Knowledge retention is a big issue for many organisations, particularly engineering organisations, who may be facing a 10%-20% annual loss of knowledge as the experienced staff retire. Knowledge retention is also one of the most challenging tasks for KM, as it represents the need to "capture" and/or transfer tacit knowledge, as it is the tacit knowledge that is being lost. And everyone knows that tacit knowledge is very challenging to transfer and to capture. It's not as simple as a "brain download" or a vulcan mind meld.
I am currently updating our company offering on Knowledge Retention, the first step in which is an analysis of the risk of knowledge loss. It has become clear to me that there are really two strategic approaches to doing this.
The first is a people-based approach, where you go through the company person by person, assessing both the risk of their leaving, and the value (and replaceability) of the knowledge they hold.
The second is a topic-based approach, where you go through the needed competencies of the organisation one by one, assess for each the value (and replaceability) of the topic, and its risk of knowledge loss.
The end point is the same - a risk assessment mapped against both individuals and topics, which is a starting point for your retention plan, and for the suite of interventions you will need to apply, depending on the context and the amount of time you have available. However the starting points are different.
The choice of which approach to apply depends on the size of your company. An SME, with a relatively small number of staff, many of whom take multiple roles, will need the people-based approach. A large organisation, for pratical purposes, will need to take the topic-based approach.
Whichever approach is best for you, it will allow you to clearly map out the scope and impact of retention risk, and so build an effective retention plan.