Knowledge Retention

Knowledge retention involves capturing knowledge in the organization so that it can be used later. In a previous section on organizational memory, Walsh and Ungson (1991) defined five knowledge repositories, namely individuals, culture, transformations (i.e. procedures & formalized systems), structures (e.g. formal and informal networks), and external activities. This is where knowledge can exist or be retained in an organization. In this section, we are interested in the managerial side, so as to answer the question: How can management promote the retention of (crucial) knowledge?

Most often, one hears of knowledge retention in the context of losing key employees and using techniques such as exit interviews to try to capture their knowledge. In reality, knowledge retention should be integrated into how the organization operates and start well before a key employee is about to depart. Although it is considered crucial for long term organizational success, few organizations have formal knowledge retention strategies (Liebowitz 2011).

knowledge retention

A knowledge retention strategy as a part of knowledge management (KM) will identify the knowledge resources that are at risk and must be retained, and then implement specific initiatives so as to keep these resources in the firm. Like most other KM-related processes and strategies, success depends upon successful knowledge sharing and having a knowledge sharing & learning organizational culture.

Apart from the more general knowledge sharing initiatives that a firm may use - e.g. support of formal & informal knowledge networks (social areas, social media, meetings, company functions, knowledge fairs, expertise locator, etc.), changing the organization culture, etc. - examples of tools & techniques which can be used specifically for knowledge retention include (adapted from Smith 2007, Liebowitz 2009, and Liebowitz 2011):

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Knowledge Retention Strategy

Doan et al (2011) identify three basic questions that must be asked when considering knowledge retention:

Expanding upon these questions, one can outline several concrete steps necessary in the formulation of a knowledge retention strategy:


Step 1: Understand your risk factor: Liebowitz (2011) identified the following risks:


Step 2: Understand which knowledge is critical and focus on this (Corney 2018) (read more about this under Knowledge Organization & Assessment)


Step 3: Formulate a strategy using the pillars of knowledge retention (Liebowitz 2009 & 2011): Knowledge retention consists of a wide range of tools, some easy and some hard to implement. Liebowitz identifies four categories which encompass all the initiatives within knowledge retention. These are:

Success Factors and DOs and DON'Ts of KR

Doan et al (2011), following a comprehensive review of knowledge retention literature, arrive at the following key success factors:

Similarly, Corney (2018) outlines some basic DOs and DON'Ts of knowledge retention:

Alan Frost M.Sc., 2012 - Updated 2018
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