To make knowledge transfer happen is not difficult, but it takes a team. I’ve posted about this before (Knowledge Transfer in Action)—but wouldn’t it be great if everyone on your knowledge transfer team clearly understood their role and what they most need to do for the effort to succeed? Here, and in the next few posts, I’ll provide quick and clear lists of the key behaviors and tasks of successful knowledge transfer team members. We’ll start with one of the first members of the team—the knowledge transfer sponsor.
The knowledge transfer sponsor is typically a senior executive who is the internal champion for a knowledge transfer pilot or initiative within an organization. He or she has the clout to green-light a knowledge transfer project, set its general scope and business objectives, and provide budget as needed. The sponsor doesn’t have to be the direct manager of the team engaged in knowledge transfer, and he or she is usually not involved in the day-to-day implementation of the knowledge transfer program. Still, even with limited time and direct involvement, the sponsor has a critical role to play.
Top Tasks of the Knowledge Transfer Sponsor and the Tools to Help
1. Develop and Clarify the Talent Management Objectives for Knowledge Transfer, Based on Your Company’s Business Strategy. Name the results you want to achieve. Consider how your talent investments align to support your business strategy and how these investments will be measured. How will you define success? What is your scorecard? You should use a talent management framework to assess your risks and set priorities. (If you’re looking for more help with this, I co-wrote a book about it, which includes practical advice and tools, The Executive Guide to High-Impact Talent Management.)
2. Work to Gain Buy-In from Key Stakeholders. As the term “sponsor” suggests, advocacy and generating support for your knowledge transfer solution is a central role. Connect key stakeholders with the realities both inside and outside your organization that make the success of the knowledge transfer initiative so urgent and important. Find ways to bring these realities face-to-face with your peers and staff—such as an at-a-glance display of the talent shortages your team faces now and in the next 1 - 3 years (we use the Knowledge Silo Matrix for this). Then give your team the language to understand and communicate how your knowledge transfer solution will solve these problems and the end goals you will achieve together. At my company we recommend planning for this. Here’s our Communication & Change Management Planner Template to help you get started (and if you need more explanation or assistance, just contact us.)
3. Create On-Going Urgency for Results. Any knowledge transfer program means change and—just like change expert John P. Kotter’s foundational work in leading organizational change—we have found that the biggest cause of knowledge transfer failure is leadership’s lack of urgency to address the problem and hold their teams accountable for observable results. Sponsors should create a sense of urgency for results, for example:
- Be visible in daily actions. Model urgency by making time for conversation with your staff about the knowledge transfer objectives. Keep priorities clear by asking your managers to set individual targets with their knowledge transfer mentors and mentees for weekly time spent on the KT solution—e.g. 10% of the regular work week. Reinforce the KT priority with regular follow up with your staff and ask to see weekly or monthly progress reports
- Look for opportunities in crises. When colleagues perceive something as a crisis—perhaps a key executive or technical expert leaving or some relevant industry news—use this as an opportunity to show a cost-benefit scenario for your knowledge transfer investments
- Don’t ignore critics. Skeptics on your staff are employees who may be actively trying to preserve the status quo and undermine urgency (e.g. those who postpone or cancel knowledge transfer meetings, challenge workforce and talent status data, selectively use data to indicate that no change is needed, and create excess anxiety about the risks of change). The best way to deal with these people is to shine a bright light on them. Give them measurable tasks and hold them specifically accountable for results. Reduce their access to others who need to follow through on the KT change. Let them know you are paying attention to their actions and call out their obstructions. When you do this they will done of two things: find another job or step up and become part of the solution.
4. Clarify Roles Responsibilities—Who Is Accountable for What in the Implementation Process? When it comes to implementation, many knowledge transfer sponsors only have time to make a brief kickoff speech and then leave the rest in the hands of their team. Whether this is you or not, all KT sponsors need to build a coalition of people who will play the key roles in making KT change happen. Here’s a knowledge transfer role responsibility checklist, adapted from my talent management book, which you can use in less than one hour to clarify roles. Most important is to name and set expectations for: a) the knowledge transfer program designer or outside consultant, b) the knowledge transfer direct manager(s), and c) the knowledge transfer process owner (chosen with the recommendation of the direct manager). In my upcoming blog posts, I’ll list the key tasks and behaviors of each role.
5. Report Results to Up the Leadership Chain and Drive to Workforce Risk Reduction. Hold your knowledge transfer team accountable by asking for regular reports showing progress toward your knowledge transfer goals and talent risk reduction. Your knowledge transfer program should be designed to be measurable, and your KT process owner and KT direct manager should establish clear metrics for success. At my company, we use the Knowledge Silo Matrix (KSM) and Skill Development Plan (SDP) to provide these metrics. Recently a Fortune 500 we’re working with used movement on their KSM to add knowledge transfer results to their C-level executive scorecard. In a blink, top executives could see their workforce risks being reduced, including where and when remaining risks would be mitigated—a visceral confirmation that their KT talent investments were paying off.
I know from experience that the typical knowledge transfer sponsor has little time to spend on talent issues. But if the KT sponsor dedicates one hour a week to these five core tasks, he or she will be doing their part to ensure the success of knowledge transfer at their company.
SUMMARY: A knowledge transfer sponsor will be the greatest support to their team and business by executing on the above list. Without these five actions by the KT sponsor, knowledge transfer may occur, but almost always falls short of what I consider a success: it fails to make meaningful change or to reduce persistent pockets of risk to workforce readiness and productivity. Be sure to share the above resource with your KT sponsor.
This 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.
COMING UP NEXT WEEK: 7 MUST-Do Tasks of the Knowledge Transfer Direct Manager.