Public Safety Insights Newsletter: Knowledge Brief: The Succession Planning Tool with Benefits

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October 29, 2014 VOLUME 2, ISSUE 21
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Knowledge Brief: The Succession Planning Tool with Benefits
Public Safety Insight: The knowledge brief is a mechanism by which to transfer information about jobs, offer key insights that are otherwise unavailable, and provide important benefits to the agency and the community.

A critical element of a succession process is capturing and sharing institutional knowledge. Developing mechanisms to do that is especially urgent today, as vital information that comes from decades of experience walks out the door with the large number of public safety professionals who are retiring. Without a way to transfer this knowledge in a timely manner, those who step into the retirees’ shoes often find themselves reinventing the proverbial wheel.

A knowledge brief is a concise (2-3 page) document that describes an individual’s personal experience with his/her job and offers suggestions about how to prepare for success. It is one of a myriad of ways to capture and transfer knowledge. Depending on how you gather the information, this mechanism can have numerous positive side effects, such as identifying “knowledge enablers” that accelerate successful learning, recruiting future professionals, and educating your community as well as your employees.

Several years ago I developed a knowledge transfer process for the LAFD as part of its succession process. The knowledge briefs have three sections: information about the job (e.g., key learning points, purpose, impact on the mission), the incumbent’s experience in the job (e.g., most valued aspect, biggest surprise, hardest thing to learn, best advice to successor), and how to prepare for success in the job.

Although I conducted the interviews and wrote the reports, you can increase the value of the knowledge brief process tremendously by training employees, retirees, and/or volunteers to perform the interviews and write the documents. For example, choose capable members of your Cadets, Explorers, Ambassadors, or CERT programs: they would jump at the opportunity to contribute to the department’s succession process. Interviewers have an opportunity to connect personally with individuals throughout the agency, become educated about what the department does, and develop valuable communication, interviewing, and writing skills. The process also benefits your members, who are required to think about what makes their jobs meaningful to them, what people and things have enabled their success, and how they can ensure a smooth transition when they move on. The briefs also educate your community about what you do.

Here’s how you can establish an effective knowledge brief process:

  1. Identify an executive-level champion for the process who will ensure its success.
  2. Identify the jobs to address and the individuals to be interviewed.
  3. Develop the interview questions and the knowledge brief template.
  4. Identify the interviewers: employees, retirees, volunteers.
  5. Train the interviewers in interviewing skills, how to record information accurately and completely, and writing skills. TRAINING IS KEY TO SUCCESS.
  6. Set up a simple tracking system.
  7. Conduct the interviews.
  8. Write up the briefs.
  9. Verify the information with the interviewees.
  10. Make the resulting briefs readily available to all stakeholders (e.g., via your website).

The safety, health, and economic viability of your community depend on the extent to which you have an effective knowledge transfer process in place. Knowledge briefs can contribute to that end by educating your members and the community as well as fueling interest in public safety careers.
If you would like to see a sample knowledge brief, please contact me. If you have any interest in learning how to establish your own knowledge brief process, let me know: if there is sufficient interest, I would be willing to conduct a free webinar on that topic.

To find other articles and resources that may be of value to you, I invite you to visit my web site at

Public Safety Insights is a concise, bi-weekly newsletter written specifically to help first responders maximize their performance. Your e-mail address is never shared with anyone for any reason. You may unsubscribe by clicking the link on the bottom of this e-mail.


©2014 Pat Lynch | Public Safety Insights

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