In last week’s blog post I summarized the most important tasks of a Knowledge Transfer Sponsor—the executive who acts as the internal champion for a knowledge transfer project. This week I do the same for another critical leadership role on any good knowledge transfer team: the direct manager.

Whenever a business team undertakes knowledge transfer (KT), the direct manager(s) of those employees must perform some basic tasks to ensure the initiative’s success. The manager’s fundamental role is to set priorities, to clear away obstacles, and to ensure accountability. The KT manager is the person who through clear communication of expectations, problem solving, follow up, and other good knowledge management behavior is literally holding employees (such as a workforce’s learners-apprentices and experts-mentors) accountable to execute knowledge transfer plans.

At my consulting firm, we’ve created a Knowledge Transfer Role Responsibility Checklist to help business teams examine common tasks and responsibilities necessary in the work of knowledge transfer and decide which ones to assign to whom. The outcomes will vary organization to organization, but in general there are a few tasks that every direct manger must do if they want knowledge transfer to succeed among their reports.


Key Tasks of A KT Direct Manager

1. Make sure your reports can answer the Big Picture Questions about your company and its business strategy relevant to your team. Before any knowledge transfer project begins, make sure your team is clear on their job roles and the critical work expected of them in at least the next 6-12 months.

2. Get your key employees to provide necessary, accurate information for management’s workforce risk analysis. In the case of our company’s 3-step knowledge transfer process, this means getting key employees to provide input on our workforce risk assessment tool called the Knowledge Silo Matrix (KSM). The direct manager also needs to review the completed KSM to make sure it’s true and that no one has overstated or understated the knowledge needed in a job role and each employee’s corresponding knowledge and skill levels.

3. Set the knowledge transfer priority relative to other work. Establish a clear target for time spent each week on knowledge transfer versus other projects. One Fortune 500 software developer we recently consulted with set their team knowledge transfer target at 10% of the work week for the first business quarter. Then they let individual apprentice employees consult with their direct manager to adjust their personal target for the quarter up or down, as needed. This gave employees clarity, a sense of empowerment and commitment, and led to more consistent progress.

4. Make sure all your employees have Air, Food and Water. Air, Food and Water means that your reports have the foundational tools, resources, language, access, relationships, and general information needed to survive in their job roles. Make sure your team’s chosen knowledge transfer mentors remember Air, Food and Water for their apprentices, too, because mentors will often overlook these things when they are asked to teach more senior or experienced employees.

5. Make sure that the most important skills to be learned are top priority in customized knowledge transfer plans. Ensure that your reports have customized the master knowledge transfer plan to their specific learning needs. In my company’s 3-step knowledge transfer process, we call this a customized Skill Development Plan (SDP) , which is owned by the apprentice and has prioritized skills to be learned, the mentor and resources to support that learning, the test questions to ensure that knowledge has been transferred, and a date per skill by which the knowledge transfer should be complete.

6. Ensure accountability for knowledge transfer execution and tie progress to existing performance management structures. Make sure that knowledge transfer sessions are happening between your expert mentors and apprentices. A good direct manager will also tie knowledge transfer responsibilities to an employee’s developmental goals, performance reviews, and compensation or bonus plans.

7. Overcome employee resistance. Don’t ignore employees who are actively trying to preserve the status quo. The best way to overcome these change blockers is to shine a light directly on their behavior and communicate the consequences of failing to execute their knowledge transfer responsibilities.

8. Request and respond to regular status reports. Direct managers should request a quick, clear 1/2-page weekly KT status report, and respond to problems that surface by clearing obstacles and stepping in with other managers as needed.

Many of these tasks above are similar to those of another role on a knowledge transfer team, the KT process owner (a position we’ll discuss in our next blog post). The key difference between these two roles is that of power—the KT direct manager brings the power to ensure accountability. How the manager wields this power has a substantial influence on the likelihood of knowledge transfer failure or success.

SUMMARY: In organizations executing knowledge transfer, the fundamental roles of a team’s direct manager is to set priorities, troubleshoot problems, and ensure accountability. Without a manager willing to exercise his or her power to ensure accountability, knowledge transfer is likely to fail.

(The above list is a summary. If you want further elaboration, have questions or suggestions, please post in the comments section below or feel free to email me.)

COMING UP NEXT WEEK: The 10 Behaviors of a GREAT Knowledge Transfer Process Owner.