ATD Blog

Before They Go: Mentoring and the Exiting Employee

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Your exiting employees hold a wealth of tacit knowledge and skills, and organizations need to formulate methods to tap into that knowledge before it walks out the door. With Baby Boomers getting set to leave the workforce en masse, capturing this knowledge is a critical gap in organizational learning and development schemes, and one we need to address immediately.

I contend that all employees should take part in mentoring, regardless of where they fall on the employee lifecycle or what position they hold in the company. Furthermore, I believe that exiting employees should spend 30 to 40 percent of their work time on mentoring. Yes, you read that right—30 to 40 percent. I know it sounds like a lot, but some of these employees are the people who make your organization run smoothly, because of their years of experience and innate knowhow for getting the job done. 

Trust me, you want to capture what these people know before they leave. If employers explicitly give these exiting workers permission to use their time giving back in this way, they will have ample opportunity to share what they know with their colleagues. As a result, the employer will be readily prepared for knowledge continuity, which is critical when losing staff. 

Group Mentoring 


One of the best ways to efficiently leverage your exiting workers is to have them engage in group mentoring. By leading several groups on various topics, these workers can have the greatest impact on numerous individuals. They also can pursue one-to-one mentoring relationships if they choose, but groups are the best way to spread their knowledge to a broader audience. Here are a few ideas on groups that your exiting workers could lead. 

Have them identify a topic of expertise and experience, and then lead a group on that topic. For example, maybe you have an exiting employee who spent years working on a specific product or product line. These employees have been practicing their craft long enough to innately know what works, what definitely does not work, and general best practices to use in their field. Have the employee share some of the undocumented tricks and adaptations they’ve learned over the years—things that people rarely think to write down, but that they use every day to accomplish their work. 


Ask them to lead groups on building relationships and professional networks within your organization and with critical outside players. These employees may have been with the company for years, and likely know the ins and outs of dealing with suppliers, partners, and clients. In addition, their innate understanding of how to navigate your internal landscape is an important factor that organizations often overlook. It can be difficult to discern who to go to for support on a project or for budget approval on a critical item, but your exiting employees can share their experiences with similar situations and provide insider knowledge that can help your company run more smoothly. 

Encourage them to start a group that candidly looks at some past failures. We often learn best from mistakes. But if that hard-won understanding leaves with your employee, your remaining workforce may be doomed to repeat the same mistakes. Giving your employees a safe environment within a mentoring group to share these failures can help others learn from the past, so they don’t repeat the same missteps in the future. 

Get more ideas on how to use mentoring in new ways in Randy Emelo’s new book, Modern Mentoring, available now from ATD Press. 

About the Author

Randy Emelo is the founder and chief strategist at River, a Denver-based company that builds mentoring and social learning software. He has more than 25 years of experience in management, training, and leadership development, and is a prolific author, speaker, and thought leader on topics related to collaboration, mentoring, social learning, and talent development.

Throughout the years, Randy has embarked on a military career with the U.S. Navy, led leadership development work with nonprofits in the Americas, and helped Fortune 500 companies build mentoring and learning cultures in their organizations.

Randy holds a master’s degree in organizational design and effectiveness from Fielding Graduate University (formerly The Fielding Institute) in Santa Barbara, CA. Randy’s book, Modern Mentoring, is available now from ATD Press. Connect with him on LinkedIn or Twitter @remelo.

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