Having a knowledge transfer process embedded in the culture of your workforce enables employees to transition less painfully from out-of-date job roles and ways of doing things to new roles, tasks, and performance standards. Structured knowledge transfer is critical for dealing with “the people part” of change because it provides employees with the tools to see what the change means down to their job’s task level, to learn needed skills from a designated standard bearer, and to measure whether they are doing things the new, right way. Without this level of clarity, transitions are confusing at best, downright stressful and productivity-crushing at worst. And, once an organization has established a culture of knowledge transfer, its workforce can face not only the current transition, but future ones as well.
Transitions come in many shapes and sizes. Think about which ones your company is facing today:
- New technology rollouts—in which a few people or teams get trained first and have to bring their new skills back to the larger organization.
- Reorganizations—in which new teams are forming and people are moving from one part of the company to another.
- Rapid growth and hiring—where significant numbers of new employees, contractors, and partner resources needs on-boarding.
- Mergers and acquisitions—with two or more companies needing to integrate systems, staff, cultures, and technology.
- New process launches—to improve productivity, innovation, or respond to changing market landscapes, tools, or regulations.
- New markets, products, and customers segments—requiring newly formed project teams who focus on meeting new objectives.
- Layoffs and downsizing—during which remaining employees have to pick up the slack from those who left.
- Retirements and a graying workforce—in which workers leave before they can fully train others about the knowledge they've gained through their years of experience.
- Cost cutting measures—in which new standards are introduced.
- Productivity and cross training challenges—to reduce rework and improve flexibility and consistency.
- Outsourcing—requiring job role change, often with offshore partners who have different knowledge bases, processes, work styles, and cultures.
- Relocation or expansion—requiring new physical space for offices or production.
When it comes to an organization’s people, all the transitions above have two common factors: one, there are people who know what is wanted and people who need to know; and two, knowledge transfer is the talent solution.
A Practical Example: Smoother Change in the Face of A Reorg
I’ve run a knowledge transfer consulting firm for almost two decades and I recently heard a terrific story about how one of our Fortune 500 retail clients had truly embraced knowledge transfer as a part of its culture. We had been working with the client as they moved through a massive IT transformation. One of their managers had been involved since our project’s beginning, and she really understood how to execute our 3-step knowledge transfer process in managing her technical team of software engineers.
One morning, about eight months after initially being introduced to our knowledge transfer process, she came to work and found out she’d be facing a reorganization. She responded to the news by pulling out her Knowledge Silo Matrix (KSM), our color-coded framework for displaying at-a-glance a teams’ talent profile per knowledge area (called knowledge silos) needed to do their work. Figure 1.
She asked herself, “Okay, so if there’s going to be a change, which knowledge silos am I losing, and which silos am I getting? Which people am I losing, and which people am I getting?”
She was able to quickly clarify what to expect of herself, and understood ahead of time the impact of the reorganization on her team. She used the Knowledge Silo Matrix (KSM) as a tool to talk about implications with both her reports and her managers. She was able to manage expectations both up and down the command chain. That was pretty outstanding. Her use of the KSM right from the start of the reorg was truly a best practice in knowledge transfer. As a result, the process left her more comfortable with the outcome and with the implications of the reorg on her team’s future. Knowledge transfer was fully embedded in their culture—and she was the proof.
SUMMARY: Transitions don’t have to be painful, stressful, and frustrating if they are well thought out. By having a knowledge transfer process embedded in your culture, you will reduce the inevitable anxiety that’s common to change. Employees will be able to clarify where specific people and tasks will land when the dust settles. If they need to leave old tasks behind and pick up new ones in the new structure, they can move on more quickly and productively with a solid plan.