Digital content skills are essential, but they can often take a long time to develop. It can be especially difficult for those in the heritage sector, which is underpinned by temporary and project-funded roles, alongside the work of our fantastic volunteers. These individuals can make a big impact on your organisation, but in some cases, their knowledge and digital footprint leave when they do.
One risk facing heritage organisations is that skills and knowledge are lost when the people they work with decide to leave. The loss can lead to myriad problems, such as inability to utilise tech, bottlenecking, and reduced productivity.
Perhaps a volunteer has set up a new social media account, or created folders of information on their personal Google Drive. Or maybe an employee attended some digital skills courses during their tenure. If you don’t access that information before they leave, that knowledge will be lost.
Heritage organisations can mitigate against skill and knowledge loss through effective retention techniques. It’s important that we retain and capture these skills and knowledge before people leave, hopefully ensuring a wider knowledge spread across teams in the future.
In this article, we examine some easy steps to master knowledge retention and show heritage organisations how they can protect themselves from losing digital content skills.
The first task is to identify key digital content skills you wish to retain. That requires heritage organisations to think about the relevant skills they currently possess. Remember that some knowledge is easily learnt, and some knowledge will become redundant over time.
To better grasp current content knowledge and skills, heritage organisations can perform a digital skills audit. The audit aims to highlight strengths and weaknesses of various content skills across an organisation, showing any gaps in your knowledge and areas where knowledge is strong.
There are plenty of resources that help you to conduct a digital skills audit. One brilliant tool is the Digital Check-up, created by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations. The tool allows heritage organisations to map digital capabilities through questions exploring the skills of staff and volunteers, which will help to grasp wider organisational knowledge too.
Data from the audit can inform training and knowledge sharing. The audit has the added benefit of uncovering knowledge that organisations did not know they possessed – staff and volunteers may be skilful podcasters, designers, or coders in their spare time, which organisations can use for future projects.
Once you’ve got your results and know the skills and knowledge you want to retain, you’ll need to start internal training and skill-sharing sessions. The sessions will mostly apply to easily transferable knowledge that does not require any specialist skills. If anyone can learn it in only a couple of meetings, then it is ripe for knowledge for sharing.
Simply identify the individuals who possess easily shareable skills, arrange a meeting, and ask the individual to keep notes that others can reference for support. This documentation is important, as it allows people to access skills without that individual present. It will be most helpful as a step-by-step guide accompanied by screenshots, or other appropriate visuals to make instructions clearer.
Transparency and accessibility are key. You want to ensure as many people as possible have access to the skills, particularly the individuals responsible for related tasks.
Ensure the documentation is uploaded to shared folders if you have them, so that everyone can access the information. Email the notes directly to those most likely to use them, so that there will always at least be one person who can share them with others if needed, and they can easily find it by searching their inbox.
Several apps can support knowledge sharing. Zoho and GSuite are popular options, but there are loads of others on the market. Do your research, consider your needs, and pick the best software or platform for your organisation. And remember, most of all, to simplify the sharing of knowledge.
Sharing through training and skills-sharing sessions are important. But certain content skills and knowledge require more in-depth training, especially if they are complex. These are the sorts of tasks that cannot be learnt through simply reading a document or through short meetings.
The good news is that there are simple ways to retain such content skills and knowledge. Mentoring, shadowing, and job rotation can all be helpful, so we’ll look at each in a bit more detail.
Heritage organisations should identify mentors (people with certain knowledge and skills) and mentees (people who need to attain certain knowledge and skills). The purpose of mentoring is to tap into the existing knowledge, skills, and experience of senior or high performing employees and transfer these more complex skills to other employees through constant interaction.
Mentoring is basically prolonged training, with practical application and a goal that the mentee leaves confident that they can apply the new skills and knowledge. For content, mentoring could prove particularly effective at teaching mentees how to create content via different mediums.
Mentoring has added benefits of growing the mentor’s leadership skills, improving cooperation, creating dialogic learning through communication, and allowing employees to gain new perspectives.
Work shadowing is like mentoring but depends more on observation. One employee or volunteer observes another at work, watching what they do over a given period, absorbing by watching. Shadowing is particularly effective for specific and complex content tasks, allowing the observer to learn from a broader perspective.
Shadowing offers myriad benefits – it builds confidence, transfers skills efficiently, develops wider awareness of the organisation – but there are downsides, too. Shadowing can be time-consuming, for example, and a failure to adequately learn through observation can be frustrating for employees.
Role rotation allows employees of an organisation to shift between two or more jobs at regular intervals to expose them to all the verticals in an organisation. It is a pre-planned approach with an objective to increase knowledge, skills, and competencies.
Role rotation breaks up the potential monotony of work, giving employees a greater insight of the wider organisation and a wider experience that can inform their normal job. It’s not simply a chance to see what another staff member does, but to learn how they do it so you can take over if necessary.
The downside of role rotation is that it often takes people away from their core tasks. It might break up the monotony of work, but that work still needs to be done.
Asking staff and volunteers who are leaving to write an official handover can be very helpful in keeping skills and knowledge within your organisation.
Detailed handovers should include information on ongoing projects, what tasks needed to be completed, relevant people who are working on the project and may need to be informed on its progress, and any links and tools they’ve used. For example, if an account has been set up on a social media account in the name of your project, a handover should have the details you need to access that, including usernames, the email address it’s associated with, and passwords.
Ideally, each task being handed over should be assigned to someone staying with the organisation, to add accountability and ensure projects continue even when the previous person looking after it has moved on.
It is best to start the process of writing a handover two weeks before someone is due to leave. That way, people can ensure that everything they look after is covered, including the little day-to-day details that might be forgotten if just thinking off the top of your head.
Heritage organisations themselves might provide a checklist for staff and volunteers before the leave to make certain all resources they need are covered in the handover. Sometimes people save things on their personal laptops or Google Drives. By giving them a checklist, organisations ensure they have everything they need and aren’t missing anything that the person leaving may have otherwise overlooked.
The exit interview has got a bad rap. Exit interviews are too often treated as simple feedback sessions, opportunities for management to realise their mistakes or for employees to air grievances.
But exit interviews are an essential knowledge retention tool, a way to capture knowledge before it escapes. In our industry, they’re also a really useful way to close off project based roles and volunteers who are leaving the organisation
Using the above methods, heritage organisations can ensure that digital content knowledge and skills are shared through organisations and no skills are lost. It’s a matter of developing simple processes, practising in-depth training, and mitigating knowledge or skill loss through effective exit interviews.
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Please attribute as: "How can I retain digital content skills and knowledge in my organisation? (2022) by Ioan Marc Jones, Charity Digital supported by The Heritage Fund, licensed under CC BY 4.0