For most companies in today’s knowledge economy, the workforce is the supreme driver of performance. So what happens when a keystone worker, or a slew of workers, leaves?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 19 percent of baby boomers holding executive, administrative or managerial positions are expected to retire by 2008.

The loss of so much knowledge and experience will be a huge blow to organizations. “When someone leaves or is laid off, it is, in effect, a disposal of assets,” says Hamilton Beazley, chairman of the Strategic Leadership Group, a consultancy based in Washington, D.C.

Is there a way to retain employee knowledge even after the employees are gone? Beazley, co-author of Continuity Management: Preserving Corporate Knowledge and Productivity When Employees Leave, thinks he has the solution. His continuity management program is designed to capture and cultivate operational knowledge before an employee leaves the company.

In a nutshell, employees complete questionnaires (derived from a master list of questions in 22 categories), describing what they do and how they do it. They update the fields regularly. The outcome is knowledge profiles that can be passed along to successive workers.

But will workers be willing to dissect themselves and their duties? To spur employee participation, Beazley advocates a rewards and promotions program.