How to Prioritize Knowledge Transfer for Your Team (Hint: You can’t just say ‘Make it a priority.’)

10/11/13

Posted by Steve Trautman

Setting Knowledge Transfer Priority - Employee Priority and Clock Digital IconHere’s a quick post for managers on the best way to prioritize knowledge transfer within your team or business unit. 

Priority determines how fast an organization is going to implement their knowledge transfer methodology and begin reducing their talent risks.  Priority sets parameters for marshaling resources and for partnering with other teams and business units.  And, priority means guiding what percentage of time subject matter experts will spend transferring their knowledge to peers who need to learn. 

This is especially important because your subject matter experts are some of the busiest employees in your workforce, routinely juggling many crucial roles at one time.  That is why setting clear priority around knowledge transfer is so critical.  If your leadership doesn’t make knowledge transfer a clear enough priority and carve out focused time to get it done, your experts will fall back on their status quo “regular work.”  Where this is the case, preparation for next-generation workers will remain slow, unpredictable, and too little, too late.

Right and Wrongs Way to Clarify Knowledge Transfer Priority In Relation to Other Work
You already help set priority for the other work your experts do.  You give them guidelines for Project Type A over Project Type B or responding to Client Type X before taking care of Client Type Y.  The same needs to be done for this work.  Treat knowledge transfer like prioritizing any other project on their list.  For example, here’s the wrong way to talk about the priority of knowledge transfer:

“This knowledge transfer work is important for our team moving forward.  I need you to make it a real priority with your apprentice.”

What has the manager actually made clear to this busy expert about how to spend her time?  A better way is to set a clear and unavoidable target for how many hours a week or month your subject matter experts are expected to actual do knowledge transfer—meaning, spend time teaching job role skills and wisdom to their assigned learner(s).  That conversation might go something like this:

“I would like you to schedule a minimum of 4 hours on your calendar each week to help Chris get up to speed.  You can choose the time and place that works best for you.   During that time, I want you to cover these three skills from Chris’ Skill Development Plan.  Please make sure that by the end of the week, he can answer the questions from the plan and sound like you when he’s talking.  If you need help fitting those three hours into your schedule, let me know.”

I’ve found that when managers provide experts the clarity of a set target of time for this work (in hours or percentage), knowledge transfer happens quicker, more predictably, and with greater accountability.  If you want a simple formula for determining where to set this target for your team and situation, email me.

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One Comment

  1. james
    Posted October 14, 2013 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    Steve, I want all my managers with reports doing knowledge transfer to read this, and those without. This is simple, effective Management 101. When reports are unclear on what is expected of them, or can avoid certain responsibilities because they’re allowed to interpret the company’s priorities any way they feel, that means management has dropped the ball.

    Still, four hours a week sounds a lot for our engineering SMEs.

    I’d like to hear that formula you mention for deriving a team’s target. Please forward it to me. – Thanks.

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Knowledge Transfer Today Blog — A source for knowledge transfer, talent management, and the practice of teaching what you know.

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Steve Trautman is corporate America’s leading knowledge transfer expert. With two decades of application inside blue chips and Fortune 1000s, his pioneering work in the field of knowledge transfer and related risk management tools are now the nationally-recognized gold standard. He is known for a high energy style that combines humor, street smarts, and board room wisdom. More about Steve