Knowledge transfer, also known as knowledge capture, knowledge management and succession planning, is the recognition of, and attempt to utilise and retain the knowledge and competence of mature workers that has been gained through years of experience.
The aim is to pass on this knowledge through a mentoring relationship, to younger workers before the mature worker permanently exits the workforce.
Why is knowledge transfer important?
As the baby boomer generation retires and exits the workforce, many organisations are facing an exodus of specialists. As a result, valuable knowledge, experience and expertise that are difficult to replace will also be leaving with this cohort.
The significant drain of business wisdom could potentially have a large negative impact on organisational outcomes such as a decrease in innovation, lower growth capacity, and a reduction in the efficiency in the organisation.
The loss of this knowledge or intellectual capital, has been shown to lead to significant learning and development costs for organisations, as well as generating more costly errors by the new workforce, less efficiency and noncompliance to regulations.
Formalised knowledge transfer programs, represent a sound business case as professional, organisational, content, practical and network knowledge is passed on and retained within the organisation. The capture and transfer of knowledge reduces turnover and the resulting costs involved in recruitment and training.
It helps assimilate and introduce new staff, develops internal talent and prepares mentees for advancement and career progression. In addition, formalised programs target future leaders and assists in achieving the short and long term objectives of the organisation.
In addition, the utilisation of mentors in the knowledge transfer process, sends the message that older workers are valued. This contributes to creating an age positive culture throughout the organisation and often helps to motivate and retain older workers for longer.
Assessing your organisational need for knowledge transfer programs
It is important to firstly identify and evaluate the type of knowledge your organisation is interested in capturing and whether your organisation is at risk of losing crucial knowledge and specialists.
Therefore, it may be beneficial to consider the following in regard to your workforce profile and organisational processes:
- Who and how many employees are likely to retire or exit in the near future?
- In what roles and departments are they located?
- What specific tasks do they do?
- What knowledge, skills and expertise do they have and what would be the consequences of losing these?
- Do they interact with other key employees and departments? In what way?
- Who would be best placed to gain the support and knowledge of the mentor?
- What key roles in your organisation are the hardest to recruit for?
- Who do your staff rely on most in the organisation? Whose departure would make the organisation most vulnerable and why?
- Whose knowledge is essential to ensure the achievement of organisational objectives?
- What strategic approaches can be implemented to keep these specialists available to the organisation (e.g. consultant or alumni)?
- What knowledge transfer procedures and manuals already exist?
- Where and how is the information stored/located?
- Are information and procedures continuously updated and monitored?
- What knowledge needs to be captured? Where are the gaps? What information is needed?
- What are the key activities and objectives your organisation needs to achieve in the next 5-10 years?
- Has the organisation included knowledge transfer programs as part of the measured risk profile?
- Has the organisation included evaluation of the effectiveness of knowledge transfer as part of the annual performance plan?
Types of knowledge transfer programs
Knowledge can be explicit such as information that can readily be captured, written down and filed in documents that are easy to share, or it can be implicit which is more difficult to capture as it often resides within an individual’s head.
Such implicit or tacit information cannot be readily learned from books or courses and includes knowledge such as:
- Practical know-how about operations and processes
- Wisdom gained from work/life experiences
- Best practices and how they were achieved
- Key contacts and networks (both internal and external to the organistion)
- Intellectual property and inventions
Knowledge can either be formally captured and transferred through systematic frameworks or shared informally through casual conversation and interactions.
Formal knowledge transfer programs eliminate trial-and-error learning, which can often be time consuming and unproductive. Formal knowledge transfer is systematic, planned and monitored within a given timeframe, usually 6-12 months and set between considered and carefully matched partners.
When creating and implementing knowledge transfer programs, it is important to consider adapting training methods to accommodate multigenerational preferences and learning styles.
As the most common knowledge transfer is achieved through cross-generational mentorship, which is from long tenured mature workers to younger employees, an understanding of preferred learning styles may facilitate the process especially regarding the use of technology and social media communication.
Common approaches to formal knowledge transfer programs may use one or a combination of the following:
- Parallel duty, involving the mentor and mentee working side by side to
- Role takeover, involving the mentee taking on the role of the mentor, under the mentor’s guided supervision
- Role modelling
- Education and training
- Being a sounding board for ideas
- Being a confidant
- Simulations and games
- Concept mapping
- Running commentaries while performing an action
- Instant messaging
- Peer assists
- Communities of practice
- Job transfer
- Research papers
For a full list of resources outlining knowledge transfer and mentoring programs and consultants, click here.