Knowledge Transfer: Why It’s Important And How To Achieve It

The transfer of knowledge within an organization is often a poorly recognized issue. Most businesses will agree that it should be done, but very few have approached knowledge transfer in any systematic way. Usually an ad hoc approach involving a hastily arranged exit interview or a quickly drawn up handover checklist is the sum total of knowledge transfer when an employee leaves. And yet it’s been estimated that up to 10,000 people retire every day in the US. That’s a lot of company knowledge that’s walking out the door. And what about key staff members that leave unexpectedly? What happens to their knowledge and expertise? Quite simply, this represents a significant drain of a company’s collective wisdom and can impact on overall innovation, growth and efficiency.

Introducing a knowledge management strategy – including mechanisms to capture and transfer critical company information – makes good business sense. happy retirementBut how do you go about organizing and managing knowledge transfer in your business? When your in-tray is already jam-packed with priorities and tasks, getting started is a challenge. This article will help you to kick-start the knowledge transfer process. We cover all you need to know including:

  • types of knowledge transfer
  • the importance of knowledge transfer
  • knowledge transfer examples
  • tools to help you share knowledge including a knowledge transfer checklist.

Read on for a comprehensive look at knowledge transfer and how to achieve it.

Types Of Knowledge Transfer

Knowledge transfer is all about staff members sharing their wisdom, experience and specific occupational knowledge with their colleagues on the job. It’s about finding ways to transfer the knowledge within people’s minds into a system where it can easily be stored, shared, referenced and used by all employees. Essentially, it’s about getting the right information to the right people at the right time.

There are two main elements to knowledge transfer:

  • Explicit knowledge
  • Tacit knowledge.

knowledge-transfer-intranetExplicit Knowledge

Explicit knowledge is the type of information that you find in manuals or databases. It can be readily articulated and is relatively easy to transmit. So, for example, the steps an employee needs to take to complete a task such as setting up a new supplier on the system would be an example of explicit knowledge.

Tacit Knowledge

On the other hand, tacit knowledge is, as you would expect, less tangible. It includes things like what issues or problems to look out for when to ask for help as well as on-the-job experiences and creative solutions. This kind of knowledge is usually accumulated over many years and so is difficult to store and transfer. It’s capturing this more intangible type of knowledge that businesses are struggling with.

Knowledge Management

Closely aligned to knowledge transfer is knowledge management. In fact, the cataloging and storing of the information that knowledge transfer involves is an essential first step in developing a systematic approach to knowledge transfer. With so much accumulated data and information within a business, a comprehensive approach to knowledge management is essential to ensure employees can access what they need to when they need it. And so, as well as looking at ways to transfer knowledge, businesses must also develop an overarching knowledge management strategy to manage and disseminate that know-how throughout the company.

Importance Of Knowledge Transfer

The spotlight has been placed on knowledge transfer largely because of the great number of baby boomer generation CEOs, corporate leaders and experts that have already retired or will be doing so in the near future. Companies have woken up with a jolt to the resultant loss of experience and knowledge that is now taking place on an unprecedented scale. The truth is that younger workers can’t necessarily fill the void this has created. They don’t have the same depth of experience or accumulated wisdom that comes with many years of working, learning and developing. In addition, younger workers tend to change jobs more frequently than their older counterparts and so are unable to match the depth of organizational expertise. All this amounts to a significant drain on organizational wisdom which in turn affects the business’s capacity to grow, innovate and remain competitive. Simply put, it will have a negative effect on productivity and profits.

Benefits Of Knowledge: Company Productivity

productivityYou may well be asking yourself exactly how knowledge transfer can impact on a company’s productivity and profits. And it’s a valid question, so let’s spend some time looking at this crucial issue in detail.

Think for a moment about what would happen in your business if the only person who understands a critical process were to leave? How much time, resources and lost productivity would be involved in training and equipping a new member of staff to replace that individual? We all know of those instances where a colleague retiring after 40 years in the company leaves a massive void simply because that person has so much accumulated knowledge about the business. Imagine how much more agile and responsive your business would have been if there had been a clear process to transfer that colleague’s critical knowledge. A manager in NASA aptly summed up this all too familiar scenario when they said that if we wanted to go to the moon again, then we would be starting from scratch because all of that knowledge has disappeared.

The bottom line is that knowledge transfer within a business can contribute to increased productivity, agility and adaptability as well as ultimately profits and growth. It will support faster and more accurate decision-making and underpins sustainable high performance. And it will also make your business more responsive and will enhance the overall customer experience, thereby supporting your company’s customer retention and growth strategies.

In today’s overcrowded, global marketplace, operating more efficiently and effectively is the key to maintaining a competitive advantage. And knowledge transfer and knowledge management are critical elements of this.

Effective Knowledge Sharing

The transfer of knowledge is affected by a number of factors including organizational ones as well as the preferences of both the sources and receivers of knowledge within the company. If the transfer of knowledge is to be effective in your business, then the essential starting point is an organizational commitment to the whole process. There has to a knowledge sharing culture, and this needs to come from the top management level right down to the lowest levels so that everyone is signed up to the importance of knowledge sharing. What’s more, there needs to be an understanding that company knowledge is owned by the business collectively and not any individual employee.

knowledge-transfer-machineIn addition to the organizational factors are those relating to the employees themselves. Every workforce is made up of a variety of individuals of differing ages, learning styles and preferences. Some people are more comfortable with technology than others, while other people respond better to visual information rather than written text. It’s this great diversity which generates the dynamic, creative workforce that makes your company so good. However, it’s this very diversity that makes knowledge transfer such a challenging area.

And so before you can develop an effective knowledge transfer system, you must first decide from an organizational perspective exactly who knows what and who needs to know what. And once you’ve done that, you need to then determine how that information will be captured and transferred. And within that process, you need to understand the intergenerational differences and the preferred learning styles of sources and receivers of information. Sounds like a big job, doesn’t it? Well, let’s get you started by looking at how other companies have tried to tackle these issues before we go on to look at practical tools you can utilize to support the process.

Knowledge Transfer Examples

There’s no getting away from it, knowledge transfer is a complex process. Especially concerning the transfer of tactic knowledge. Not only do companies have to be clear about what kind of knowledge is critical for the business to capture, they also need to take account of inter-generational differences. As we’ve seen, different generations and individual employees in the workplace will have different preferences when it comes to learning. This applies to both the sources and receivers of information.  Therefore, there’s no one size fits all solution and companies have found themselves developing a number of strategies in response to specific needs and the learning preferences of different cohorts of employees. These strategies have included the following:

  • wikiBlogs
  • How-to videos
  • Wikis
  • Webinars
  • Podcasts
  • Mentoring and coaching arrangements
  • Simulations and games
  • Communities of practice
  • Standard operating procedures
  • Apprenticeships
  • Frequently asked questions.

As you can see, there is a whole range of potential strategies companies can adopt depending on their requirements and staff members’ preferences. In addition, some of these responses involve technology and others do not so that businesses can address the whole spectrum of learning preferences within the workplace.

Knowledge Transfer Tools

So, now that we have a common understanding of the importance of knowledge transfer and the types of effective knowledge sharing, let’s go on now to consider some solutions. In the remainder of this article, we share some practical tips on tools you can use to harvest and transfer knowledge in your company.

Knowledge Transfer Checklist

A knowledge transfer checklist is a great starting point. It helps you to identify the information and data you need to capture and it ensures that you don’t inadvertently miss out on any key steps.

Below is a suggested template that you are free to use and adapt to your own requirements. As you can see, the template can be used to capture knowledge in relation to a process, skill or task and not just for a particular jobholder or role. In addition, the knowledge transfer method will be influenced by the source of the knowledge as well as the recipient and by what’s possible within your business depending on its size and capabilities. Please refer back to the knowledge transfer examples listed above for some inspiration.

Knowledge Transfer Checklist Template

We’ve also made this checklist available as a Word document and PDF file downloads as follows: Knowledge-Transfer-Checklist.docx / Knowledge-Transfer-Checklist.pdf

 

Name Job role/area of expertise/process/task/skillKnowledge transfer method
OverviewA brief overview of the context and the knowledge transfer that is being conveyed.
Objectives & responsibilitiesA summary of the overall objectives and responsibilities of the jobholder or the task, process or skill.
DeliverablesIn relation to a jobholder, this encompasses detailed information on work in progress and a status report for all projects.

For a task or process describe the required outputs and the milestones towards their achievement.

ContactsA full list of internal and external contacts required for completion of the jobholder’s duties or to achieve the task or process.
MeetingsA schedule of meetings relevant to the jobholder’s duties or for completion of the task with an accompanying database of minutes and agendas.
Compliance & regulatory requirementsDetails of any central or local regulations and compliance requirements
Budgetary & financialInformation on any budgetary or financial parameters within which the jobholder or task operates. Details on how budgets are set as well as the assignment of reporting responsibilities.
RisksDetails of any risks associated with the jobholder’s duties or in relation to the task, their management and mitigation.
Tacit knowledgeA record of the insights, accumulated wisdom and knowledge of the jobholder.

In relation to a task or process, information on what works well and why and acquired expertise in relation to the execution of the task.

Knowledge Transfer Via A Company Portal

different types of learnersAnother great tool to support and facilitate knowledge management is your company intranet. In fact, it’s such a comprehensive solution that a company intranet should be a central part of any overall strategy to facilitate knowledge transfer. For a start, it has the advantage of being a common platform used by all staff members across the organization. And so let’s look in more detail at just how a company portal will facilitate knowledge transfer.

Knowledge Management

As we’ve seen, knowledge management is a fundamental first step in developing a comprehensive knowledge transfer strategy.  The company portal is the obvious repository for knowledge within the organization. Located here will be all the explicit organizational knowledge such as manuals, guidelines, databases, external rules and regulations that govern your business. Advanced search functionality makes locating the information an easy and intuitive process for the user. Data can be searched via tags, titles, job function or whatever is appropriate for your business. In this way, there will be one central source of organizational truth that staff members can depend on as being accurate and up to date.

In terms of the four primary learning styles, the company portal can satisfy all needs. Most of us favor one of the following learning styles over the others, so offering a mix of opportunities to transfer knowledge will satisfy the majority of employees whether they be the source or the recipient.

Visual Learners

As you would expect visual learners prefer to use pictures, diagrams and spatial understanding. The company portal can address this need through how-to-videos, webinars or infographics that demonstrate key business tasks, company processes or how to utilize workplace equipment.

Auditory Learners

By contrast, auditory learners prefer to listen to instructions and hear information. The company portal can satisfy this learning preference by using podcasts to transfer essential company information. What’s more these types of learners like to recite information out loud to remember it, so incorporating opportunities in other media for these learners to repeat back key points would be helpful.

types-of-learning

Reading/Writing Learners

These types of learners, not surprisingly, prefer to learn by reading and writing. For them, text is a much more powerful medium than pictures, diagrams or sound. Quizzes, checklists and wikis on the company intranet are a great format to transfer knowledge for these types of learners. They will also love to access information from the knowledge management section of the company portal as well as frequently asked questions and blogs.

Kinesthetic Learners

This last group of learners prefer to learn by getting their hands dirty and experimenting. They learn best by actually doing. The company portal can facilitate knowledge transfer for these types of learners by offering opportunities for simulations and role play as well as facilitating work shadowing, mentorship and apprenticeship arrangements. The company portal can connect staff members through communities of practice, shared workspaces and blogs.

Identifying Subject Experts

And when it comes to identifying subject experts within the organization, the staff directory on the company portal is a great facilitator. Including a short biography for each staff member that identifies their areas of expertise and current projects, means that employees can quickly and easily identify sources of help and knowledge within the organization. This kind of self-service approach is also very empowering for staff and so may well have a very welcome knock-on effect in terms of employee engagement.

Knowledge Transfer Plan

The bottom line is that generally, businesses are not paying as much attention to knowledge transfer as they should be doing. Neglecting this important issue means that you are exposing your business to considerable risk as well as failing to ensure the company is as agile, productive and profitable as it should be. All organizations need to future proof their businesses and a knowledge transfer plan in this context is an absolute must.

on-the-job-training

In fact, knowledge transfer is such an important issue that it requires a comprehensive, integrated, company-wide approach. It should also address all the learning styles and preferences apparent in the workforce as well as an understanding of generational issues at play. A company intranet/portal supported by a knowledge transfer checklist will help you tick all of these boxes and a whole host more. In this way, you can be sure that rather than just merely capturing and harvesting organizational knowledge, you’re actually putting it to good use and making it available to all staff members.

With so many baby boomers set to retire in the coming years, it’s imperative that businesses safeguard their futures now by tapping into this vast reservoir of corporate knowledge that would otherwise be lost.

The truth is that a company portal can enable and facilitate the smooth transfer of knowledge within your organization. For more information contact MyHub for a no-obligation discussion on the possibilities. Better still why not discover what’s on offer for yourself with a demo or a free 14-day trial period. Make sure you sign up today.

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