Wisdom: the importance of knowledge transfer

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 Wisdom: the importance of knowledge transfer

In the next five years there will be five generations in the workplace. Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and, most recently, Gen 2020 will all be working side by side. This multigenerational workplace brings an assortment of challenges – communication styles, values, job expectations, and more. The biggest challenges of a multigenerational work environment are the gaps of talent, knowledge, skill, experience, and wisdom.

What can you do to combat this multigenerational gap? Create and implement a knowledge transfer plan.

Knowledge transfer is often an after thought, and the importance is never recognized until resources are walking out the door. Professional service firms claim experience as a competitive advantage. The ‘professionals’ of professional service firms have highly skilled knowledge and are often noted as experts in their particular area of expertise, geographic region, or industry. Gone is the competitive advantage and expertise when these individuals retire or leave for any reason, unless that knowledge is deliberately and continuously transferred.

  • The key to effective knowledge transfer begins with an assessment of knowledge centers.
  • Who has specific experience and knowledge?
  • What do they know that others do not?
  • What knowledge can be transferred through processes, procedures or other written documents?
  • What knowledge must be taught?
  • How will this knowledge be transferred and conveyed throughout the organization?
  • Who is responsible for the transfer of knowledge?

The process of knowledge transfer is about conveying or teaching the right knowledge to the right team members in a timely manner. Here are a few tips to help with your knowledge transfer plan:

  1. Identify knowledge centers. Begin by clarifying the expertise and experience that brings the most competitive advantage for your firm – the type of knowledge that is difficult, if not impossible, to be duplicated. Diagram the knowledge centers and detail what knowledge should and can be transferred. Look for areas where your firm may be particularly vulnerable due to knowledge, skill or talent gaps, leadership, or other similar areas where a change within a knowledge center (such as an unexpected departure) could leave your firm exposed.
  2. Processes, checklists and templates. Identify the processes used within the firm and specifically by the knowledge centers. Document any checklists or templates that have been created. Are there certain formats used for documents, emails, or other communication? Are there any documented or undocumented SOPs (standard operating procedures) that are followed? Why have they elected to use a particular approach? Think in terms of client touchpoints, client onboarding, project initiation or management, invoicing, and communication. Pay close attention to vocabulary as knowledge centers often use unique vocabulary in discussing, describing or conveying key points. It is optimal to use an interview approach as knowledge centers tend to have integrated SOPs that have become second nature.
  3. Plan B. If there is one person in the organization handling a specific project, client, or division, what is Plan B? Make sure there is a ‘fall back’ in place who can step in with the proper knowledge to keep things running. This is particularly important if your firm has a few clients that account for a significant percentage of the firm’s revenue. If you lose a vital resource – even if the loss is temporary like a major illness – how prepared is your firm to address the needs of the client until a new team is up to speed?
  4. Formalized training. Without structure, knowledge is often transferred haphazardly. Include a formal training program in the plan. Identify the skills and knowledge to be transferred. Then, develop the classes, as well as how the transfer of knowledge is to be measured. Organizations taking a “Learn by Osmosis Approach - stand back and watch the expert at work” can find the younger generation feeling under-appreciated and leaving for more challenging environments. The younger generations want first-hand experience. Allow them the opportunity to step in to projects and apply their skills. Also, do not overlook the power of cross-training. Knowledge in one specific area is great, but cross training ensures knowledge is spread throughout the organization.

  5. Mentoring programs. A knowledge transfer plan must also include formalized mentoring programs. Create opportunities for younger employees to work and learn from those with experience. Develop a culture that fosters the sharing of knowledge across generations. If your firm’s culture needs to improve the communication among generations, implement a reverse mentoring program where younger team members do the teaching. For example, younger, more technology-driven team members teach others to use social media tools, iPhone shortcuts, and other software or technology topics. Reverse mentor programs build bridges between generations.

In professional service firms, knowledge centers are a competitive advantage worth protecting. Protect your firm’s most precious asset by creating a strategic, intentional Knowledge Transfer Plan.