Change management tests the leadership of every organization. I’m working with a Fortune 500 retailer right now that has been going through a couple of years of major change. Transitions within their workforce have yet to stabilize. In short, even after a lot of effort, the workers in the team who face the brunt of the change do not have role clarity and do not get the “big picture.” They still struggle with simple decisions that make it difficult for them to set priorities and make good decisions. Managers are no longer sure who to consider the “expert” in a given technical or professional area, throwing training and standard setting into question. Senior leaders have a vision for the end result—but haven’t been clear about their expectations for the behaviors, new skills, and performance needed to get the team there. Sound familiar?
Whether due to reorganizations or mergers, launching new strategies or major tech rollouts, rapid growth or process overhauls, organizational change can strain a workforce and confuse expectations. This leads to discouraged and less productive employees – the best of whom will leave if it doesn’t get better quickly. Knowledge transfer—with its clear processes for workforce risk management, for moving critical knowledge and skills within a workforce, and for clarity and accountability of performance standards—has proven to be a crucial element in successfully driving change at the worker level. Here’s why:
Knowledge Transfer Provides the Structure, Tools, and Decision Points to Implement Change and Measure Progress at the Worker Level
In every organizational change there are those who know and those who need to know. There are people who can do a job the (new) right way and others who need to learn to replicate that. Closing this gap is what the field of knowledge transfer is all about. At the Fortune 500 retailer I’m working with, knowledge transfer is going to help them drive through the storm of change in three specifics ways:
- Knowledge transfer will clearly define roles in a change.
First, the knowledge transfer process requires simple, straightforward answers to a few crucial workforce questions that will derail change if left unclear. “Who REALLY knows what the daily work is for a given team or unit and how to do it, including the technical and professional skills needed on the job?” “Which workers now need to learn critical knowledge and skills in order to do their job the right way in this change?” “Who is going to set the standard that exemplifies the right way to do each technical and professional skill needed on the job?” “Who will be the process manager who champions the new standards for skills of this team, and holds employees accountable by tracking progress?”
- Knowledge transfer will set clear employee expectations.
In the knowledge transfer process, management clarifies for employees such things as what level of consistency is expected for new behaviors and job skills of workers. Does a skill need to be performed consistent to a set standard for every person in a given job role on a team? In the division? Between countries? The knowledge transfer process will also clarify priorities for employees. Which new expectations are more critical right now than others? Where does meeting the standard for these critical changed behaviors rank in importance to other daily work? How many hours a week should the manager, expert-mentor, and employee-learner devote to developing this new way of doing things?
- Knowledge transfer will ask employees to measurably demonstrate their understanding of the “big picture,” and uncover ongoing change management issues.
When the knowledge transfer process is used to support major change, the process provides a structure in which employees are asked the Big Picture questions as they relate to and affect daily work. These are questions like: “Who is our customer?” “What are the services we provide now and which ones, if any, need to change as we implement the current strategy?” “How does our unit or division measure our success now and how might that change in the future?” “What is the relevant history that affects current strategy?” and “What are three things your unit or division is doing to support the strategy?” There are at least nine of these big picture questions that every employee should be able to answer during a period of change—and knowledge transfer enables employees see the clear connection between their answers and the job expectations and standards set for daily work. Where an employee cannot answer these big picture questions, leadership knows they are going to have problems. Where an employee can answer them, it indicates the worker is more likely to exercise good judgment and make daily decisions that will support the end goal.
The full knowledge transfer process is explained here—and in the next three parts of this Change Management and Knowledge Transfer blog series I’ll go into more detail about that process and how its tools deliver the above three points and give leaders the accountability structure to manage change.
SUMMARY: Major change can wreak havoc on the preparedness, productivity, and morale of a workforce. For successful change management, use knowledge transfer to give your change clarity at the worker level, to empower employees with the knowledge and skills necessary to make the change, and to set job standards to track progress and enable accountability.