As you know, I’ve spent two decades working in the field of knowledge transfer and run a consulting company that focuses on solving talent management problems through knowledge transfer. It is only in the last few years, however, that I’ve developed a point of view at the knowledge transfer strategy level. It started with my last book and has continued with a spate of global projects where we’ve tested and honed this thinking. We have learned that to roll out our work to an enterprise, the client organizations have to consider the broader implications of the effort, including ensuring alignment at the exec level and assessing and overcoming roadblocks. It doesn’t matter how simple and useful our framework is—if the organization isn’t prepared for success, we’re going to have an uphill battle.
Are We Sticking Our Heads in the Sand About A Knowledge Transfer Strategy?
Real risks of talent and knowledge loss lie ahead if organizations don’t address their knowledge transfer issues. Productivity, competiveness, and a company’s ability to deliver its promised product or service on time and on budget are at stake. Common sense tells us to prioritize the work of building a knowledge transfer program, but the reality is that most leaders do not know HOW. And so, by default, they don’t. A knowledge transfer strategy can help connect the idea that knowledge transfer is even possible (the how) to the very real issues that every business faces including tight budgets, changes in leadership, competing initiatives, diverse and dispersed workers, and plain trouble handling change.
A quick example:
We’re working with an engineering organization for a major manufacturer. They are moving operations for a product line from one city to another. Only about 25% – 40% of the existing engineers will make the move and others will retire or move to a competitor across town. In the new location, they’ll need to stand up a new operation for an existing product line while they maintain production goals. This means setting up equipment, resetting and testing processes and building product all with a staff and management that is largely new and often spread between the old and new locations.
The need for knowledge transfer is without question; retiring workers passing knowledge to the next generation, onboarding new employees for quick ramp up, cross-training remaining workers to handle some of the old and some of the new, etc. Everyone is onboard with the need. The trouble is that the leaders had a very difficult time prioritizing the knowledge transfer effort relative to all of the other ways the team could stay busy. Transferring knowledge is imperative because it is literally walking out the door every day, but no one seems to be able to take action.
A knowledge transfer strategy would help the manufacturer align leadership around the risks associated with losing all this experience, prioritize the mitigation of that risk relative to the other work that could be done, set goals such as number of hours in knowledge transfer versus other work, and then embed the knowledge transfer plan in the day-to-day operations of the team. These would be big changes that could be discussed and executed quickly if only the team took a short break from their increasing panic to set strategy and then act. I want to tell you more about this and give you some ideas for what you could do if you find yourself in a similar or parallel situation.
Vision For A Knowledge Transfer Strategy Blog Series
My vision for this new weekly blog series is to walk through how we’re thinking about knowledge transfer strategy and provide examples of what we’ve learned and fodder for discussion. I’m writing this series for the greater knowledge transfer community, but especially for executives who deal with these issues and are searching for workable solutions, past clients who want to follow the next generation of knowledge transfer thought leadership, and knowledge transfer champions inside business organizations who struggle to be heard and provide support to their ideas.
In this series we plan to:
- Define what having a knowledge transfer strategy actually means and why it is important
- Offer a template for building a good knowledge transfer strategy in your organization, including what elements the strategy should and typically should not cover
- Answer some of the questions that we’ve been hearing in the field
- Provide a forum for others in the knowledge transfer community to bring issues and concerns
- Connect knowledge transfer strategy to other talent strategy work
- Publish a Knowledge Transfer Strategy white paper at the end of the series
We invite you to follow us and to join in the conversation. The first few posts are already up; new posts will appear at the start of 2013. We hope that by having a pointed discussion of strategy building we can add value and direction to the larger knowledge transfer community.
You can subscribe to this blog by simply clicking the orange RSS symbol near the top of this page, and you will receive new blog posts by email or in your feed reader of choice. You can also sign up in advance to receive our Knowledge Transfer Strategy white paper, which will be released at the end of the blog series (and also from this signup page you can download our current white paper: Knowledge Transfer: Preserving Your Secret Sauce). And, we welcome your comments, questions, and requests below about what you’d like to see in this blog series. Or, feel free to email me directly.