One positive taBusiness Culture of Knowledge Transferlent risk management trend I’ve noticed is that business leaders seek not only a clear solution to whatever immediate talent crisis they are facing, but they also want to embed a knowledge transfer methodology into their business culture. Knowledge transfer means the planned movement of the right skills and information at the right time to keep a workforce productive, competitive, and able to execute business strategy. If culture is “the way we do things around here,” then embedding structured knowledge transfer into an organization’s culture means finding as many touch points as possible for making knowledge transfer processes “normal.”

Embedding your knowledge transfer process is partly an exercise in persuasion: presenting the case to relevant employees that being a mentor of critical knowledge and skills and/or being an apprentice is a good use of their professional time and capacity.

Here are four embedding practices that have a proven track record of success:

1. Write and execute a communication and change management plan.

  • This ensures that the vision of embedding knowledge transfer is well understood. Think carefully about the objections that are bound to come up and talk transparently about how to overcome them. Revisit this communication plan during regular business planning cycles.

2. Use the knowledge transfer tools to their full extent.

  • Clearly define job roles at the task level using a Skill Development Plan (SDP). Creating a clear task/skill list gives each employee a way to answer the question, “What’s my job?” If the knowledge transfer tools offer the most useful answer to that question, they’ll get used regularly.
  • Call out your expert employees as “standard setters” so that everyone knows the main go-to person on the technical skills critical to your business. This doesn’t have to restrict others from innovating and bringing their best ideas, but it provides guidance on what to do when there are disconnects and a decision needs to be made.
  • Clearly state the skills and tasks that must be learned by every employee in a job role by customizing a Skill Development Plan for each individual. This will show the employee where they have knowledge gaps and help them further their careers. Incorporate these unique plans into your performance reviews to institutionalize them further.
  • Ask people who have recently learned a skill from an expert to train the person in line behind them. They will further cement what they’ve learned by teaching someone else, and it will lessen the load on the expert. The expert will still have to circle back and validate that the training of the person in line behind is complete, but that will take less time than starting from scratch.
  • Monitor and report on knowledge transfer progress when you’re checking status of “regular” work. Treat knowledge transfer work like any other task and manage it expecting high quality results. Whatever gets measured and tracked gets done.

3. Add knowledge transfer into existing business and HR systems and processes.

  • Tie knowledge transfer to Key Performance Indictors (KPIs) and business dashboards. Clarify and openly discuss how knowledge transfer will help an organization meet all business objectives. If a business objective is not met, consider the reasons why. Unprepared talent may have been one of the root causes of the miss.
  • Approach every reorg and/or merger by assessing the talent implications before announcing the staffing changes. Use the Knowledge Silo Matrix (KSM) assessment framework and a Skill Development Plan to explain the difference between the “old” and “new” structure. Use the Subject Matter Expert/Mentor designation (color coded purple in the KSM) to help quickly settle any technical turf wars.
  • Include knowledge transfer work in manager and employee performance objectives and set expectations that it will be part of annual performance reviews.
  • Use knowledge transfer progress as one of the measurable factors used to inform promotions.
  • Incorporate the Knowledge Silo Matrix as a standard element of discussion in quarterly or annual talent reviews.
  • Onboard every new hire, contractor, and internal transfer with the same tools (we use these five: Air, Food, & Water Onboarding; The Big Picture Questions; a “First Meeting” to kick off new members’ knowledge transfer process, a customized Skill Development Plan; and a Status Report template. Don’t release a new worker to a hiring manager until they have these basic tools in place.

4. Recognize and reward knowledge transfer successes.

  • Publicly celebrate progress as people who have mastered critical knowledge and skills take on expert status or move from being a learner/apprentice to being able to work independently.
  • Thank your experts/mentors for teaching what they know to coworkers and helping to reduce talent risk in your organization. Thank the apprentices for stepping up to new roles. Thank the managers for clearing the path to help make it all happen.

For more practical talk and tools for managing talent risks, knowledge transfer, and related culture issues, stay tuned and/or Follow this blog.

Summary: Embedding a knowledge transfer process in your workforce culture saves you time and money in the long run by minimizing rework and costly slipups. Employees will transition more smoothly into new job roles and responsibilities. Workforces will maintain consistent cross-training and bench strength in the face of both immediate challenges such as employee turnover as well as future changes like mergers/acquisitions. To embed a knowledge transfer process in your business culture, tie the process into as many touch points of other existing business processes as possible.