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 other 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 under way.
- 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.
Knowledge transfer 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 blog 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.