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?
WHAT MAKES A GOOD KNOWLEDGE TRANSFER PROGRAM
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 the larger organization or just at an individual team level?
For any of you who are skeptical that a knowledge transfer program exists that can rigorously meet these criteria, here's the knowledge transfer program we use at my consulting firm. The program's components clearly answer all these critical questions. If you know of other programs being used that also meet the criteria, I'd love to hear about them in Comments section and discuss how they solve these challenges.
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 chose where on this sliding scale they want their knowledge transfer program to fall.