Specialized and functional knowledge is what organizations run on and what gives them both identity and their competitive advantage – but all too frequently it is not easily accessible to the people who need it, and may be locked up in private stashes, file stores, or in the heads of isolated individuals.
Knowledge Management as a discipline has a variety of techniques to address this situation including deployment of Knowledge-Bases, creation of Technical Libraries, and implementation of information architecture approaches including portals, and other technological solutions. However, technology is the smaller part of the pie, and the lion’s share is in how knowledge can be spread from person to person to person in the form of insight and understanding.
Knowledge Transfer (KT) is the process of spreading understanding and insight so that the organization gets more operational value and realizes more advantage from it. With this in mind, KT should be primarily focused on getting business advantage, so the kind of knowledge that should be predominantly transferred is that which has operational value.
Knowledge transfer in an organization can be done in many different, and hopefully, synergistic ways. Those organizations working along ISO9000 or ISO20000/ITIL guidelines should have formal procedure maps and documents stored for all to see and have an advantage over firms that don’t, but the following KT techniques can be applied even if no formal quality and standards system is in place, and would be in addition to rather than in place of formal systems. (although I strongly advise looking into adopting ISO or ITIL).
There are three standard “classroom” style KT environments:
- Formal product or operations training through an internal Educational Services group
- External training of both soft-skills, and tech or industry related courses
- Lunchtime presentation sessions of typically 1 hr covering product or “tricks & tips” subjects.
Classroom-style KT is not the whole picture though, and other components of KT need to be considered.
Informal but scheduled KT sessions can be highly productive and should include regular meetings expressly for KT – such as weekly team information and knowledge transfer sessions with both the local staff as well as their peers in other regions if the organization is geographically dispersed.
Daily “stand-up” transfer sessions for operational updates can be held so that each team lead can hear what others are up to and tell everyone what their team is doing. These need not run longer than 10-15 minutes and should be focused on the most important or significant topics.
Externally facing sessions can be used to reduce customer-support or business-partner costs, and could typically be offered as monthly webinars in which a staff member does an online presentation to customers, partners, and internal staff in short and focused sessions typically as an hour-long tutorial on some aspect of the product-set or ancillary/environmental subjects. These could be recorded for re-use by the Educational Service group and seen as Intellectual Property.
Ad-hoc transfer can be done very effectively by “swarming”. A typical scenario is one in which a person may struggling with a customer problem or has a high-impact internal issue and they call for help. Team members “swarm” around them and provide help and alternative theories or suggestions and then disperse as soon as the person has enough to continue with.
One-on-one teams can also put together on an ad-hoc basis when the situation demands it so that a junior person can have a “guru” help them think through a tricky problem.
Another valuable KT mechanism is to have a mentorship/coaching program where more experienced staff can pair up with a junior member for a longer period.
Sending staff from one geography to another a few times a year can also be valuable in order to exchange specialist information and knowledge in classroom settings, in hands-on small group settings, and also 1-on-1 mentorship sessions.
In a similar way, some staff members can be rotated through other domain areas to gain insight to how other parts of the organization or product-set work and how other teams do things.
Borrowing from academia, it is worth considering a sabbatical system in which a staff member can visit a customer site or another industry, or just work on a particular subject, and then internally publish a formal paper and conduct KT sessions on what they have discovered.
It is also important for subject-matter staff to belong to industry groups and to attend the seminars and workshops offered, and then to bring back knowledge and transfer it to other staff, and to regard that as part of the deal – attend external training or informative sessions and on return you have a duty to deliver at least a tutorial.
Finally, a very high-value KT method is to send staff to customer sites to help the customers with specific problems, but also to simply observe the customer environment and how they use your support services and your product set, and then bring back their observations for you to use to change the product or how you interact with the customer.
These observations may simply trigger lunchtime KT sessions, or customer tutorials, etc. but also have the potential to lead to dramatic innovations in services or product direction – there is nothing quite like seeing something in action to gain insight.
In conclusion I would say that these components should not be seen as isolated solutions, but be mixed and woven into a coherent KT strategy but that can be fluid enough to adapt to internal and external demands in order to deliver the most value.
Please contribute to my self-knowledge and take this 1-minute survey that tells me what my blog tells you about me. – Completely anonymous.