Over the past twelve years, I’ve taught The Steve Trautman Co.'s Knowledge Transfer Workshops hundreds of times to clients all over the world and in every industry imaginable. The workshop is an integral part of their 3-Step Solution, and we require client managers to attend as they have a key role to play.
One of the decisions they have to make and discuss at the workshop is how many hours a week their staff should dedicate to knowledge transfer. Now, this is a big change; most have never been asked this question before and would never think of dedicating time to it.
What We Often Say
Left to their own devices, most would say, “Oh, we’ll do knowledge transfer when we’re not (too) busy,” which turns into never. This is the biggest reason organizations don’t make progress transferring knowledge. They think of knowledge transfer as an activity to be done outside of work.
The Steve Trautman Co.'s 3-Step Solution turns knowledge transfer into a work project with goals, deadlines and milestones just like any other project. And accomplishing goals, deadlines and milestones requires time and resources just like any other project. Typically, we suggest that employees dedicate between five to ten percent of their workweek, approximately two to four hours, to knowledge transfer. Each knowledge transfer session is typically one-hour long.
What Keeps Us From Transferring Knowledge
Recently, I led the workshop for the IT department at a large insurance company where the project owner, a senior manager, and her staff of managers were very engaged. They clearly understood that their role was to help their staff understand the 3-Step Solution and hammer out the details of implementing it successfully in their teams.
When the ‘dedicated knowledge transfer time’ topic was proposed, people were skeptical. Nobody said a thing for several seconds. Then, someone asked, “Well, suppose something comes up, and I have to cancel my KT session?” That’s when the senior manager jumped in and made two excellent points.
First, she said, “We never say ‘cancel’; we always say ‘reschedule’.”
Wow, now that’s great terminology and direction. Think about it, if you miss a project milestone or deadline, you don’t cancel it, do you? No, you reschedule the activities you missed and try to catch up. It’s the same for knowledge transfer.
Second, she posed the question “What would come up that couldn’t wait one hour?”
Wow, simple and clear. Remember that our knowledge transfer sessions last about one hour. Nobody said anything again so I suggested “Let’s make a list of work events or requests that could NOT wait one hour.”
People brought up situations like systems crashing or servers and websites going down, particularly ones involving financial data. There were specific issues on specific systems. Interestingly, the list was very short.
How would this ‘One-Hour Rule’ apply in other industries? In the medical or pharmaceuticals space, you couldn’t put off things like surprise inspections, process alarms or recall notices. In manufacturing, you couldn’t wait an hour to address safety issues, accidents or pieces of critical equipment going down. For any industry, company and team the lists are specific and short.
Next, someone asked a great question, one that was most likely on everyone’s mind. “Suppose a VP calls me and wants something? Should I drop everything, including my KT session, and do it right away?”
Our senior manager’s direction was to acknowledge the request and suggest a time after your knowledge transfer session was complete, for example “Yes, I can get you that. Would 2pm be okay or do you need it sooner?” If they need it sooner, then you may have to reschedule your knowledge transfer session.
I’ve been using this One-Hour Rule with clients ever since. Words like ‘important’ and ‘critical’ are vague and open to broad interpretation. What’s ‘critical’ to one person might be just ‘important’ to another or visa versa. The One-Hour Rule is specific and provides a basis for great discussion when there’s disagreement, as in ‘Why can’t that wait one hour?’.
It’s a quick, clear way to get everyone on the same page and set priorities consistently, which is a necessity if you want to make real progress transferring knowledge.
[Todd Hudson is the Founder of the Maverick Institute, a continuous improvement consulting firm, and Master Consultant with The Steve Trautman Co.]