Successful knowledge transfer in business is not difficult, but it takes a structured process and following through on clearly defined roles within your workforce or team. In last week’s blog post we looked at the most important tasks of one of those roles—the direct manager—a person with the managerial power to hold employees accountable to their knowledge transfer-related responsibilities (e.g. mentoring, apprenticing, reporting). This week we focus on the role that is the glue which holds a knowledge transfer project together and keeps it progressing—the knowledge transfer process owner.
Every knowledge transfer project must have a process owner—the person who provides weekly support and communication to participating employees and keeps the project on track. If the direct manager is the “sheriff” in the knowledge transfer story—issuing directives, reviewing status reports, and rewarding or correcting related actions of those under them—then the process owner is the “deputy”—carrying out those directives in the day-to-day and helping peers to understand and perform their duties. To be a successful KT process owner, there are a few important activities you’ll need to do:
The 7 Behaviors of A Great Knowledge Transfer Process Owner
1. Get trained on the tools of your knowledge transfer process and understand how these should be applied. The knowledge transfer (KT) process owner needs to know just how an organization’s chosen knowledge transfer approach is supposed to work, and the ins-and-outs of the tools involved. In my consulting firm, we use a simple, proven 3-step knowledge transfer process with clients that consists of three central tools—the Knowledge Silo Matrix (KSM) for workforce risk assessment, the Skill Development Plan (SDP) to create an actionable plan for knowledge transfer, and the Knowledge Transfer Workshop (KTW) to teach participants how to execute the plan the right way. The KT process owner needs to be familiar with each tool so they can support its use by their peers. With a KT approach like ours, process owners can also become certified, allowing our scalable process to be duplicated throughout an enterprise.
2. Ask project participants to fill out their portion of management’s workforce risk assessment (KSM). Before any knowledge transfer plans are created, management needs to have a clear handle on where risks of knowledge and experience loss lie in their organization and rank these for mitigation. In the case of our 3-step knowledge transfer approach, we accomplished this through the KSM. The process owner needs to ask employees in a workgroup to give the necessary information about their knowledge and job roles to complete a KSM for their team. Also, many of the KSM’s questions need to be answered by the team’s most knowledgeable and skilled employees—the experts for a given knowledge silo. Unfortunately, these employees are typically also the busiest. So a great KT process owner will be respectful but tenacious in their follow-up.
3. Demonstrate and ask designated apprentices to customize the master plan for knowledge and skill development in a given job role (SDP) to meet the apprentice’s specific learning needs. All real knowledge transfer happens on the individual level—an employee gaining the knowledge and skills previously lacking but needed to do a job the right way. The KT process owner needs to ask apprentices to customize and submit (based off a master plan for their job role) a date-driven, individual plan for knowledge transfer in the apprentice’s at-risk areas—in our case, called the Skill Development Plan (SDP). The customized SDP is a schedule of what knowledge and skills will be transferred by when, between the designated expert-mentor and the learner-apprentice. It also includes additional resources for self-directed learning and questions to test that the knowledge has transferred. A good KT process owner can decrease employee stress and keep a project on track by simply saying to hesitant apprentices, “Let me show you HOW to customize the SDP,” or asking , “What problems are you having tailoring the SDP to your situation?”
4. Be available and responsive to knowledge transfer questions from peers. Participants need to know whom to go to ask a question or when they encounter a problem. A process owner’s prompt response adds credibility, whereas delay undermines project urgency.
5. Help apprentices and mentors problem solve and clear obstacles. For example, a KT process owner may need to communicate with other business units or departments to give apprentices access to relevant learning resources outside their team (e.g. wikis, templates, incident reports, manuals, etc.). A good process owner will know if and when to bring in the KT direct manager or the KT sponsor to break through inertia or open resistant channels.
6. Establish a clear escalation path to address participants who are not complying with their knowledge transfer responsibilities or actively trying to derail change. The KT process owner’s role is supportive, but they have no real power to hold participants accountable to actually do anything. So a good process owner will know how to escalate a problem to management, in a calm but clear manner, if the team is running into situations where the process owner is losing confidence that the project will be successful. Examples of these situations could be when a mentor is consistently cancelling knowledge transfer sessions with his apprentices, or a manager is not holding her reports accountable to their knowledge transfer responsibilities, or an another team is not sharing access to a mentor or needed resource.
7. Track and report knowledge transfer completion dates (SDPs) and risk reduction (KSM) to all KT direct managers (and the KT sponsor, as directed). Request and follow up on weekly status report submission, using the information to identify problems or delays and to track completion of team’s individual Skill Development Plans. Record changes to the team’s risk profile (KSM), showing management at a glance when a team’s talent risks have been or are project to be reduced.
Typically, a good KT process owner will spend only a portion of their regular work week on knowledge transfer-related activities. This portion will vary by business culture and the size of the knowledge transfer project, but a good benchmark is usually somewhere between 10% and 30% of their work week. Otherwise, this is a sign that either the chosen knowledge transfer approach is too complicated or the process owner is a poor project manager and a bad choice for the role. (The notable exception is when an organization executes large-sale or enterprise-wide knowledge transfer via a full-time process owner.) With a strong KT process owner at the center of proven knowledge transfer approach, the project will usually succeed.
SUMMARY: All organizations executing knowledge transfer need someone in the role of process owner to take primary responsibility for keeping a knowledge transfer project on track. The process owner’s fundamental role is to support the day-to-day execution of management’s knowledge transfer approach, to ask for and demonstrate to peers the use of knowledge transfer tools, and to track and report progress.
(The above list is a summary. If you want further elaboration, have questions or suggestions, please post in the comments section below or feel free to email me.)