Managing Knowledge Transfer

Knowledge management is a really big subject for such a short blog, but the issue is growing in importance as business data and procedures become more complex and employee turnover is expected to increase due in part to our aging workforce.

The SHRM Foundation recently launched an initiative to educate employers about the impact of our aging workforce. According to The SHRM Foundation, 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 65 every day, so now more than ever employers need to be aware of the potential for brain drain as their employees approach retirement. Even young employees pose a knowledge management threat as they are focused on building their careers and are therefore more upwardly mobile and inclined to shorter lengths of service in any one job. Employers risk losing knowledge if it isn’t shared and transferred effectively.

Knowledge transfer is identified as an essential strategy in preparation for employee exoduses. Some of the approaches SHRM recommends include:

Before we can implement any of these strategies, we must understand the types of knowledge and the organizational impact of each type of knowledge. Knowledge exists in many forms, including but not limited to:

Captured knowledge provides stability during staff transitions, but it also requires a great deal of document control. Without sufficient knowledge management, captured knowledge becomes outdated and disorganized, causing more harm than benefit. A good knowledge management system will include scheduled document reviews, periodic updates, and removal of obsolete documentation.

People-held knowledge can walk out the door along with the people who possess it. However, not every bit of people-held knowledge is suitable to capture. In most cases this knowledge is best handled through cross-training and informal, social learning situations.

Picture the knowledge present within your organization. Does it fit into captured or people-held knowledge? If it is captured, is it up-to-date? If it is people-held, is it vital enough to ensure it is captured? If knowledge capture is unreasonable, what can you do to transfer the knowledge from person to person?

If you aren’t certain what knowledge is necessary to perform each job in your organization, it’s time to gather that information by analyzing your jobs. This is usually accomplished through the use of task logs completed by each employee or by designated employees representing each position and technical level.

These task logs should not be burdensome. They should be designed for ease of tracking and ease of interpreting, but they should capture an informative overview of each task and its level of importance. This could include information like: how often a task is performed, whether or not written procedures exist, how many people are currently trained on the task, the skills necessary to complete the task, and the level of mission criticality each task holds. Task logs might capture other pertinent information and should be tailored to address each organization’s uniqueness.

Once you have a thorough understanding of the types of knowledge present in your organization, the depth of that knowledge, and the gaps that exist, you will be better equipped to design a knowledge transfer plan for your organization.

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