By Steve Trautman September 19, 2018

Executive Secret Sauce

Knowledge Transfer for the “Softer Skills”

Posted by Steve Trautman on Sep 19, 2018 12:41:41 PM

A few years back, I was talking with the VP of human resources at one of our client companies. We were discussing a knowledge transfer project for one of her company’s top executives who was retiring, and she had a great question.

“I am confident that Diego will learn the technical aspects of the business,” she said. “Financials and pricing, the deal structure, and the other data driven pieces will not be a problem. But I’m worried about Diego’s ability to take on the relational aspects of the job. How do we transfer that knowledge?”

I get this question a lot – understandably. Soft skills, much like culture, are difficult to pin down, let alone teach. But you CAN do it.

My answer was that we were not going to talk about relationships in the academic or general sense. That would be too fluffy. Instead, we would talk about the practical ways that relationships develop.

We would start by listing the actual names of the actual people that Michael – the departing executive – had relationships with. Then, we would use my firm’s 20 Test Questions to help Michael give Diego his best advice on how to build a relationship with each of these key players.

To illustrate this, I used a hypothetical colleague named “Miko.” Michael would advise Diego on building a relationship with Miko using our test questions as a guide. Here are some examples.  

Test Question #2: What are the steps in the process of building of a relationship with Miko, and why is each important?

Michael could say: “Well, I would start by reading her documents, or I would start with meeting her admin, or I’d start with buying her a coffee.” These are very different approaches to starting a relationship with somebody, and Michael would give advice on the best way to do that.

Test Question #3: What are the top 3 things that often go wrong when someone is trying to build a relationship with Miko?

Michael: “Well, if you come in with a lot of talking, and a lot of ego, and a lot of bravado, she will shut you down in 30 seconds and never give you another chance. What I recommend is that you come in with (fill in the blank).” This would help Diego learn what he ought to do, and what he should avoid.  

Test Question #18: What should I look for and listen for when building a relationship with Miko?

Michael: “During the quarterly business review, Miko has X kinds of pressures that she’s under. Being aware of this will really help you decide when to approach her and how.”

Test Questions #19: What are the relevant historical issues to consider when building a relationship with Miko?

Michael: “Miko’s been with our company for X years. She comes with Y background. This is her point of view on things and why we value it.” For example, if Miko came through an acquisition, she might have a very different take than somebody who grew up in the company. And that kind of history could be important.

These are just a few examples of the questions you can use to define what makes your star executives effective. And even more importantly, they will enable your executives to transfer these softer skills with the same degree of rigor one would expect of more technical areas.

Please feel free to download the full list of test questions or learn more about our Executive Knowledge Transfer process.

Topics: knowledge transfer

Steve Trautman

Steve Trautman

Steve Trautman is corporate America’s leading talent risk management and knowledge transfer expert. With two decades of application inside blue chips and Fortune 1000s, his pioneering work in the field of talent risk management and related knowledge transfer tools are now the nationally-recognized gold standard. His clients have included Boeing, Costco, Goodyear, Aetna, Farmers Life Insurance, Bank of America, Microsoft, and Qualcomm, among others.

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