In this final post of my Change Management & Knowledge Transfer Series, I’d like to talk about ways to teach workers how to do their jobs or new functions after a strategic or organizational change and to test that employees have absorbed the learning clearly and consistently. These two areas—teaching what changed roles should look like and accountability—are where the rubber hits the road in change management, and where most change initiatives fall apart. Here’s how it normally goes wrong:
Typically in business when you teach somebody how to do a new or changed job, you explain their role and tasks and you put them to work. Then they screw it up—because they don’t really know what they're doing—and once you find out, you correct them. You clean up their mess, explain their job further, and you put them back to work. Then, they screw it up less. So you correct them again—because they still don’t know their job—you clean up a smaller mess, and you teach them again. Then they go back work, and they screw it up a little less. And so you clean up a little less mess and reteach. And so on—with them screwing up a little less, and you re-teaching a little less—until the person becomes able to work independently and correctly according to the change vision.
The problem with this default process is that it takes a long time and it’s expensive. It can also get frustrating for everyone involved, stymie the needed change, and lead to loss of talent and productivity. Why go through all that when there’s a better way?
Tools in the field of knowledge transfer have proven time and again to offer a quicker and clearer solution that helps change managers implement change.
What we do at The Steve Trautman Co. is we say, “Teach them—and then interrupt the process.” Teach your employees on the job how to do their new or changed roles and then TEST them thru a discussion framed by a series of simple questions. If they pass the test, put them to work using that technical or professional skill. What you’ll find is that when they go to work, they will be a lot less stupid. They will make a lot fewer mistakes. And you’ll have to correct them less and clean up less mess. Then when you reteach them, you’ll be just fine tuning. In other words, with a knowledge transfer process and tools, the cycle from “I don’t know” to “I know” is shorter.
THE SKILL DEVELOPMENT PLAN (SDP): A Tool to Create the Measurable Plan to Transfer New Skills & Knowledge
In Step 1 of our knowledge transfer process for change management you use the Knowledge Silo Matrix (KSM) to assess workforce risk (learn more in series post 3). Having identified in this previous step which employees need what knowledge and skills to make the change, and which experts will be the standard bearers and on-the-job mentors to them, you now move to Step 2: creating a plan to grow the needed skills and bench strength within your team. At my company we call this the Skill Development Plan (SDP).
The SDP is a custom, date-driven inventory and schedule of skills and knowledge that must be learned in a given job role—and the resources available and test questions needed to confirm that knowledge of the right way to do a job has been transferred.
First, we list the skills relevant to the changed role. (A skill is defined as something someone can “do” as opposed to just “know” and can be explained by a qualified mentor in about 1 - 2 hours.) We then sequence the skill list by order of importance based on risk, add each skill’s mentor and other learning resources (e.g. documentation, online training), then create an assessment for the skill. We’ve worked hard over the decades to devise a simple, quick verbal test that shows whether an employee is ready to do new work. The result is a set of knowledge transfer “test questions” that are adept at checking for the wisdom and tacit knowledge behind any task (e.g. “The relationship between X and Y (how it fits in the product or service cycle).” “The first # things to check when troubleshooting anything”). We help your mentors choose five appropriate test questions from our larger set to use to assess an apprentice’s readiness, and then affix a date by which the apprentice should be able to correctly answer each skill’s test questions. This produces a clear, structured, and measureable plan for teaching employees the changed behaviors you expect to see in a job.
But a clear plan is not enough.
THE KNOWLEDGE TRANSFER WORKSHOP (KTW): Help Your Organization Learn to Act on the Plan in the Day-to-Day
Envisioned change usually break downs at the point when you put your plan into action in a real-life, busy, work environment. Just because someone is an expert at what they do and understands what’s expected of them on the road ahead does NOT mean they know how to teach this to others. Your experts need to learn how to be on-the-job mentors—and any good knowledge transfer process will include this step. Our Step 3, the Knowledge Transfer Workshop (KTW), provides 15 proven techniques to transfer an expert’s information, know-how, and tacit knowledge to their apprentice coworkers—while the mentor maintains a regular workload. (More details on our KTW here.)
As change managers, we know it’s true that the day your apprentice employees can pass a skill test is not the day they are experts at the job. But more important to effective change, we know that if they can’t pass their mentor’s test, they are going to go screw things up if put to work. You are going to have to correct them and put out big fires and clean up big messes. Our knowledge transfer process shortcuts that whole learning cycle and typically reduces the ramp time to productivity in a new role by 50%.
This concludes my 4-part blog series. Change management is obviously a complex topic, so I plan to revisit it in future posts with more stories and details.
SUMMARY: Successful change management requires a clear, measurable plan for teaching a workforce the changed behaviors you wish to see—and your standard bearers need to understand how to teach their expertise on the job and test that the knowledge was transferred. The tools of knowledge transfer—such as the KSM, the SPD, and the KTW—give change managers the process and structure to do this and keep your change on track.
COMING UP NEXT WEEK: Our special blog feature—"Steve Trautman’s 5 Questions with…”—which regularly showcases a senior executive’s thoughts on knowledge transfer and talent management. Next week: Shari Keivit, Manager of Strategic Learning for General Mills.