few months. Moments before retiring, they are dealing with mixed feelings- some unpleasant (fear of the unknown future, frustration) and are searching for any opportunity to get these feelings off their chest. Whoever leads a Retiree Knowledge Retention process serves as the retiree's sympathetic ear that can allow them to express their feelings.

Note: the percentage of retirees that object to the process and do not cooperate with the knowledge retention is miniscule; however, in the rare case we must interact with such a retiree we are required to be quick on our feet and prepared for courtship games. While we have no say regarding the rules to these games, we can nevertheless win.

What must we do in order to win over said retiree?

  1. First of all, we must receive information from the retiree's superiors in order to understand possible reasons for his/her refuse to cooperate.

  2. The most important stage is setting up an appointment with the retiree. If possible, try to set the appointment in person; be assertive and speak confidently. It is easier to decline on the phone, which makes this stage more challenging. If this is the case, be as assertive, confident and charming a possible and don't forget to smile (your smile can be "heard" through the phone).

  3. Don’t hesitate to use humor. Humor is an ice breaker; when you hear the retiree laughing you will feel confident to pursue further and for an instant forget the negative attitude that they expressed at the beginning of this conversation. And the retiree? Since they let themselves laugh with you on the phone, they have no choice but to continue being nice and in turn accept your offer.

  4. Compliment the retiree- compliments reduce threat.

  5. During your conversation, try using the following sentence: "you are the organization's asset and were therefore chosen to be the expert on this subject that holds unique knowledge that might go to waste if we don't retain it. This is why the organization feels compelled to retain it and the years you invested in this organization".

  6. If you can't reach an agreement and the retiree holds their ground, let them lead; listen to everything they have to say. You will usually empathize with them, but you must remember the reason for which you came and get them to cooperate. It might take several conversations for the retiree to begin viewing the situation from another perspective and becomes more agreeable.

It's very important to maintain a positive relationship with the retiree and accompany them on their way out of the organization (you do not want to be viewed as exploitive, disappearing after attaining their objective.

Throughout our lives we aspire to be professionals; this is not enough. The secret of success is being human and emphatic and not only goal-oriented. I suggest viewing these objections as challenging experiences that once successfully overcome will allow you to feel much pride and satisfaction from your work since you've not only performed your task successfully but also allowed a retiree to feel a little better about leaving the organization towards another chapter of their life.

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