Be honest. Did you read the title of this article and spontaneously rolled your eyes or even let out a groan of frustration. Not something else I must be doing? And it’s certainly true that there are an awful lot of initiatives out there that you could be doing, but how many of them should be doing? Far from diverting your attention away from every company’s core activities of generating growth, improving efficiencies and fostering innovation, an effective system of organizational knowledge transfer will ensure that your business ticks all these essential boxes. So, rather than seeing knowledge transfer as the latest trend, or as ‘a nice to do it if you have got the time’ initiative, a systematic approach is critical to the survival of every business. Still not convinced? Then carry on reading to find out just why. First though let’s define exactly what we mean by knowledge transfer.

What Is Knowledge Transfer?

In simple terms, knowledge transfer is all about the systems and processes a business has in place to capture, catalog and share all the information that is in the collective heads of employees.

There are two facets that need to be considered. The first is explicit knowledge which refers to the steps an employee needs to take to complete a task or process. This kind of knowledge is usually captured in the form of manuals, standard operating procedures or frequently asked questions. And it’s a relatively easy fix compared to the second facet which is tacit knowledge. This refers to the less tangible knowledge usually acquired over many years – on-the-job experiences which develop into accumulated wisdom and insights. And it’s this ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’ type of organizational knowledge that is proving to be a challenge for many businesses.

Why Is Knowledge Transfer Important?

It’s estimated that up to 10,000 baby boomers retire from work every day in the US, that’s an incredible 4 million people every year. In addition, millennials are predicted to change jobs at least four times by the age of 32. Quite simply, that represents an awful lot of organizational knowledge that is literally walking out the door.

We’ve all had experience of the longstanding colleague who retires after many years in the job. The collective wisdom, intimate knowledge of all processes and procedures, let alone the vast network of contacts they’ve built up after so many years leaves a massive hole behind, doesn’t it? When your go-to person is no longer there, it can have a huge impact on the whole team and the wider company.

Businesses can no longer afford to let that all that knowledge simply slip through their fingers, or worse still, end up in the hands of competitors to exploit.

The bottom line is that the more an employee knows, then the more likely he or she is to make the right choices in the context of the workplace. And so as well as safeguarding organizational know-how, a systematic knowledge transfer process helps to ensure your business is more adaptable, innovative and responsive. And these are all important drivers of growth, productivity and ultimately profitability.

What’s more, a greater understanding of the business, how it works and how all the pieces fit together often means that the employee is more engaged and invested in what’s going on. Being able to confidently step in and help, enhances staff engagement and all-round job satisfaction.

According to MyHub, businesses are exposing themselves to significant risk and are failing to ensure the company is as agile as it should be by ignoring the importance of knowledge transfer.

How Can We Facilitate Knowledge Transfer?

A quick debrief before John’s retirement party, a hastily composed email from Susan prior to heading off to another company, or worse still a shared conversation over the coffee machine on Samuel’s last day, quite clearly won’t cut the mustard anymore.

Having said that, the process of knowledge transfer doesn’t have to be as difficult as perhaps you might have thought at first. Here are some straightforward, easy to implement pointers to get you started on the process of developing knowledge transfer in your company.

1. Encourage Information Sharing And Collaboration Across The Company

Openness and trust are the cornerstones to effective knowledge transfer. And a company culture which can support that as well as positively encouraging sharing and collaboration across teams is an important first step. It’s amazing how many businesses operate in departmental silos and then wonder why knowledge transfer isn’t happening. Often all that’s required is for employees to have a better understanding of the bigger picture and a clearer sense of their place in the process.

2. Make Knowledge Transfer A Formal Process

Don’t rely on those informal chats around the water cooler. Introduce a clear, consistent process and make it compulsory. Develop checklists, templates or use the exit interview to capture the outgoing employee’s organizational knowledge. Consider using the following as headings to guide discussions with outgoing employees:

  • Objectives and responsibilities of the position
  • Deliverables
  • Main contacts, both external and internal
  • Compliance and reporting requirements
  • Budgetary responsibilities
  • Risk management and mitigation
  • Insights or lessons learned.

3. Consider Introducing A Buddy System For Business-Critical Functions

Everyone wants to avoid duplication of effort, but for business-critical functions, a buddy system of cross-training is a good way to mitigate the risk of essential personnel departing and leaving the business in a hole. In addition, it means that your business can continue functioning in the case of an emergency such as a key employee’s sudden illness.

4. Use Technology

There are plenty of technological solutions out there that can help you capture and transfer organizational knowledge. In fact, it’s a good idea to have a toolkit that includes a broad range of platforms and options. Different individuals have different learning styles and preferences and this applies to both the sources and recipients of organizational knowledge. These learning styles have been classified into the following broad categories:

  • Visual learners – prefer pictures, diagrams and infographics
  • Auditory learners – prefer to listen to instructions and hear information
  • Reading/writing learners – learn best through reading and following written processes
  • Kinesthetic learners – learn by doing and experimenting.

With such a broad range of learning styles together with differences in intergenerational expectations, a mix and match approach to knowledge transfer which includes some or all of the following technology platforms is the best way to go:

  • Blogs
  • Wikis
  • Webinars
  • Podcasts
  • Mentoring and buddy arrangements
  • Simulations and role-playing
  • Apprenticeships or internships
  • Checklists
  • Standard operating procedures
  • Frequently asked questions.

Knowledge Transfer: Can Your Business Afford Not To?

It’s a simple question and the answer is just as simple. The bottom line is that in today’s highly competitive marketplace, having effective knowledge transfer processes in place is a no-brainer. In fact, it makes sound business sense and helps you to remain competitive, agile and responsive. What’s more, it means that all your accumulated company knowledge and wisdom remains firmly within your grasp rather than a competitor’s.

Get in touch with my company, MyHub, for an informal discussion on how to improve knowledge transfer within your organization or why not try out our intranet software for yourself with a free no obligation demo.