If it is true that over 40% of organizational value lies in its non-tangible assets (people), and recognizing key people will leave your organization at some point, it is obvious that Knowledge Management, including knowledge transfer, should be one of your critical strategic preoccupations.
However, this is not usually the case. Knowledge Management is often not a strategic business priority, but rather an initiative driven by Human Resources.
To make Knowledge Management work, your initiative needs to be a part of your business strategy, and owned by the business. Furthermore, Knowledge Management should not be confused with organizational learning strategy, but rather be anchored in organizational objectives related to performance optimization and competitive advantage.
Here are a few practical approaches that our clients embrace as part of the activities related to systematic knowledge transfer:
- Succession planning – going beyond the academic exercise of plotting people in the 3 x 3 grid and operationalizing it through an all encompassing Organizational Talent Management Strategy. It is about preparation of the next generation to assume critical roles. One of our clients even allows the C-suite outgoing executive to share the role for a period of one year with the successor.
- Retention strategies – for experts in key strategic roles, combined with a keen awareness regarding what needs to be learnt from them and how this will be managed. Enabling the mastery of skills, increasing their expertise, and investing in education and growth is highly correlated with keeping key people and managing knowledge transfer in your company. This is especially important if your succession planning efforts are still young.
- Secondments – giving people the exposure to experience and learning on the job, by assuming a role in another part of the organization, perhaps even with a client or a strategic partner.
- Mentoring – a formal or a semi-formal part of your learning culture. It works best when the senior management actively supports and participates in the program. This might be the most organic knowledge transfer method.
- Cross-training – driving a versatile workplace by creating opportunities for people to have transferable skills. Consequently, this will keep the organization at a high performance level, even when the times are tough (see our blog from Phil LeNir, “Collective Leadership for the Organization”, http://www.marchfifteen.ca/collective_leadership_for_the_organization).
- Knowledge Cafés and Japanese Talk Rooms – places for people to share expertise and knowledge in a non-structured way. The Japanese Talk Rooms were first introduced with the objective to alleviate stress, but soon became a spot for people to relate, connect, share stories, and learn from each other.
- Communities of Practice, that can be internally or externally focused, where people with common interests share expertise and learn from each other. We hear from our clients that exploring common issues helps executives feel supported, less lonely at the top, and also helps to bring new ways of thinking and shifting paradigms to the organization.
- True and meaningful teamwork, with unvarnished and uncensored conversations, shared leadership, and ownership.
- Being smart when using consultants and demanding knowledge transfer as part of the offering.
- Focusing on a few knowledge levers that amplify efforts and result in better organizational performance. These may include things like customer, process, people knowledge, organizational memory, and knowledge assets such as human and customer capital, as well as intellectual property.
- Increased daily information sharing, both informal and formal. This can be achieved through coaching conversations, walking about, meaningful team meetings, town-halls, etc..
As you review this list (which, I am sure is not complete), I invite you to answer the following questions: Which of these initiatives do you have in place? Do they work well and have the desired impact? Which would be a good fit with your organization and could be implemented?
Whatever approaches you use, whether structured or not, I hope you recognize that successful transfer of knowledge does not really rely on computers or documents… It relies on meaningful interactions between people. The rest are merely tools.