The Definitive Guide to Building & Implementing a Knowledge Transfer Strategy (KT Plan)

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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.

Definition of Knowledge Transfer (KT Plan)

DEFINITION: Knowledge transfer is the methodical replication of the expertise, wisdom, and tacit knowledge of critical professionals into the heads and hands of their coworkers. It is more than just on-the-job training. It is the planned movement of the right skills and information at the right time to keep a workforce prepared, productive, innovative, and competitive.

suppose we’re at an office facility, mall, park, or another large complex for the first time; to get our bearings we look for the directory map and that little red dot showing: “You are here.” In a similar effort to situate this knowledge transfer blog and our discussions in the greater world of business, I want to show what we mean by “knowledge transfer” and where we are relative to other terms you may have heard.

The field of knowledge transfer relates to such common business subjects as operations management, communication, risk management, knowledge management, human capital, succession planning, and employee retention—just to name a few. And yet it is none of these.

What it is not – Confusing and sometimes parallel concepts

  • Software: Although technology sometimes supports knowledge transfer, it isn’t required at all.
  • Instructor-Led Training: Classroom training is often a useful way to develop employee skills but knowledge transfer typically happens on-the-job.
  • Knowledge Management: Cataloging and storing information, often in a database, is the foundation of knowledge management. Knowledge Transfer can take advantage of these resources—if they exist and are kept current— but they are not required.
  • Learning Transfer: Learning transfer works toward ensuring that formal training is remembered and used after the classroom time is over.
  • Succession Planning: Knowledge transfer certainly supports succession planning but only after the successor has been named and the transition is underway.
  • Career Mentoring: Senior employees discussing career options with junior employees may also include knowledge transfer but often these relationships are more about the future than is knowledge transfer.
  • Knowledge Transfer as it is known in Britain (mostly): In the U.K. they use the term to mean specifically the sharing of information between academic institutions and industry.

What it is—Experts sharing wisdom and experience with their co-workers on the job.

  • We sometimes call it peer mentoring, on-the-job training, or apprenticeships when these programs include a measurable plan for transferring specific job knowledge.
  • It includes both the explicit knowledge—such as the steps in the process that might appear in a written procedure—plus the tacit knowledge—such as what to look for, who to contact, or when to ask for help.
  • The expert may be any age and their expertise might be deep and narrow (such as a specific technology, platform, or process) or broad (such as an entire division, company, or industry).
  • The expert may be on the same team or accessed from a distance, including other companies and internationally.
  • Practical approaches can run the gamut from informal on-the-job training between two people to enterprise-wide formal programs spanning research, training, IT, and management teams.

A knowledge transition plan includes the measurable transfer on-the-job of both explicit skills as well as implicit or tacit knowledge. The key issue knowledge transfer professionals work to solve is: What can we do to make the critical, high priority transfer of knowledge happen faster, with less stress, and with greater predictability and consistency?

Through this guide, we’re going to explore all of the ways that companies all over the world are working to make this process easier and more efficient. We’re going to pass on timely news of new developments and congregate top voices in the field. The goal is to make your business world a better place by unpacking what it takes to develop a “culture of knowledge transfer”—where experts teach and their co-workers learn, and birds are singing, flowers are blooming, and everybody is having a good hair day. Seriously, I don’t think this is too utopian. We’ve come a long way already and this is a worthy goal. I’m looking forward to it and hope you’ll come along for the ride.

What to Look for in a Good Knowledge Transfer Program

Since every company deals with knowledge transfer issues at some point, many business leaders that we meet are looking at a variety of options for solving the problem. I thought I’d write up some notes to help all of you do a better job of being the “customer” for a knowledge transfer solution. Whether you are building a solution in-house or buying a solution from an outside source, you may want to consider the importance of these knowledge transfer program attributes in making your decision. Every organization won’t need to include everything on this list but you should decide what you need early on, so you are clearer about your requirements.

Once you’ve read through this list of attributes, I’d love comments. What am I missing?

A quality knowledge transfer program should provide the following attributes and clear responses to these related questions:

    • A clear risk profile for a ready workforce: Do you need to be able to focus knowledge transfer on clarifying and solving specific talent issues that put your business at risk (such as retiring workers with unique knowledge or the need for rapid onboarding)—or is it ok to assume that any knowledge transfer effort will find the most important problems and solve them first?
    • Clear metrics and deliverables: Will your budget sponsors or executives want you to provide regular updates on progress made and a clear ROI—or will they be happy that you’re doing something and not look too closely?
    • Role definition for the teacher/expert, learner, manager and executives: When you ask a subject matter expert to be a mentor to lesser developed talent in your workforce (an apprentice), does the expert typically understand what you mean and follow through on your expectations? How about the apprentices? Do they know what you want from them? And your internal sponsors/champions of your knowledge transfer project—do they consistently do their part? If not, you may want to build this kind of role clarity into your program.
    • Framework for setting priorities: If the experts in your workforce are being asked to transfer their knowledge but are already very busy, would it help them to know where to focus in their efforts, and what knowledge is most critical and should be transferred first?
    • Date-driven plans for mitigating the risk: Do you value operating from a plan that can be scheduled and implemented in small chunks of time, such as one hour? Do you want to be able to hold mentors, managers and apprentices accountable for results? Or, is it OK if expert mentors fit knowledge transfer into their schedules as time allows?
    • Easy to explain process with a common lexicon: What does “knowledge transfer” mean in your organization? Do you need a common language for discussing the problem and the solution so that everyone can be on the same page and quickly get on board the solution?
    • Supports international knowledge transfer: Do you have employees or outsource partners outside North America? Does your knowledge transfer program accomodate the logistical challenges and cultural differences of working with off-shored teams?
    • Supports knowledge transfer between employees and outsource partners: Do you need to manage information flow, training (and being trained) in working with your outsource vendors or partners?
    • Uncovers and transfers wisdom and tacit knowledge: Do your experts have a lot of knowledge that would be hard to document, that comes from years of on-the-job experience and is often unique to an individual? Or, is most of your expertise fairly straightforward and “obvious”?
    • Works cross-platform: Do you ever need to transfer knowledge between different areas of the business, such as between architects and developers or between engineering and manufacturing?
    • Customizable for individuals: Do you want to be able to pinpoint and track knowledge transfer between one person and another—or is it OK to put tools out there for anyone to use with minimal direction?
    • Scalable: Do you need this solution to work in a larger organization or just at an individual team level?

SUMMARY: Before adopting a knowledge transfer solution, spend some time doing due diligence and deciding how your program will address key attributes. The list above gives attributes of a good knowledge transfer program and also poses questions that reveal a “scale” of how structured and clear or unstructured and lax your program can be. Executives should actively choose where on this sliding scale they want their knowledge transfer program to fall.

Are We Sticking Our Heads in the Sand About A Knowledge Transition Plan?

Real risks of talent and knowledge loss lie ahead if organizations don’t address their knowledge transfer issues. Productivity, competitiveness, 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. Download our knowledge transition plan template:

knowledge transition plan templateThe Importance of Knowledge Transfer

My vision for this guide 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 guide 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

What is a Knowledge Transfer Strategy?

Lots of people use the word strategy very loosely. The word gets thrown around in business like people put salt on food. For some, a strategic plan is a one-page bulleted list; for others, it’s a 40-page treatise about who an organization is going to be in the future, how that’s going to look and feel, even including the tactics to get them there. I bring this up in this knowledge transfer strategy blog series because before you create any knowledge transfer strategy, you need to think about defining what you mean by strategy.

In my way of thinking, a knowledge transfer strategy does these things:

  • Helps define how a company develops its talent, giving clear guidance on issues such as role clarity, standards, consistency, transparency, and priority.
  • Sets direction for which knowledge transfer tools and processes will be adopted and how they will fit into an organization 1-3 years from now.
  • Defines what aspects of knowledge transfer will not be adopted in the 1-3 year window.

The strategy should work to stay high level—it should not get tactical. For example, a strategy might say that participants should target 15% of their work week on transferring knowledge—that’s strategic because it guides employees as they try to figure out the level of importance this work should play in their day to day job. But the strategy wouldn’t say, “You have to do it all on Mondays”—that would be too tactical.

What Makes A Good Knowledge Transfer Strategy?

You’ll know it is a good strategy if it helps people make decisions about how they’ll direct their knowledge transfer effort. For example, should employees line up behind one expert and work toward a high degree of consistency? Should the knowledge transfer effort appear in their performance reviews and potentially affect compensation? Should they report on the results of their knowledge transfer efforts and if so, to what level of the hierarchy? Under what circumstances should they prioritize knowledge transfer over other project work? Is knowledge transfer initiated by a centralized “Center of Excellence” or in a more ad hoc way as managers see fit? Who is accountable for ensuring the knowledge is transferred? The mentor/expert worker, the manager, or the learner/apprentice worker? These are executive level questions that must be answered in the strategy because each one shapes how employees will focus their time and energy. Imagine the difference between an expert who believes that he is required to spend 10% – 15% of every work week engaged in knowledge versus an expert who mainly just fits knowledge transfer in when it is convenient? Or how would an expert behave differently if she has been asked to define a standard for a job skill in her work and then ensure that standard is consistently met by her peers using that skill? Setting strategy is about making choices. It requires articulating the options and choosing one over the other so that employees on the front line can be freed up to execute and not second-guess every decision. We’ll provide more detail on this in subsequent chapters.

Why Have A Knowledge Transfer Strategy?

Before continuing in this blog series, let’s answer a simple but important question: Why does an organization need a knowledge transfer strategy—why should we care enough to dedicate time and energy to this work? A knowledge transfer strategy could easily be a subset of an organization’s overall talent management strategy. I think it should be called out separately because knowledge transfer is so pervasive and it can be either wildly productive or a sloppy mess. 

The reason knowledge transfer is more often a mess is because few leaders ever stopped to think about how many ways an organization can approach knowledge transfer as a critical component of their talent planning; it just never crossed their minds. I also think they take knowledge transfer for granted because it isn’t perceived as a new idea. Organizations have become comfortable relying on an ad hoc approach for so long.

Finally, while I think there is plenty of agreement at the executive level on the importance of knowledge transfer, there is very little alignment on what it means to make it a high priority. I was recently on a call with an IT exec of a blue chip who said, “I think we need to make knowledge transfer a very high priority. I tell my people that I want them to be “all in.” But, they are the ones who have to decide what they’ll do day to day.” While I was glad to hear his enthusiasm, I had to tell him that the point he’s missing—and the point that can be answered with a knowledge transfer strategy—is that he needs to define “all in” for his team members in very specific ways. Don’t leave your people to guess what you mean by “high priority” and “all in.” Answer where knowledge transfer work ranks compared to other tasks. By the end of this guide, I’ll show you how.

Build A Knowledge Transfer Strategy Because Acquiring, Moving and Maintaining Unique Knowledge is Critical to Performance

Another reason knowledge transfer deserves its own strategic plan is because your knowledge transfer systems, whether formal or ad hoc, are already how people learn their jobs. Numerous studies show that 70% – 80% of knowledge acquisition happens on the job regardless of how much formal training or schooling has been available. In the absence of a strategy and a tactical plan, your workforce’s skill acquisition, and ultimately its productivity, will typically face a variety of problems:

  • Lack of alignment between executives: Your knowledge transfer strategy can ensure that the big guys are being specific about their business expectations, strategic priorities, and the required tradeoffs—or else executives and business units can end up working at cross purposes. And, since executives have limited time to review detailed plans, they should provide guideposts that will direct their organization’s knowledge transfer efforts even when the executives aren’t present.
  • Unclear expectations between partners and collaborators: As organizations outsource and operate with joint ventures, knowledge can reside in a variety of locations and ownership can get blurry. Your knowledge transfer strategy can encourage agreement and reduce confusion.
  • Employees learning the wrong skills or in the wrong priority: Your knowledge transfer strategy will prioritize which processes, tools, and technologies will take center stage for a team or workforce over the next 1-3 years, so the direction is clear.
  • Employees learning from the wrong expert: Since most learning happens on the job, that often means learning from an individual. You don’t want this individual to be whichever random worker had a free moment that day. Your knowledge transfer strategy should guide the elevation of experts in given job roles who set standards and guide employee development at the front line.
  • Lack of connection to known systems and processes: Knowledge transfer is already happening in your organization, but rarely is it acknowledged in performance reviews or set up as a task in a project plan. Your knowledge transfer strategy can bring this important process out from the shadows.

Here is an example:

A manager from one of our multinational manufacturing clients was asked to define the talent problems faced by his team and develop a logical solution using knowledge transfer. The business need and urgency were clear—major projects were coming online with no one to lead them and, given the manufacturer’s specialized work, the needed talent had to be developed not hired in. The proof of concept for the knowledge transfer solution was clear from the pilot we’d just finished. Still, the young manager could not get the attention of any higher-ups to play along to the point of executing the knowledge transfer program wide scale. This wasn’t a budget issue. They had already invested in the solution. The problem was in prioritizing the knowledge transfer work relative to the team’s more immediate project work. It was a classic “pay me now or pay me later” situation. So the question was: WHY couldn’t such a logical, proven solution to urgent problem move up on the priority list? My team looked into this further and found the answer was cultural and operations-based: the company’s utilization and compensation model rewarded short-term thinking versus long-term investment. It literally made any time spent on knowledge transfer cost mentors within the organization’s workforce on their performance reviews because company goals were entirely short-sighted. It made the knowledge transfer problem unsolvable in their current structure and culture.

This situation was one of the reasons the client decided to pop up a level in their thinking and develop a knowledge transfer strategy. They realized that they needed to set a clear plan from the top-down to address cultural and structural issues. They couldn’t be successful if their utilization and compensation model was actively inhibiting their experts from sharing their knowledge and experience internally. The solution was simple on the surface. Senior management needed to provide budget so that experts could bill some of their time against an employee development budget. The trouble was that this budget didn’t exist at first and had to be allocated. Once the senior execs reviewed the need for additional project managers and clearly understood the ramifications of their current model, they made the necessary changes for targeted regions around the world. In future chapters, I’ll say more about the issues we addressed and clarified in this client’s knowledge transfer strategy work. In the end, building this strategy was a critical exercise that had wide-ranging implications for their employees around the world.

Start by Framing the Talent Problem

The last chapter in our Knowledge Transfer Strategy series, we answered the important question of why organizations need and benefit from a knowledge transfer strategy. Now, let’s look at the first step of building a knowledge transfer strategy for your organization: framing the talent problem. To be credible and useful, any good Knowledge Transfer Strategy must clearly frame–through a talent lens–the business problems that threaten workforce readiness in the next 1 – 3 years.

Commit to the Goal of A Ready Workforce

The developers of your organization’s knowledge transfer strategy should start by agreeing that a ready workforce is not a luxury but a business necessity. Since every organization relies on people who know how to do the work the right way, the goal of maintaining a ready workforce should be fairly straightforward–but it rarely is. When faced with troubling talent challenges, normally detail-oriented and analytical leaders get fluffy in their thinking. On the one hand, executives will often say “our people are our greatest resource” and having a ready workforce is the “highest priority.” But on the other hand, when asked how much time the organization’s experts should spend transferring critical knowledge to peers each week or month (as a way of ensuring readiness), leaders will demure and say such tasks will have to fit in after all the “real” work gets done. One recent strategy session with one of our knowledge transfer consulting clients uncovered this paradox, and when it became clear, the CEO said, “Yes, I’m a hypocrite. I don’t know where my people will find the time!” A knowledge transfer strategy can help every executive guide their employees in prioritizing the work of transferring critical knowledge relative to other work. It is every executive’s job to make hard decisions that balance short term project deadlines with long term investments in ensuring sufficiently skilled workers. When executives abdicate these decisions, the decisions don’t go away, they are just pushed down to be made by frontline employees who are often too busy or too stressed to take a long-term view. Some would call pushing these decisions down to the front line “empowerment.” I just call it sloppy, or at least ill-advised. So as a developer of your organization’s knowledge transfer strategy, first commit to the importance of a ready workforce and accept your role in making the tough decisions ahead.

Create A Concise Explanation of Your Organization’s Need for Talent and Clearly Communicate the Urgency and Financial Risks

Frame the talent problem in simple and concise language. Executives must be able to articulate their organization’s business need for talent. You already state your needs for workspace, equipment, raw materials, transportation, etc. In the same way, you have to be able to talk about your need for talent. I am not talking about just the annual battle for more headcount. Nor is this about the annual battle for training dollars where your CLO comes in with benchmarking data on the % of revenue that should be spent on developing people. I am talking about stating the need for the skills required to deliver on the promise to your customers. This also includes clearly stating the level of urgency and the very real financial risks you face from a lack of needed skills or the loss of unique tribal knowledge from your organization. This is often not understood by others without a clear illustration. This talent need and risks can be communicated in plain language if you do some straightforward legwork first:

  • Project the output of your organization 1 – 3 years out (your products and services)
  • List areas of expertise (we call these “knowledge silos”) required to deliver your output
  • Estimate the volume of need for each knowledge silo in the next 1 – 3 years
  • Inventory the existing talent pool within the organization. How many workers are currently able to work in each knowledge silo? How many are an expert?
  • Assess the possibility of “buying” additional skilled workers on the market versus building/developing/training the skills in-house
  • Set up master skill development plans that bridge the gap between your current capacity and the estimated need.
  • Prioritize the skills and expertise mapped out in the skill development plan relative to their impact on the business. What are the costs of not having enough of these skilled workers?
  • Compare the long term cost of not having enough skilled workers to the short term benefits of having everyone focus on operational output versus developing for the future. Include in this the cost of losing workers with unique and critical knowledge.
  • Prioritize the “regular work.” What is the relative importance of the work related to your output versus the work required to ensure a ready workforce? What is the relative urgency?

With this analysis in place, you will be ready to frame your talent problem (as well as develop the other parts of your knowledge transfer strategy that we’ll discuss in subsequent posts). Here’s an example of how one of our clients answered the above questions and framed their talent problem:

A Fortune 500 company that designs and builds $500+ million projects realized that they needed an additional 80+ “Level 3” project managers to be able to handle their projected workload in 2015 (three years away). Historically it has taken 7 – 10 years working on-the-job, regardless of experience upon hiring, to fully develop a Level 3 project manager because this company’s work is so specialized. This specialized need, coupled with a tight talent market, meant that these 80+ workers could not be simply hired from outside. In fact, existing qualified Level 3 project managers are at risk of being poached themselves. If the client were to leave the system alone and accept the status quo approach, this client would have had to make plans for this need ten years ago. Instead, they’re starting now—at best, four years too late to meet the substantial need. They needed a knowledge transfer strategy to help shift the thinking of their leadership from the “way we’ve always done it” to a new approach that will accelerate the training process and meet the business need. The consequences are dire: if they don’t have enough qualified Level 3 project managers, their clients will not hire them to do these anticipated half billion dollar projects. And—make no mistake—their clients are personally meeting and interviewing the assigned project manager well in advance of making a deal. They can’t leave this to chance on such a big investment.

When stated with this clear illustration of need, urgency, and the financial risks, everybody in the client’s leadership team agreed on the problem. No one disputed that it takes 7 – 10 years with the current system, or that there are at least 80 new people needed. Getting this agreement was a good start. The trouble was that not one senior executive stepped up to pay the short term costs associated with preparing this next generation of PMs for the workforce. My company needed to provide a strategy that would help them change the way they looked at this problem so that they could figure out how to address the solution–which will be the topic of my next chapter. SUMMARY: Concisely frame your business problem through a talent lens. You need to be able to plainly articulate, in a short statement, your organization’s business need for talent in the next 1 – 3 years and the real operational and financial risks if your organization fails to meet these talent requirements. Use the above analysis questions to guide you.

Inform Your Knowledge Transfer Strategy with Relevant Historical Context

A knowledge transfer strategy should state in a few paragraphs the way knowledge transfer has historically happened in an organization. Even if your organization has not engaged in formal knowledge transfer, there is still relevant history. Knowledge transfer is already happening in any workforce—it’s just may not be as efficient, consistent, or complete as needed to meet the talent needs of the business. The knowledge transfer strategy needs to reference the history so that it can surface any investments of time, money, and political capital that will inevitably affect the execution of the strategy and adoption of the solution.

Your strategy’s relevant historical context might reference:

  • Evidence of any formal or informal knowledge transfer structures
  • The results of prior efforts including how consistently and accurately knowledge is typically transferred
  • Anecdotal data such as how long it has typically taken a new hire to get up to speed and be productive a critical job position or instances of rework in a given team
  • Whether unique knowledge and talent has been lost to avoidable circumstances, e.g. subject matter experts retiring before having transferred their critical knowledge to the next generation; poor load-leveling for a workforce’s experienced experts (employee burnout); attrition of marginalized new employees who were not given a chance to learn and be challenged; generational differences that were mismanaged and causing departures due to work stress
  • What other knowledge transfer strategies have been tried or confused with knowledge transfer and acted as ineffective substitutes (e.g. knowledge management, mentoring programs, competency models, succession planning)

Using a client of my consulting company, here’s an example of a relevant historical context: A major insurance company outsources roughly half of its IT Division’s workforce. They maintain IT offices in three countries, have an aging workforce, and—due to many legacy systems that go back to the early day ‘s of software programming—have lots of unique critical knowledge that can’t be learned elsewhere.

More than two years ago they began handing off major blocks of IT work to the outsourced vendor in order to increase efficiency and reduce costs. This outsource partner marketed their services to the insurer as including a knowledge transfer system—but this system turned out to be knowledge management and not knowledge transfer. Effectively, the “knowledge transfer” process used over the past two years of outsourcing handover has been for the insurer to create a document on some particular knowledge to be transferred (e.g. a certain IT process that the outsource partner is absorbing) and for the insurer and outsource partner to talk through the document.

This amounted to explaining vocabulary and steps in the process and then handing over the document and considering the knowledge transferred. The problem with this process is that it lacks the necessary depth to be called knowledge transfer; it doesn’t get at any related wisdom and tacit knowledge (e.g. What’s the relationship between x and y? What are the top three things to troubleshoot if a process fails? Who do you have to know to get something done? How do you know when you are in over your head? Etc.) Evidence that the needed depth is lacking is clear: two years after the transfer of outsourced IT roles, the outsource partner is still not working independently.

Outsourced workers cannot perform their assigned roles and handle all the IT problems that arise, enough for ineffectiveness to be visible at the executive level. The insurer did not have an alternative formal knowledge transfer system of their own and their response has been a reactive and costly one. They put their best people on planes and fly them out to the outsource partner to solve the problems and retrain the partner resources in real-time.

Their IT experts are running around putting out fires, instead of getting ahead of the problem or focusing on their own jobs. Even the outsource partner acknowledges that it would be more helpful if their client was clearer about their expectations—but clearer how? The insurer is not holding the vendor accountable to outcomes because they can’t under the current system. Two years into the changeover and the insurer is still following the status quo for lack of an alternative knowledge transfer process or better strategy—and it’s not working. It’s the opposite of the anticipated efficiency and costs savings expected from the outsourcing effort.

In addition, the insurer is facing the imminent retirement of a large percentage of their current IT workforce. Some of these professionals write code in programming languages that date so far back that the next generation has never even heard of the languages, let alone been trained in them. For example, for one critical system used to collect money to interface with banks and move funds, there is literally one employee who knows how to make programming changes—and he’s at retirement age.

The insurer knows that he and many other experienced professionals will be leaving in the next 1 – 5 years and leadership wants to retain their tribal knowledge before it goes out the door. There was no methodical, measurable knowledge transfer system in place to do this until my consulting company was asked to help. This sample overview makes the organization’s knowledge transfer history clear, even to a reader not familiar with the business unit or experienced in the field of knowledge transfer. It can be summarized in a few bullets:

  • Knowledge transfer was typically driven by the outsource partner and most people thought it was “handled,” but time and the results showed that it clearly was not.
  • The outsource partner will need to be incorporated into the strategy.
  • The insurer wasn’t clear enough about their expectations for the outsource partner’s required skill sets. The strategy needs to include a solution for setting these expectations better.
  • Departing workers with unique knowledge have no track record of transferring skills. Our employees will be starting from scratch, so the strategy must include ways to state the urgency of this problem and motivate people to accept a new way of doing things.

SUMMARY: After framing your organization’s talent problem, your knowledge transfer strategy should next provide relevant historical context to show how knowledge transfer has typically occurred in the organization, what benefits or problems have resulted, and what other methods have been tried or confused with the work of knowledge transfer. It should clearly state the ways in which your knowledge transfer strategy needs to respond to this history.

Your Knowledge Transfer Strategy Should Define What Good Knowledge Transfer Will Look Like at Your Organization in 1 – 3 Years

Your knowledge transfer strategy—after framing your business’s talent problem and providing historical context—should next state your expectation for how knowledge transfer will occur in your organization within the next 1 – 3 years. You can run cognitive exercises to help create this picture or you can look to history as a means to illuminate what paths to take and not to take—but the end result should be a clear, succinct written statement of what good knowledge transfer will and won’t look like in your organization’s near future.

Summarize the Expectation in a Simple, Clear List

In the case of one client of my knowledge transfer consulting firm, we started by describing their picture of good knowledge transfer very basically—saying what it would no longer be:

  1. We’re no longer going rely solely on ad hoc, we’re going to treat knowledge transfer like any other task and plan for it;
  2. We’re no longer going to leave this work to personal preference, we’re going to decide to drive for consistency in critical areas;
  3. We’re no longer going to be satisfied with status quo for onboarding or cross training, we’re going to cut the ramp up to productivity in half;
  4. We’re no longer going to let trial and error show us if actual knowledge transfer has occurred, we’re going to measure and track progress; and
  5. We’re going to keep our knowledge transfer process simple, so the method is easily mastered and this work doesn’t collapse under its own weight.

All good knowledge transfer strategies will have some version of these five points. They set a clear direction of how an organization’s knowledge transfer will change and perform. But looking at this list, the next question is obvious: what is it going to take to achieve that? A knowledge transfer strategy needs to include more depth to be useful.

Give Your Expectations Depth by Exploring the Possibilities and Setting Knowledge Transfer Guideposts

Add the next layer of specificity to your strategy by defining where your organization’s ideal knowledge transfer lies on a spectrum between extremes of key attributes. To do this, our consulting firm created a tool we call Knowledge Transfer Strategy Guideposts. This is a document of about 20 or so key attributes of how knowledge transfer can occur in any organization. Each Guidepost presents a sliding numbered spectrum. On the left is the extremely structured, controlled, predictable end of the spectrum for that attribute; on the right is the much looser or unrestricted end of the spectrum. The developers of your knowledge transfer strategy choose a position on the sliding scale to define that attribute of the knowledge transfer picture. For example, some areas that your knowledge transfer strategy should define one or more guideposts for are:

  • Urgency. Executives need to align on how quickly a knowledge transfer solution needs to show real results, ideally in the form of reduced talent risk. If the urgency is high—for example, because you aren’t sure that in 3 years you’ll have enough experienced project managers to serve your customers and may lose business as a result—then that urgency needs to be quantified and agreed upon now. A high degree of urgency will also translate to a higher priority for the knowledge transfer effort. It may even mean that knowledge transfer affects project schedules because building for the long term health of the organization is sometimes more important than hitting a short term deadline. The strategy should provide enough guidance to help front-line managers make those trade-offs. The strategy should define the urgency and answer this question: “For which talent risks should knowledge transfer be prioritized over other work?”
  • Consistency. This is an example of a topic that may or may not be important to your strategy. Either way, you should make a decision and be clear. We worked with a video game company that based its creative strategy on very limited expectations for a stable process or standards between game teams. The guidance was to agree on something within your team and go for it. Their knowledge transfer strategy rated this issue very low. That’s one end of the spectrum. On the other hand, when we presented this question during a project at Nike they decided to expect global consistency for the role in question. That means that the strategy is to have everybody behave in a similar way so that they can share resources and best practices (including paths to innovation) and expect similar results. The strategy should call out the guidelines (or selected standard-setting employees) to be followed and then answer this question: “To what degree should employees be required to follow those guidelines?”
  • Degree of Rigor. Most companies have a few bad stories of “flavor of the month” systems that seemed like a good idea but didn’t get traction for one reason or another. The knowledge transfer strategy should take into account these past failures and provide executive-level guidance to make sure that doesn’t happen here. If rigor is an important guidepost, then the strategy should discuss embedding knowledge transfer into existing systems like annual performance reviews or project scorecards. You might even attach the rigor to other policies, such as travel approval. What would happen if you required a Skill Development Plan showing knowledge transfer goals before approving travel by your workforce’s experienced experts to meetings with an outsource partner? Accountability is a close neighbor to rigor. A knowledge transfer strategy should get executives aligned on their expectations up front, including what they themselves will do to ensure success. The strategy should call out the level of rigor and answer this question: “In what ways will we ensure adoption of our knowledge transfer program and hold people accountable for intended outcomes?”

Each one of these areas is intended to add a layer of depth to the five main points that define your knowledge transfer expectations. In practice, each line executive or senior leader responsible for the knowledge transfer strategy should first answer these guidepost questions individually. This will expose gaps in alignment and provide fodder for a rich discussion of what knowledge transfer should look like in their organization. In my company’s consulting work, we’ll often find a number of executives are thinking three to five years ahead, while others on the same strategy team aren’t. After uncovering gaps, these disparities can be discussed as a group and rectified. The end result should be a concise, written description of knowledge transfer expectations that clearly guide implementation, plus the leadership consensus to generate accountability. SUMMARY: Define what good knowledge transfer should and should not look like in your organization. Clarify expectations by choosing key attributes and setting “guideposts” that define where on a spectrum your knowledge transfer system should fall.

Knowledge Transfer Strategy in Practice

I am a knowledge transfer consultant for The Steve Trautman Co. who has led two kinds of knowledge transfer projects: those with the benefit of an articulated organizational knowledge transfer strategy and those without that benefit. Steve asked me to write a guest post in this blog series, and I’m taking the opportunity to give you a few examples of how a good knowledge transfer strategy can be manifested in real work. When the rubber hits the road, you’ll get to see how taking the time to articulate a strategy makes a measurable difference in your organization. The great thing about Steve’s Knowledge Transfer Guideposts is that they provide practical guidance to managers, mentors, and apprentices on the ground. Day-to-day decision making is easier, and you can be sure that knowledge transfer activities will be aligned across teams and will support the leadership vision for the organization.

Without a strategy and guideposts, results of large-scale knowledge transfer may be less consistent and predictable

When I’ve worked with multiple teams in an organization without a knowledge transfer strategy, the results and follow-through from each of the teams are inconsistent. Since no one has set expectations for knowledge transfer at a higher level, each manager interprets for herself how to implement knowledge transfer for her team. This can result in highly varied outcomes and even conflicts in an organization. Here’s an example that I saw happen some time ago in a large workforce. One manager implementing knowledge transfer on her software engineering team assumed that the expert employees who held critical knowledge to be transferred would be mentors shared across the organization to result in a high level of consistency—something she deemed important for the business. A second manager, who managed some of those experts—the assumed shared resources—was unwilling for his team to play that role of mentor across multiple engineering teams. This meant it was left up to the first manager to negotiate a compromise with the second manager. How much simpler and more time efficient it would have been if they both had clear direction from their leadership about how important consistency was or was not for the organization. Without an articulated strategy, when time gets tight, managers and team members can also easily make assumptions about upper managements’ perspective on the priority of knowledge transfer. I once had a senior team manager, working without the benefit of a knowledge transfer strategy, express doubt that his organization’s executives would want to see a high level of activity on his knowledge transfer scorecard. On the contrary, I knew from a separate communication thread that this manager’s V.P. expected knowledge transfer to be a high priority for every individual in the organization. Without a knowledge transfer strategy articulated and communicated in this case, even a senior manager in the organization didn’t know how to prioritize project work against the knowledge transfer program that was designed to reduce critical risk on his team.

With a strategy and guideposts, frontline knowledge trabsfer decisions are easier, quicker, aligned with senior management goals, and more measureable

With a knowledge transfer strategy, managers and individuals can be sure about the decisions they make on a daily basis concerning how to spend their time and how to manage their resources. Best of all, many of the Knowledge Transfer Guideposts can be translated directly into knowledge transfer metrics that are easily measured and tracked in regular team and business reviews. Having this level of clarity written down for all to see, and tracking tangible metrics on a regular basis, reinforces accountability at all levels of the organization. It also reassures team members that they have upper management support for making progress on knowledge transfer. For one recent blue chip client, I was able to incorporate twelve Guideposts directly into a scorecard that teams use to track their knowledge transfer progress on a bi-weekly basis. Here are a few examples:

  • Guidepost on Consistency Set High = A milestone was defined for teams to indicate they have checked their team risk assessment and reduction framework—in our case, called the Knowledge Silo Matrix (KSM)—against partner/parallel teams for consistency of critical knowledge areas (silos) and shared resources.
  • Guidepost on Transparency Set High = A milestone was defined for teams to indicate they have internally published their KSM results.
  • Guidepost on Degree of Rigor Set High = A metric was established that tracks the number of employees designated as learners-apprentices who have a customized skill Development Plan to guide their learning. A second metric was established that tracks the number of hours experts-mentors are spending on knowledge transfer weekly.

With scorecard metrics like these and others translated directly from the client’s strategy Guideposts, teams and upper management can see at a glance whether or not their knowledge transfer program is producing the desired results—and where corrections and manager action is needed. SUMMARY: A well developed and communicated knowledge transfer strategy makes a tangible difference to managers and individuals who are putting knowledge transfer changes into practice in an organization. Making decisions, collaborating on knowledge transfer between teams, staying aligned with the executive-level vision, and tracking measurable progress is easier—even automatic in some cases—with the clarity of direction that a knowledge transfer strategy provides.

Provide a Clear Cost-Benefit Analysis in Your Knowledge Transfer Strategy

Your knowledge transfer strategy should include a clear cost-benefit analysis for the change you want to make from your organization’s knowledge transfer status quo to a program that meets your defined expectations. The first step is to consider the costs of a change. Be sure to include the time your experts will spend transferring knowledge to their peers. This can be as little as a few hours per week but we’ve found that ignoring this reality causes problems when it is time to execute the strategy. There is also going to be some overhead for setting up the system, potentially using internal or external help. Then think about the benefits. The cleanest way I have found to get at the benefits is to assess opportunities and threats to your business and then derive potential returns from there. The main goal of knowledge transfer is to manage talent and knowledge risks, including risks of failing in your current business or failing to take full advantage of growth opportunities. Your cost/benefit analysis should be informed by a thorough understanding of the impacts those risks could have on your business. Here are a few ways to think about threats in the context of a knowledge transfer strategy:

Assessing Threats

  • Losing an employee(s) with unique, critical knowledge: This is a clear and too-frequent threat. In my field we hear hundreds of these stories involving aging workers or unexpectedly departing experts. Just last month I took two calls: the first was from an executive who said she has an employee who is the hub of a $30 million business—and he just gave his notice; the second was from a company with an expert employee at the hub of a $100 million business who had already retired, and the organization had to claw him back. Neither company had a plan for retaining the unique knowledge of these nor any other critical employees except to keep those employees on board at whatever cost.
  • Rework and mistakes: How typical are instances of rework in a given team? Can you document past financial losses due to the actions of employees lacking the necessary knowledge and skills held elsewhere in your workforce? If these instances are frequent, that’s a threat.
  • Attrition: Turnover due to underutilized talent or marginalized workers is also a threat. Consider one of the two calls I mentioned above: when I asked this HR executive who worked for a global manufacturer why she was losing a $30 million dollar employee, she answered, “I don’t think we managed him very well. I think he felt kind of like he was stuck in a corner in the way that he was working with us, and he wanted to play in a bigger venue.” Through knowledge transfer, this talented employee could have been tuning up scores of peers to execute his approaches globally in a matter of weeks or months, not years or decades. He could have prepared others to take over his current role while the company groomed him for something bigger. Instead, he felt isolated and frustrated by his narrow role—and left. Another example I often see is marginalized Gen Y-ers among teams dominated by seasoned Boomers. Most Boomers would have no problem sharing their knowledge with Gen Y-ers—if only they were shown how and given clear direction. Instead, Boomers experience the generational gap and feel they “don’t get” Gen Y-ers. Talented but underutilized Gen Y-ers are not trusted with “real work” and eventually leave to pursue opportunities elsewhere. Then the costly cycle repeats.
  • Safety incidents: Reducing safety incidents is always a hot button issue. For example, the data for many of our clients show that new hires get hurt more often than their more experienced peers and methodical knowledge transfer can measurably reduce these numbers. Consider this estimated dollar loss in your threat analysis.
  • Unprepared workforce: New business, current contracts, and customer loyalty is threatened if a workforce is unprepared. My company is working with a multinational engineering and large project development firm whose clients have literally told them: “Make no mistake; we will be interviewing the project managers who will oversee our new installations to determine their readiness.” This manufacturer is contractually obligated to ramp up, maintain, and deliver a certain degree of talent to their client. If the skill level slips—even in the face of aggressive capacity increase—100s of millions in contracts are at risk.
  • Increased costs: This is a threat I’ve recently seen come up especially in relation to outsourcing. For example, we have clients who outsource large departments and significant work offshore because they had originally believed it would reduce costs. In actuality, their costs have just shifted. Lacking a reliable knowledge transfer system, these clients have spent years “transferring” responsibilities to their outsource partners only to find the partners still do not understand expectations and cannot work solo. Before coming to us, one client had been exhausting their most talented employees by sending them on planes overseas to put out fire after fire after fire. The lack of productivity wasted time and increased operational costs—not to mention skyrocketing travel budgets.
  • Cultural risks: This can take many forms, but here are some common ones: 1. Cultures that emphasize years on the job over knowing the right way to do the job.“I’ve been here for 20 years. I have clout. (But I don’t know how to do this new work.)” vs.“ I’ve been here 10 weeks. I’m the only one who knows the right way to do this new work. (But I have no clout.)” 2. Strongly embedded cultures that smother culture change—this can threaten any organization seeking to modernize, globalize, or make improvements to the way they operate. 3. Cultures that have emphasized a “multi-hat wearing employee,” but now have leadership asking workers to specialize, often because today’s technical jobs demand it. Employees can feel like power and responsibilities are being reduced and they’re being pigeon-holed, lowering morale and slowing the pace of change. And 4. Cultures and compensation structures that actually de-incentivize knowledge sharing (e.g. if employee paychecks and bonuses are tied wholly to billable hours, then any time spent mentoring peers means money of out an experienced employee’s pocket.) Your knowledge transfer strategy should state these and other cultural risks as you find them.

Assessing Opportunities

Understanding threats is important, but you should also look beyond threats to opportunities. A good knowledge transfer program will not only mitigate potential productivity and financial losses, it also can introduce ways to add revenue:

  • Innovation: For example, Nike used our 3-Step Knowledge Transfer Solution to create an environment that fosters innovation in their global footwear development team by increasing behaviors that lead to breakthroughs. I discussed this in detail in a previous post, but in brief, Nike used knowledge transfer to identify the skills and behaviors of their most innovative developers and to replicate these among peers. In a sense, their knowledge transfer program was used to “teach” innovation.
  • Gen Y Recruitment & Retention: Knowledge transfer has a very real opportunity to make a company more attractive to talented workers in the Gen Y population. With a structured knowledge transfer program, recruiters can easily show Gen Y-ers how the organization will invest in their skill growth and expedite their onboarding. This way the Gen Y-er is doing interesting, meaningful work sooner and can see their growth trajectory. It makes an additional carrot to dangle during recruitment and reduces attrition once hired.
  • Poaching Top Talent in the Marketplace: A lot of companies’ strategy for filling headcount is to send headhunters to their competitors. It’s a benefit to be able to say, “We have a contemporary knowledge transfer program that will allow you to bring your big brain here and replicate yourself so that you can have a bigger impact on our company than you’re having now. You’re sort of lying fallow where you live. We can be your fertile ground.”
  • Opportunities for new markets, customers and products: A biotech client of ours, Edwards Life Sciences, was in a stage in their product-to-market cycle where they were getting FDA approval on a new heart value and needed to very quickly put a lot of qualified clinical specialists into the field. These specialists would provide training to surgeons who needed to experience the new product and become comfortable with it before recommending it to others. At least one other competitor was trying to beat Edwards to market with a competing product. It was a classic race of first-to-market: the faster Edwards could get substantial numbers of qualified specialists into the marketplace, the faster they could increase revenue. And, if Edwards was out there training in force first, more surgeons would imprint on their product and recommend it—so not only would Edwards get near term revenue, but they would also be beating the competition from a loyalty perspective. In cases like these, the cost-benefit analysis can be as simple as: the knowledge transfer cost for adding one new specialist in terms of X employee hours weighed against the revenue that one new specialist is estimated to bring in a given number of months—which in this case was many times the knowledge transfer cost.
  • Scaling up production or capacity: Growing businesses face the classic scale question: can we scale and take on additional markets, expanded product lines, or more and larger projects? Knowledge transfer can increase workforce capacity and decreasing an employee’s ramp time to productivity. Several years back we implemented our knowledge transfer process with an accounting software developer and their C.O.O. explained the benefit this way: “Eighteen months ago, when we would hire employees into our consulting services group, we would essentially have to bring them in 9 – 12 months before they were able to fly solo and generate billable revenue. Today,…we’re able to break people in within 90 – 120 days. So we’re able to hire later and bill sooner, and ultimately that has a higher R.O.I.”

SUMMARY: Every knowledge transfer strategy should include a cost/benefit analysis. To make informed decisions about your knowledge transfer investment, be sure your analysis provides a thorough assessment of your threats, but don’t forget to include your opportunities.

Mitigating Risks to Implementing Your Knowledge Transfer Strategy

Identifying knowledge transfer implementation risks - business man w binocularsIn our knowledge transfer strategy blog series so far, I’ve outlined the steps needed to define your organization’s knowledge transfer challenges, history, and expectations, and to write a cost-benefit analysis. Now your strategy should include a few basic guidelines for knowledge transfer implementation, such as a general timeline and clear definition of key roles. For example, these roles may be:

  • the executive who will own the implementation plan (we call this the KT Sponsor);
  • the manager who will own the communication and change management role;
  • the individual responsible for ensuring that stakeholders adhere to the overall knowledge transfer process and who tracks status (we call this essential role the KT Process Owner);
  • the expert or owner of the standard for the knowledge being transferred (we call this role the Mentor);
  • the person who will serve as the liaison with HR—as knowledge transfer roles may impact things like performance reviews and job assignments
  • any outside vendors or consultants who are helping with your talent strategy.

Now, at this stage in writing your knowledge transfer strategy, you should identify the implementation risks that lie ahead and plan how you’ll manage them. A knowledge transfer strategy—like any other kind of strategy—needs to clearly understand the environment in which you are operating and uncover the reasons why you’ll be successful, and even more so, the reasons why you might fail. Identify Risks to Implementing Your Knowledge Transfer Strategy Implementation risks can derail even the best strategic plan. To help you get started with this step, here are some examples of common implementation risks my knowledge transfer consulting company has seen among our clients:

  1. Policy Roadblocks Or Compensation Models that De-Incentivize Knowledge Transfer — Implementing your strategy may require some changes in policy. At one multination manufacturing client, we saw a knowledge transfer pilot fail, and when we dug deeper we learned that the compensation model for their most experienced project managers was based entirely on billable hours to their clients and profit margins on their projects. If these expert employees spent any time mentoring peers, they could actually be losing money out of their paychecks. Once the client recognized and removed this roadblock, by allowing the experts to bill some of their time against an employee development budget, knowledge transfer was able to proceed as planned.
  2. Cultures that Value Tenure Over Relevant Experience —Your strategy may require some people who used to be the top dog to find a spot lower in the pecking order. This is because any good knowledge transfer process will value experts who help set and follow the highest standards over those with who’ve simply been around longer. This means that your expert may be someone who has only been with you for six months and who might need to mentor someone who has been on the job twenty years. You’ll need to address this cultural hurdle through your communication planner, change management tools and good old leadership from your management team.
  3. Conflicting Cultures of Merged or Partner Organizations — When two companies with strong but different cultures come together through a merger or an outsourcing partnership, for example, you can expect some resistance to lining up as one unit. Whose way of doing things gets to become the new standard? Management will need to clearly communicate the reasons and rewards for changing long-standing process and cultural behaviors and help select the new standard. Don’t expect the recently merged factions to do this smoothly on their own.
  4. High Turnover or Lack of Organizational Stability — If an experienced employee expects that he’s only going to be on a project for a short amount of time, he may be reluctant to invest personally in a knowledge transfer process because he knows he’s going to move on soon. Also, in organizations with high turnover, a mentor may resist transferring knowledge because she fears her apprentices will leave soon and she’ll end up back at square one re-teaching the same material to someone new. Without establishing a personal incentive (see below), workforce instability can create some barriers.
  5. Languages Barriers – If your strategy calls for transferring knowledge among multinational teams, you may run into cases where people speak different languages. Once we had a client where 12 or 15 different languages were being spoken within a unit of just 100 employees, and people were tending to learn from whoever spoke their language as opposed to who actually knew how to do the job being learned. Your strategy should insist on thoughtfully choosing your experts with this cultural and language backdrop in mind.
  6. People Who Have Invested in Another Solution — You may run into resistance if key players have invested in a prior solution to solve your talent problem, such as a different form of knowledge transfer, a rotational program, or competing for homegrown solutions. Your strategy should address the role of these prior solutions, including “lessons learned” in the historical context section and, here, a clear declaration of your position: We’re going to adopt the prior solution. We’re going to supplant the prior solution. We’re going to augment the prior solution. Also, some people may be invested in a talent management strategy that is incorrectly being interpreted as redundant with knowledge transfer (e.g. competency models, succession planning). Your plan should clarify how these strategies solve different talent problems and will support each other.
  7. Executive Level Barriers — Executives, by paying attention, can remove a lot of obvious barriers to knowledge transfer right off the bat. Or, they can create a barrier simply by being agnostic or ignoring issues. Executives don’t have to be actively hostile; just by their absence or failure to communicate priorities, they can create a barrier. Middle managers will think, “If he doesn’t care, I don’t care.” The strategy should clarify each division involved and which executive positions are accountable.
  8. Fiefdoms — Knowledge transfer programs are typically implemented by the executives and managers of a division, business line or unit responsible for operational goals. This is because knowledge transfer deals directly with setting the expectations for on-the-job daily work of those employees. In some cases, a division such as HR may attempt to scuttle a knowledge transfer initiative because they believe addressing talent issues is their domain or that they have the situation covered. Your strategy should clearly define every faction’s role.
  9. The Flavor-of-the-Month Attitude — Some organizations or divisions in a company can suffer from a Flavor-of-the-Month problem: they have a history littered with past initiatives that took off hot but lacked follow-through and long-term commitment, and so failed. Now there is a cultural feeling that, “This stuff never works. So we are bad at these programs, and therefore this will fail too.” The strategy should name the attitude and counter, “We recognize we’ve failed at this in the past. We’ve taken these steps to figure out why we failed. We have a plan that has a lot of checks and balances. We’re using this scorecard to make sure that at each step we’re not going sideways. We have executive level persistence and commitment, and we’re not letting our old culture and our old habits take us off track.” Then changing minds by setting, meeting, and celebrating the program’s wins.
  10. Blockers Who Don’t Value Knowledge Transfer or Believe It’s a Problem Capable of Solving —You may have known blockers who only think in the short term, who don’t believe that poor knowledge transfer is a problem worth solving, or that there is a simple methodology capable of solving it. The best way to handle this is to shine the light directly on the attitude; point to evidence from a pilot program, case studies, or other proof-of-concept and then clarify that the strategy’s new expectations for knowledge transfer are not optional.

SUMMARY: Implementing a knowledge transfer strategy is going to require change. Your strategy should not only address common implementation items such as a basic timeline and clear role definition but also should include a section that names potential roadblocks to your plan’s implementation and how you intend to mitigate these risks. UPCOMING NEXT WEEK: We’ll bring this series to a close with a final chapter.