February 2020, Vol. 247, No. 2


When Workers Leave: How to Retain Their Knowledge

By Rick Cruz, Managing Director, Global Solutions, CTG

Like other manufacturers, the oil and gas industry is impacted by the impending departure of an aging workforce. The people who make up this group have decades of institutional knowledge that has become second nature within the work environment, yet much of this knowledge is unstructured and not readily available to others across the organization. 

This becomes quickly apparent in the immediate wake of a particularly knowledgeable worker when, “We used to ask Bob, but he retired last month” becomes a familiar refrain. 

The good news is that companies can hold onto Bob’s – or Jane’s or Alan’s – deep understanding of operations through a strategic approach known as enterprise information management (EIM). With this approach, the purpose is to gain or, in the case of knowledge retention, to maintain a competitive advantage through optimally informed decision-making and work process efficiencies. 

By applying EIM methodologies for process and data management, thoughtful companies can retain hard-earned institutional knowledge, while creating a foundation to deploy scalable solutions, such as work automation and business intelligence. 

Replacing the Irreplaceable

Daily work tasks and the evolution of the processing environment creates institutional knowledge. Over time, these processes becomes second nature to people who work in the environment. Time in the job allows workers to see how assets perform, how they evolve, where issues exist and how those issues are addressed. 

Consider a longtime operations manager. Monitoring a facility’s assets has been this person’s life 12 hours a day for 30 years. They are in charge of the care and feeding of this unit, how it needs to run and how even a small change could have an impact. Watching these operational people in their natural habitat is amazing — and poses the question, how can they possibly be replaced? 

The short answer is they can’t. A good deal of daily work will always require person/personnel action. Without capturing their thought processes and experiences, in some way, getting new workers up to speed as they assume their predecessor’s responsibilities will inevitably be painfully disruptive for the organization, and discouraging to the new employee. 

Capturing and relaying knowledge within the workforce begins with creating a clear definition of the objectives, associated processes and information needed to get the work done, otherwise known as process mapping. Now, new workers know where to go, where to look and what to look for – even in the absence of “Bob.” 

Secondly, the formalization of data as an asset, which implies inherit value to the organization, must be owned and maintained. Data, used as inputs and outputs to processes, are the supporting basis for communicating in a common language and capturing knowledge. Finally, a deliberate design to preserve context and collect feedback during the execution of daily activities promotes both a continuous improvement and perpetual knowledge retention. 

Starting the (incremental) Journey

Transforming into an EIM-driven organization, which demands trusted data and accurate information, is not an overnight or all-at-once endeavor. The thought of adopting EIM foundations throughout the company is often overwhelming, because many leaders believe that it will simply cost too much, take too long or add even more responsibilities to their already-busy staff. The good news is, however, that deployment of an EIM foundation can occur over time through the delivery of several smaller projects and initiatives.

Not every company needs to start from the beginning or prepare the mother of all return on investment (ROI) calculations to support the business case of a direct EIM investment. The reality is your company is already making investments in the development and deployment of solutions. 

After taking pause to establish strategic principles and define a vision for the Desired Future State v1.0, companies invest in continuous improvement of the company’s EIM maturity to higher levels that boldly underpin knowledge retention efforts.

By adopting and applying a few key steps to each initiative, companies achieve EIM utopia and realize its benefits over time. These keys for success include the following:

Key 1: Engage stakeholders and identify sponsors. Build awareness and management (leadership) support for structuring information as it relates to work or operating priorities.

Key 2: Assess the current state. It’s imperative to know where you are, before you can figure out where you need to go and how to there.

Key 3. Set a roadmap. Sometimes the journey is a straight shot, and other times not so much. In either case, having a plan helps to get everyone there together. 

Key 4. Scope for success. Keep work deliverables and schedules manageable, so you don’t have to sacrifice quality.

Key 5. Deploy with rigor. Nothing can derail an EIM movement or digital transformation like veering from the design, which causes undesirable delays and rework down the road.

Key 6. Design for measures and feedback. Be able to produce reports and measures that allow you to see where improvement areas exist and when success has been achieved. Don’t forget to allow for feedback, a.k.a. contextual knowledge, as part of the process. 

By applying these keys, companies will be ready to handle an aging workplace. Keys 1 through 3 are particularly critical pieces in establishing a common goal and obtaining commitment, with which initiatives can be executed with confidence.

Management Readiness

A simple exercise to discover where a company should begin the EIM journey is to examine what is involved in getting certain projects off the ground—such as putting together a work package. If planners have to go to five different places to get the data for this, then data lineage is poor, which speaks to current data management. 

In another test, ask operators how they ascertain the health of certain equipment, such as a pump. Will they all supply the same answer? Will they all go to the same source to get the answer? Any variation in the answers is a tell-tale sign of poor knowledge management, not to mention the operational risks it poses. 

If answers and data sources are uniform, then measure the efficiency in determining the health to identify if an issue exists in processing the data. If there are, then a company can move onto defining and visualizing process and success metrics. 

When companies have clear articulation of the work that takes place and the information is structured to support completing that work, it becomes possible to analyze for areas of improvement, such as in efficiency gains or increased quality. It is also an opportunity to assess areas that are consistently well-executed to see if manual steps can be automated.  

Another way of putting that is we can apply a digital solution to old problems. EIM is the structure that enables that solution – because when data are well ordered and structured, companies can blueprint how they work. Moreover, information is now trusted: it is now part of the job expectation to confirm that the information is good, is current, and is dependable. 


There will always be an impact when great workers leave an environment. But, with EIM foundational principles in place, companies can maintain much of their institutional knowledge to both mitigate risk and maximize the opportunity for improvement.

Author: Rick Cruz is managing director, Global Solutions at CTG. He has more than two decades as an oil and gas industry and software solution expert.  

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