Intellectual capital covers numerous areas, including such things as the skills and knowledge about how to make goods or services, competitive positioning or an understanding of why a process exists and what it affects. There is a massive amount of know-how carried in the heads of the baby-boomer workforce that helps thousands of businesses operate smoothly and efficiently. From a business perspective, intellectual capital is any level of knowledge that can be used to drive revenue or reduce costs and can also be considered a competitive advantage.
In terms of the challenges associated with managing intellectual capital, the advent of the “knowledge worker,” those who use knowledge for performing their job, has raised the cost associated with replacing these workers, since organizations will lose not only a worker but also that worker’s acquired knowledge, experience and know-how. For example, some of the information on the history of a product’s development will be lost if it is not captured before the product manager retires. New members of the product team may not know why a feature was implemented in a certain way or other informal design criteria that may help with future development decisions. In order to handle this challenge, organizations must prepare for the tremendous number of employees retiring through the implementation of an organized and efficient method for capturing this knowledge before too many baby-boomers walk out the door.
To alleviate the pain of capturing intellectual capital, organizations can turn to learning technologies to efficiently and easily adopt methods for employees to enter and access information. Through the use of learning technologies and applications, intellectual capital can not only be quickly captured, but also delivered to employees in a cost-effective and efficient manner. Knowledge can be stored in a central repository, making it readily available to train and retrain current and future employees. Simple authoring tools enable employees like retiring baby-boomers to add their knowledge to the repository. Further, applications that are already available and frequently used, such as Microsoft Word and PowerPoint, can also be used to create information that can then be imported into the learning repository. By employing a repository, information is systematically stored and is accessible through robust search capabilities. Trainers and employees alike have the ability to quickly and effectively search for the exact information, putting the intellectual capital at their fingertips.
By using learning technologies that manage content, organizations are also better able to transfer intellectual capital to other employees. Knowledge can be built into courses and delivered to a variety of mediums—PDA, CD, Word documents, the Web, etc. Along with the ability to provide training when and where it is most needed, the ability to personalize and tailor knowledge to the learner further increases the cost-effectiveness of transferring intellectual capital from baby-boomers to their replacements.
As businesses face the challenges that come with baby-boomers reaching retirement, they can utilize learning technologies to ensure that intellectual capital remains within the organization. Through the proper learning strategy, the retirement of baby-boomers can be less costly and less disruptive for a company, equipping organizations with the tools and know-how needed to survive the loss of valuable employees. As a result, companies are able to easily withstand personnel changes and protect themselves from loss of productivity, which has a direct impact on their bottom line and ultimately, their overall ability to succeed.
Massood Zarrabian is president and CEO of OutStart, a provider of learning and knowledge-sharing software applications based in Boston, Mass.