People Go, Knowledge Stays

What’s Your Problem?


Debra Speight, VP and CIO, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care


What’s your problem?

“I know I can’t stop people from walking out the door – but how do I stop them from taking their knowledge with them?”

Tell me about it “Everyone talks about employee turnover and personnel retention. I don’t care about those issues anymore. I know that in today’s competitive market, I can’t prevent turnover – nor can I compete with other industries for IT workers. That doesn’t mean we don’t feel the impact of people constantly walking out the door. I used to worry that one day, I would wake up and the last person with the answers would be gone. Then it dawned on me: I don’t need to retain that person; I need to capture those answers.”

What’s your solution?

” ‘Knowledge bounties.’ We realized that if we’re going to talk about knowledge as an asset, then we’d better put a price tag on it. Once we decided to pay for it, the challenge became, How do we demonstrate that knowledge is valuable without rewarding people for leaving? Our answer: Offer bounties to incoming as well as outgoing staffers.

“This spring, we initiated a knowledge-bounty pilot program. New hires fill a ‘job workbook’ with job descriptions and answers to major questions: What are the key components of your job? What does it involve, from a knowledge standpoint? What do you think you need to learn? By asking these questions early on, we capture the learning curve of new hires.

“With people on the way out, we ask the same questions, and more: What knowledge do you need for your job? What secret code words and procedures do you use? How does your job fit into various processes?

“Individuals present their answers to a panel of senior managers and peers, who determine the worth of that information. Then we pay for it: We offer $1,000 to $5,000, depending on the quality level. We’re not trying to break the bank – we’re just trying to demonstrate how much we value knowledge here. The process itself has been priceless. It may even cause our turnover rate to go down. When people understand exactly how much you value their knowledge, they’re less likely to leave.”


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Since this article was originally published, Debra Speight has resigned from her position at Harvard Pilgrim. In 2001, CIO magazine published a story about her successor — and the company’s turnaround efforts.