If you’re like many companies facing a massive IT transformation, the prospect can be daunting. Recently one of our clients, a Fortune 500 retailer, faced a massive IT transformation when upgrading their 30 year old legacy systems to current technology. The company was in the second year of the transformation and experiencing rapid growth, nearing 1000 people in IT alone when they called on us at The Steve Trautman Co. They engaged our knowledge transfer consulting firm to help them address a number of key issues:
- Employees in IT hadn’t settled into their new, post-transformation roles, even after formal training was complete. Some were potentially never going to be successful and that challenge needed to be managed quickly.
- New employees who had been hired to bring future-state expertise were struggling to get traction in the existing culture.
- Employees could not clearly explain their roles in the Big Picture or how they could help the new organization support the business goals.
- More than 50 new managers needed systems to help them lead their new teams.
- They needed faster onboarding of new employees.
The client choose to adopt our 3-step Knowledge Transfer Solution to manage their talent risk and navigate out of the stress and confusion of their transition in a methodical, measurable way. I was brought in at the pilot stage to work with this company, and acted as Lead Consultant throughout the process of defining their knowledge transfer strategy and rollout plan, and then implementing that rollout plan across the business unit.
EVERY KNOWLEDGE TRANSFER SOLUTION STARTS WITH A PILOT
For this client we began by running three different pilots. (A knowledge transfer pilot focuses on a business team of up to 25 people with an urgent talent problem to be solved.) Each of the three pilots taught us different lessons about how structured knowledge transfer would work in their culture. For example, we learned that with the variability of manager experience—such as many managers being new to the company but managing tenured individual contributors—it was wise to require Directors’ participation in knowledge transfer kick-off meetings (previously optional) to assure each team that this knowledge transfer process was sponsored from the top and not a “flavor of the month.” Through the learning and successes of the pilots, the company decided that our knowledge transfer solution was a good fit for them as a foundation for their talent management framework going forward. They said they wanted knowledge transfer to be “a cultural norm” and be “like breathing.”
CREATE A KNOWLEDGE TRANSFER STRATEGY & ROLLOUT PLAN BEFORE IMPLEMENTING THROUGHOUT AN ENTERPRISE OR BUSINESS UNIT
The next stage after piloting 3-step knowledge transfer was investing in the development of a robust strategy as a way of determining how they would roll out the knowledge transfer process across the IT organization. We interviewed the executive sponsor and his designates to establish and refine 19 guideposts for what knowledge transfer would and would not look like throughout the IT organization over the next 1 to 3 years.
Enterprise-wide rollout can be handled a variety of ways from a heavy reliance on our firm to manage the rollout, to a certification model where internal employees are prepared to handle most tasks. The retailer decided that knowledge transfer would be better accepted in their business culture if we certified their employees to execute the rollout as much as possible. Using input from the Knowledge Transfer Strategy exercise, the client determined the number of full time employees they would need to shepherd and maintain the program going forward and then we certified those people to execute and maintain our knowledge transfer process.
THE KNOWLEDGE TRANSFER ENTERPRISE-WIDE ROLLOUT IN ACTION
To get the certification candidates started, we kicked off four projects right away, assigning each candidate as an Apprentice Knowledge Transfer Project Manager (KTPM) to a project alongside a Master Consultant from The Steve Trautman Co. Each new KTPM was given a customized Skill Development Plan (SDP) to guide their progress through the certification. Throughout the course of the four projects, the candidates executed their Skill Development Plans and gradually took on more and more direct responsibility as they learned the ins and outs of our knowledge transfer process. They watched it being modeled by consultants such as myself, and started being able to “pass the test” and then demonstrate their new skills. By the end of the first wave of projects—in just under three months—the IT teams involved were successfully maintaining the knowledge transfer process; mentor and apprentice pairs across the IT organization were holding knowledge transfer sessions, increasing skill sets, and reducing talent risks; and the client’s KTPMs were beginning to co-lead knowledge transfer steps with the Master Consultant from our company. By the end of the second 3-month wave of projects, most of the certification work was complete, and a few short weeks later, the company was effectively leading the rest of their enterprise-wide knowledge transfer rollout independently. Maintenance plans outlining ongoing support from our firm took shape after that.
A CULTURE OF EMBEDDED KNOWLEDGE TRANSFER
This client now has knowledge transfer embedded in their culture as a way of developing talent within their IT organization. They are now able to roll with the inevitable reorganizations and technology changes of the future with agility—and a lot less anxiety—because teams and managers are already using proven knowledge transfer tools, ensuring that new hires and transfers are integrated immediately, and maintaining their teams’ talent profiles. The client’s process for onboarding a typical IT hire is much more focused and specific so the new hire can measurably demonstrate their learning and achieve business results sooner. The client is refreshing their talent risk assessment (using our Knowledge Silo Matrix) when business strategies shift or workforce changes occur, and reframing their answers to the Big Picture questions to ensure effective communication with their teams. New managers from the outside who are on-boarded with this process take over existing teams more easily, as it helps them to understand employee roles and establish credibility more quickly. These are just some of the benefits this company is experiencing from having a culture of embedded knowledge transfer.
SUMMARY: A “soup to nuts” knowledge transfer solution enables business organizations facing change to implement a sustainable process to ensure their workforce is ready. Instilling a culture of knowledge transfer across a large organization of 1000+ individuals can be very effectively done in about 18 months, with the right investment of strategic planning and executive sponsorship. Through a Knowledge Transfer Pilot, Knowledge Transfer Strategy & Rollout Plan, an Enterprise Rollout, and some ongoing maintenance support, organizations can have an embedded knowledge transfer process that not only addresses immediate business challenges, but also helps them navigate through future transitions and absorb upcoming talent risks.