Knowledge loss risk assessment in NPP's

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Determining the potential business impact of the loss of critical knowledge from a nuclear organization


The following processes and tools can be used by NPPs to identify and mitigate knowledge loss threats. Management can adapt or modify these processes and tools to meet the specific needs of its organization. This approach is practically proved itself as a basic methodology of KLRM and has been adopted by many NPPs and other nuclear related organizations over the world.

Knowledge Loss Risk Assessment Process

Attrition related knowledge loss risk assessment

Attrition-related knowledge loss threats can be identified, prioritized and addressed using the following process to determine a ‘Total Risk Factor’ for each employee in the organization. This Total Risk Factor is based on a projected attrition date which could be retirement, transfer, or other attrition (Attrition Risk Factor) and criticality of knowledge and skills (Position Risk Factor). This three-step process has been successfully implemented by many nuclear organizations. Figure 1 provides a flow diagram of the critical knowledge retention (KR) process.

FIG. 1. Critical knowledge retention flow chart

Three-step process

Step 1: Conduct knowledge loss risk assessment

The knowledge loss risk assessment is designed to identify positions/individuals with the greatest and the most imminent potential of knowledge loss . The Attrition Risk Factor is based on the expected retirement or other attrition date. The date can be provided by the employee or calculated based on the age and tenure data. Table 1 lists the criteria used to assign an Attrition Risk Factor.


The Position Risk Factor is initially assigned by the department level manager using criteria listed in Table 2.


The Position Risk Factor criteria are based on the unique/critical knowledge and skills possessed by the employee and an estimate of the difficulty or level of effort required to refill the position. In assigning the factor the manager should consider each employee’s responsibilities and background, formal and informal roles, collateral duties, re-occurring assignments (e.g., outage-related duties, problem-solving or trouble-shooting assignments), and other factors suggesting that the employee may have unique/critical knowledge and skills. Department managers may want to consult other work group members, key plant customers, or interested parties to determine ratings.

Position risk factor should also take into account influence on performance of the position itself in the current organizational structure. For example some positions assume critically important functions for the organization, eg.: unit-shift supervisor and other related to safety positions, key decision makers positions and some focal points or even nuclear codes analyst.

The Total Risk Factor of an employee is determined based on the guidelines provided in Table 3.


The Total Risk Factor provides an overall assessment of attrition-related risk for knowledge loss. The Total Risk Factor is computed by multiplying the Attrition Risk Factor by the Position Risk Factor. See Table 4.


Each NPPs management team should collectively review the results of the risk assessment. Experience has shown that a critical review of the Position Risk Factor assigned by the department manager is important in ensuring accurate ratings. Often there is a tendency to rate high performing employees as having unique and critical knowledge and skills. A high level of performance is not the basis for a high Competency Risk Factor (5 rating) and such ratings should be changed. After completing the collective review, the management team identifies where a knowledge retention plan is needed and assigns responsibility for plan development (typically, the employee’s supervisor or manager).

Step 2: Determine Knowledge Retention Plan to Capture Critical Knowledge

The Knowledge Retention Plan (see Fig 2) is designed to identify and prioritize the critical knowledge in each high-priority position based on the Knowledge Risk Assessment. From here, managers will determine the approach to capturing and transferring the knowledge. Once the risk assessment is complete, the next step is to address potential knowledge loss for each High Priority (20–25 Total Risk Factor) employee through implementing of knowledge retention plans (see Fig 2). • Identify the critical knowledge/skill, department, knowledge holder and who owns the actions (e.g., leader). • Indicate if you have completed the Knowledge Risk Assessment Questionnaire. This section also identifies how you plan to acquire, transfer and retain the knowledge. • Identify the critical knowledge that must be managed, what actions will be taken, who owns each action and due dates. These actions can be included in an employee’s annual performance plan as either a business goal or a development goal.

In developing knowledge retention plans to retain and transfer critical or unique knowledge, consider these factors:

• Length of time the knowledge will be relevant

• Types of knowledge involved; i.e., explicit vs. tacit

• Timing of knowledge loss

• Cost (cost-benefit analysis may be needed)

• Employee’s motivation and ability to share knowledge

• Successor’s motivation to acquire knowledge

• Capability for acquiring knowledge

In many cases knowledge retention plans will include an interview with the employee (‘elicitation’ process) utilizing a trained elicitor. The knowledge and skills in questions may be of many different types — task and equipment-related knowledge and skills; facts or information about specific people, vendors, projects, and locations; and unique pattern recognition knowledge and problem-solving skills. The interviews are based on questionnaires which are designed to assist the elicitor and employee in identifying the specific areas where critical/unique knowledge may exist. Guidelines for conducting interviews and suggested questions are contained in Appendix II.

The first priority is to identify, capture and retain critical knowledge held by employees nearing retirement. However, it is important to develop and implement a knowledge retention plan for any employee with a position risk factor of five. These employees may be promoted, transferred, or leave the organization for other reasons causing the loss of critical knowledge.

Step 3: Monitor and evaluate

Periodic reviews should be conducted to monitor the status of implementation of the knowledge retention process. The IAEA recommended to finalize such review annualy on 4th Quarter. Specifically this step should include as minimum:

(1) Review previous knowledge retention plans and progress (see Fig 2);

(2) Identify related emerging issues including coordination;

(3) Periodic updating of KLRM internal policy documents and relevant procedures;

(4) Periodic updating of KLRM templates, forms and questionnaires’;

(5) KPIs or metrics setup and analysis, e.g.:

- number of experience reports
- quality of experience reports (scale 1-5)
- number of interviews (debriefings)
- ratio of experts at risk and experts evaluated (interviewed)
- number of on-the-job trainings / succession plans
- number of experts at risk (high risk of loss)
- number of knowledge at risk (high risk of loss)
- number of knowledge transfers into the training materials / technical documentation
- number of KM portal / database visits

The successful criteria as for the for knowledge loss risk management implementation can be, for example more than 80% of the knowledge retention plans fulfilment

Methods and tools to support knowledge loss risk management

A summary of knowledge preservation approaches covering methods and tools appropriate for each process, whether tacit, implicit, or explicit knowledge is involved, whether it exists at an individual, group/department, organizational or industry level, and whether it is focused on project, technology or process, can be found in Table 5.

More detailed information on methods and tools for knowledge loss risk management is shown in IAEA Nuclear Energy Series, No. NG-T-6.7 ‘Comparative analysis of methods and tools for nuclear knowledge preservation’.

Motivational factors for knowledge transfer

Nuclear organization managers should pay attention to very important question, how to motivate key experts share their knowledge, skills and competences, retain and transfer it to the next generation. Factors that may influence employees’ willingness to share knowledge:

• They are honoured to be recognized as an expert.
• They believe they have an obligation to share their knowledge with others because of the benefits received during their careers.
• They believe it is the right thing to do.
• They see it as part of their job.

Factors that may influence employees’ unwillingness to share knowledge:

• They consider their knowledge their personal intellectual property.
• They are concerned about losing their status or even their job.
• They fear no longer being needed.
• They feel isolated from the company.
• They believe they don't have any valuable knowledge to share.

The most common reasons for employees which motivate them to stay at a company and actively collaborate during long period of time are listed below:

  1. Challenging work and diversity;
  2. Career growth, learning, and development;
  3. Working with knowledgeable people;
  4. Fair pay;
  5. Supportive management;
  6. Being recognized, valued, and respected;
  7. Benefits;
  8. Meaningful work;
  9. Pride in the organization, its mission, its culture and its product;
  10. Pleasant working and social environment;
  11. Autonomy and creativity;
  12. Flexibility: working condition, working hours, dress code;
  13. Location;
  14. Job security and stability;
  15. (Being part of a friendly team;
  16. Empowerment;
  17. Organizational loyalty;
  18. Inspiring leadership.
  19. Contests and awards (best experience report)


[1] Risk Management of Knowledge Loss in Nuclear Industry Organizationy, IAEA Publications STI/PUB/1248, 2006

[2] Mapping organizational competency in nuclear organizations - Draft

[3] Practical approaches to risk management of knowledge loss in nuclear organizations - Draft

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