Mass Customization Using Knowledge Transfer Process - jeans and measuring tape imageCompanies have been utilizing mass customization for years. Consider the jeans company that allows a customer to select a pair online. Then, rather than ordering from stock sizes, the customer inputs her unique measurements and receives a one-off pair of jeans tailored specifically for her, a mass-appeal product customized for the unique needs of the moment. Knowledge transfer within a business organization can be set up the same way to create a form of “mass customized” onboarding. A manager or department leader creates a master Skill Development Plan (SDP) for a certain job role, and then customizes it for each unique employee. The output is an employee with skills that have been uniquely “crafted” to fit current needs.

At my knowledge transfer consulting firm, this is a challenge we’re working through with many of our clients who employee dozens or even hundreds of people around the world with the same job title, and essentially the same role. They might be project managers, sales people, accountants, client-facing engineers, technical writers, or any of a host of jobs with a common skill set. With growth and/or regular turnover in these roles, clients face the challenge of onboarding new people, who may arrive with any number of variables affecting how quickly they can come up to speed. Here are some examples of the variables:

  • Recent college graduate vs. experienced industry professional (prior knowledge makes a big difference in required training)
  • Location relative to peers (different cities or even different countries)
  • Deadlines for team deliverables (if you are at the beginning or end of a project cycle, the needed skills will be different)
  • Availability of formal training (often not offered at exactly the right time for a given new hire)
  • Availability of technical experts to do on-the-job training or knowledge transfer.
  • Employee interest and aptitude

Taking into account each of these variables is required to ensure our promise of 50% reduction in ramp up to productivity. “One size fits all” is one of the reasons current onboarding is often inefficient. With a customizable master Skill Development Plan for these common roles, an organization can look at each new resource on his first day and tailor a plan for each person at that exact moment in time. Here’s how it works.

  1. Create a master SDP for the function. This includes a comprehensive list of all the skills anyone might ever use in the role and all the resources that may be available to help learn those skills. (In knowledge transfer, a skill is defined as something someone can say “go do…” and can be learned by a qualified apprentice in about 1 -2 hours. Virtually all job roles have been found to contain 60 – 120 skills.)
  2. Select the skills this new employee may need in the near term given the bulleted list of variables above. Move the needed skills to the top and the rest to the bottom.
  3. Prioritize the recommended order in which the new employee should learn the needed skills using the sequence column.
  4. Customize the knowledge transfer test questions for the unique new employee. (Three of the simplest questions may be enough for some employees; more in-depth questions may be required for others.)
  5. Fill out the resource column with the experts that are available to mentor new hires, plus any formal training on the calendar, etc.
  6. Determine when the new employee is expected to have mastered these new skills and set dates for completion in the date column.
  7. Set up a “First Meeting” to kick off the plan with the new hire, the manager, and the assigned expert mentors.

The process explained above is quick, clear, and extremely practical. Whether the client has local or global roles to fill, we enable mass customization opportunities in a matter of weeks. Further customization for each new hire takes merely an hour or two. Gone are the days of “throwing the new hire in the deep end,” or a mandatory “12 weeks of boot camp for everyone whether you need it or not.” Instead each new hire hears, “Welcome, we have a plan to get you up to speed in X number of weeks. It has been customized for you based on your background, the work in front of you, and the available help we can provide. We’ll support you along the way, but this is your plan to execute so that you can be effective at your job ASAP. You’ll know you’re on the right track if you’re learning the skills by the dates in the plan and answering the test questions as your mentor would. Go forth and make it happen.”

SUMMARY: As I mentioned above, one of our core promises as a knowledge transfer team is that we can reduce the ramp up to productivity for any new hire by at least 50%, routinely taking months or even years out of the development curve for new or transitioning employees. Our process is predictable, methodical and measurable. New hires and transfers are empowered by seeing a customized and clear path of learning ahead—side benefits like improved engagement, reduced team stress, and overall job satisfaction are icing on the cake. Mass customization… it’s not just for jeans anymore.