Technically, knowledge transfer is the process of transferring knowledge from one place to another. Events like mergers invoke this process. When companies merge, the acquiring company transfers the acquired company’s knowledge to its own knowledge memory. Formally, this is what knowledge transfer means.
However, knowledge transfer is now loosely used in place of “training,” facilitated by sharing knowledge (which quite a few people find unusual, by the way).
In this article, even we’ll approach it like that — focusing on how you can use knowledge transfer to build your organizational memory that everyone can access and use to get more productive.
McKinsey Global found in its study that employees spend a significant part of their time searching and gathering information. When you work on knowledge transfer in this context, the process of searching for knowledge gets optimized, and you can win back this time considerably.
Let’s now see the steps you can follow for transferring knowledge so everyone can find it.
Identify the sources of knowledge
The knowledge that you want to capture for transferring comes broadly from two categories of sources.
Clause 7.1.6 of ISO 9001:2015 talks in detail about these categories:
a) Internal Sources (e.g., intellectual property, the knowledge gained from experience, lessons learned from failures and successful projects, capturing and sharing undocumented knowledge and experience; the results of improvements in processes, products, and services);
b) External Sources (e.g., standards, academia, conferences, gathering knowledge from customers or external providers).
As you can see, you can tap into a bunch of sources to capture the organizational knowledge you carry.
But before you pursue any, make sure that they’re a source of codifiable knowledge (more on this below).
Identify the knowledge assets you can capture
Now, not every type of knowledge is transferable. Or codifiable, for that matter.
Take the knowledge that resides with your salesforce, for instance.
You can easily document your volume discounting plans that work.
Your top salespersons can also generously contribute their best discounting strategies and tactics.
You could even write learnings from failed deals.
But you can’t get your salespeople to document their salesmanship. This is an example of tacit knowledge that pretty much dwells in the holder subconsciously. Such knowledge can’t be captured (or expressed).
Another type of knowledge that can’t be transferred or captured is transient knowledge. This is the knowledge that exists in your employees’ chats, email conversations, and calls, among other channels.
Together, this knowledge could make up about 50% of your total organizational knowledge. So, essentially it’s the remaining 50% that you can capture.
So use discretion to identify the “whys,” “whats,” and “hows” that knowledge assets that successfully answer.
Factor in any existing knowledge gaps, too.
In one research, 60% of the respondents said that finding work-related knowledge posed a challenge. It was also found that employees spend about 5.3 hours/week simply waiting for the information they need.
If you do some research — by surveying your employees, for example — you’ll discover that some knowledge assets almost always act as a bottleneck.
So, pick these up.
Also, pay attention to both the standard or unique knowledge assets that cause productivity slumps.
In one research, 42% of the respondents — from the 1,001 employees from large companies that participated — said that the knowledge they needed at work was unique and not standard.
And about 81% of them said that finding this unique knowledge was either very difficult or overwhelming. They found even professional training and education inadequate to offer these.
This is the kind of knowledge that comes from workplace learning, and only the more experienced workforce happens to own it.
Your knowledge assets must offer this knowledge.
Set up a template
A lot of your codifiable knowledge can be captured using documents.
Here’s a template for capturing knowledge from an outgoing employee. But you can easily repurpose it and use it to capture most of your knowledge assets:
Choose the right ways to capture knowledge
Because knowledge comes in so many different forms, there’s no one right way to capture it.
In the following infographic, you can see how knowledge can be captured in different ways depending on the resource who has it.
To capture knowledge that could be used for a beginner, exercises like mentoring, apprenticeship, formal training, and simulations can help.
For capturing knowledge for practitioners, tactics like storytelling, community discussions, and interviews can come in handy.
To capture knowledge at the expert level, tools like research papers, content from conferences, and first-hand accounts of driving change can prove useful.
Spot the people who have the knowledge
Once you know all the knowledge assets you need to capture, it’s time to identify the people who have it.
Depending on the size of your business and the structure of your workforce, you’ll be able to instantly spot the people who will have the sought knowledge.
For example, your HR manager, who’s been working with you for two years would know more about your people ops than perhaps even yourself. So this is the go-to person for sourcing HR knowledge.
Likewise, for each department, look at the person who would have the most impact on your business if they were to quit your company in a month. These are the people with the most knowledge: your knowledge sources.
Scramble a knowledge transfer team
Knowledge transfer is a complex process; it’s not as simple as getting everyone to write what they know. It needs a team for successful execution.
Your knowledge transfer team should have:
- Your subject knowledge experts, who are the knowledge sources.
- Nexperts: People who might replace the experts, if they were to or are leaving.
- Practitioners: Those who will use the knowledge in their daily work.
- And a facilitator: The person who’ll oversee and facilitate the knowledge transfer process.
You could also consider working hiring an analyst to collaborate with your team for harvesting knowledge.
Create knowledge maps to streamline the process
To streamline the process of documenting and transferring knowledge, use knowledge maps.
For creating knowledge maps, think in terms of the industry-, process -, and product-related knowledge that you want to capture, and then map the assets that relate to each.
Here’s an example of how an event team used mapping to quickly capture its knowledge around sponsorships. You can see in the image how the team started by mapping the critical aspects of sponsorships and logging all the resources across its different workflows.
To build your knowledge map, ask your people to go about their daily work and log all the knowledge assets they used to complete the work. This alone can build a solid foundation for transferring knowledge.
Rolling out the knowledge transfer process
If we were following the actual knowledge transfer process, rolling it out would have meant setting all this up and engaging the exiting employee or team in capturing what they know.
But in our context, since we’re approaching this exercise as training, this would mean launching a simple knowledge transfer infrastructure. You could use Google Sites to create a wiki or an intrasite to build upon and share all the knowledge you capture. With G Suite, you should be able to give appropriate (editing or viewing) access to all your employees.
Alternatively, you could use a solution like WikiPress to build a living, breathing version.
Adding new knowledge is as simple as adding a new post, searching is as seamless as using Google (all with its auto-suggest functionality!), and updating docs takes a click.
An internal knowledge base, too, can serve a similar purpose.
A quick note on measuring your knowledge transfer process’s effectiveness: In our context, this exercise’s impact would reflect in metrics like the number of hits to the wiki or knowledge base. Qualitative feedback on the quality of the knowledge content and the employees’ experience, too, will indicate success.
Wrapping it up…
For the more mature companies, knowledge transfer is a means to accelerate innovation and gain a competitive advantage.
But for the rest, especially when you’re open to looking at knowledge transfer as a means of training, knowledge transfer can get tangible results in terms of improved productivity.
So focus on just that, and start!