From time to time, we here at The Steve Trautman Co. conduct original research on knowledge transfer and talent management in today’s corporations and organizations. Last year we fielded a study with the purpose of exploring the corporate responses, practices, and terminology used by American senior executives faced with the challenge of retaining and replicating the unique knowledge held within their companies. We targeted large businesses (typically 1000+ employees) that were experiencing a range of workforce transitions or high knowledge demands.

We interviewed 32 C-level or line executives (excluding HR) with at least 75 reports or who influenced the decisions of at least 75 employees at companies from across the geographic U.S. and from a range of industries. These were companies that faced, to a signficant degree, at least one of the following challenges: the aging worker issue, substantial onboarding of new hires, a reorganization or merger, significant cross-generational knowledge transfer issues, new technology rollouts, and/or major process change.

For the benefit of the knowledge transfer community and our blog followers, I wanted to share some results highlights:

• The Company has a Formal Plan of Response to Address Its Workforce Challenges: Yes—25%; No or Succession Plan Only—59%; Some Incomplete or Short-Term Efforts—16%.


• Plan of Response: Of the organizations with a formal or informal response in place, a “succession plan” was most commonly named. For about a third, however, “succession plans addressed senior management but do not reach the worker level—and that’s a big problem.” Although succession plans were perceived by respondents as a talent management method, upon questioning most executives said that succession planning did not mitigate the risks of loss of unique knowledge and experience from an organization—whether due to retirement or departures at any age—nor did succession plans mitigate risks to quality and innovation due to unique knowledge trapped within a person or team or to rapid growth overtaxing a limited number of experts.

Key Finding: there is clear confusion among senior executives about how knowledge transfer differs from other talent management efforts (e.g. succession planning, career mentoring) particularly a lack of awareness of knowledge transfer’s core function—to measurably reduce knowledge and productivity risks and increase consistency and innovation.

• Successful Knowledge Transfer Practices: Of the organizations that had other talent management strategies in place, the single most common was knowledge transfer at 25%. Some of the more successful knowledge transfer practices mentioned include:

  • Incentives to intending retirees to pace their departure with the transfer of their unique knowledge.
  • Onboarding new hires and developing potential officers in formal programs that combine initial tech-supported education with peer on-the-job mentoring in a series of rotations through critical areas.
  • Changing pension rules to allow retiring workers to both receive their pension and return to work part time at reduce pay in order to retain the unique knowledge of these workers, by employing one-on-one knowledge transfer and online knowledge management.
  • Plans that reintegrate critical retirees and then transfer their unique knowledge through documentation and coworker education, followed by systematic phase out of the retiree.

• Methodology for Risk Assessment & Mitigation: The vast majority of organizations did not have—to the senior executive’s knowledge—a clear methodology or framework in place to assess and prioritize talent and knowledge risks within their workforces (84%).

Key Finding: Even within organizations that have strategies in place to address talent risks (e.g. knowledge transfer), senior management was more often than not lacking a clear methodology to prioritize these efforts—meaning with whom, when, and to what degree to use these strategies. The strategies are mostly being employed ad hoc by management or when a pain point becomes too obvious. In short, most organizations are reacting to the problem rather than getting ahead of it.

“It is one of those problems that sometimes doesn’t rise to the top because there are so many other challenges in running businesses, and even though we believe that this is a near-term risk—and we are obviously talking about it, thinking about it—I don’t think it gets as much of our mental bandwidth as other issues.”a responding executive

One interviewee at company with a more proactive knowledge transfer program had an assessment methodology that involved a series of questions and subsequent systematic risk profiling to address the state of workforce readiness. The results of the methodology were reported on three times a year to a management committee and yearly to the board.

• Most Common Executive Terminology Used for this Type of Work:

  1. “Knowledge Transfer” 71%
  2. “Talent Management” 48%
  3. “Human Capital” 45%
  4. “Workforce Readiness” 15%
  5. “Workforce Strategies” 13%
  6. Other: “Change Management,” “Adaptive Change Management,” “Intellectual Capital,” “Talent Risk Management,” “Human Resources Preparedness”

• Responsibility for Talent and Knowledge Risk Reduction: 55% of respondents reported there is no in-house position for overseeing this work or similar work; 22.5% of respondents reported the title for the person overseeing this work or similar work is “V.P. of Human Resources.”

For more findings, resulting outcomes, and information, see the EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: 2011 Knowledge Transfer Research or contact The Steve Trautman Co. at