The Power of Knowledge Transfer
The shift from a manufacturing to an information-based economy has led to an aging workforce that does not exit the workforce with a file box full of supplies and random folders. Many who ultimately retire or are prematurely let go take with them invaluable experience, technical knowledge and organizational experience that is difficult or impossible to replace. Recently, thoughtful employers have begun to recognize this new reality and consider ways to capture and share with the remaining workforce many forms of valuable knowledge.
A major challenge in this evolving process is that many employers and managers do not fully appreciate what the nature and depth of this knowledge and who has it. And they do not understand how it can be productively shared. Taking the intellectual capital of their employees for granted and pre-occupied with a myriad of short- and long-term priorities, they are hard-pressed to tackle this challenge. The opportunity and obligation to close this gap lies with you.
When employees and managers collaborate to achieve this goal, both associates and the business can benefit. A robust Knowledge Transfer process requires a variety of steps designed to identify and quantify your unique knowledge and experience; outline a system for capturing it; and proposing methods for transferring the various forms of knowledge through databases, training and mentoring.
Examples of Valuable Knowledge
There are at least three common forms of knowledge that can prove valuable to transfer:
Long tenure in the business leads to the accumulation of a great body of product, process, and customer information. While some of this may be widely known or perishable, each contributor possesses narrow or even broad data that offers unique value and contributes to the organization’s competitive advantage. Examples are product evolution, customer characteristics, and client profiles and networks.
Companies vary in the degree of their dependency on unique intellectual property. Heavily dependent technology companies and pharmaceuticals as well as less recognized firms in financial services and high-end manufacturing have succeeded and will thrive on the basis of robust intellectual property. That knowledge is not free-floating, but often resides in the minds of aging workers. The possession of such knowledge is a source of leverage for those seeking extended work and flexible and phased retirement.
Effectiveness in complex organizations requires advanced social and organizational skills that are in part unique to every company. One of the characteristics of long tenure in a position is the development of winning implementation strategies that are almost second nature. Surfacing these often automatic approaches and processes and making them accessible to others is invaluable. Examples range from complex sales strategies to production processes to long-term team building.
The Knowledge Transfer Process
The form below is designed to help you map the unique and essential knowledge and define a systematic way to capture and transmit it to the organization – in exchange for a mutually agreed upon extension of work and/or flexible path to retirement. Recognizing that only you fully understand the value of what you know and your employer is at risk of losing, a serious and sustained effort on your part is a wise investment. You cannot reasonably expect that your manager or employer can or will do this work.
That said, the appeal and likelihood of acceptance of a knowledge transfer proposal depends on your manager concurring with your assessment and strategy for sharing valuable knowledge. How you maximize the chances for that outcome will depend on your read of the environment, your relationship with the manager and the pattern of or prospects for active collaboration. The sequence for using the form below will vary.
It is important that you manage this element and the overall proposal process in a way that provides both maximum information to your manager and maximum protection for your current position. You should begin the process by developing a thorough draft version of the transfer process. If you have truly supportive colleagues, you can share your draft with them and seek their input. Once you have finalized the draft, the results of this process can be shared orally or in writing with your manager.
The overall process and the sequence of steps you take together will be determined by the two of you. They might include his/her oral feedback or written edit on this and other documents and your revision of any drafts until you are both satisfied that the grounds exist for a fair decision by the manager. If your proposal is approved you can plan implementation steps, including scheduling evaluation sessions and planning to update the proposal periodically. If the proposal is not approved, you have the option of proposing an alternative or taking the issue up again as conditions change.
Knowledge Transfer Proposal Form
1. What knowledge will you transfer?
Consider categories such as unwritten guides to the work process, successful and unsuccessful key strategies, core product knowledge, key customer profiles, market profiles and trends and systems capabilities.
2. What is the business value in this transfer?
Explain the positive impacts to the business for documenting and transferring this knowledge, and the possible negative consequences of not doing so.
3. To whom will you transfer the knowledge and what method will you use?
Be specific for each major category of knowledge transfer.
4. How will you measure the success of knowledge transfer?
Develop both metrics and a process for measuring the various transfer processes you describe.
If you submit a version of this form as part of your overall proposal, you should seek to have a version of the statement and signatures below included in that document.
I understand we will evaluate my knowledge transfer process on a regular basis and at least after three and six months from the start of this arrangement. I understand my role and my participation in this new arrangement program is on the basis of employment at will. This simply means that I and the Company have the right to terminate the employment relationship at any time and for any reason. My request to modify full-time status will not lead to any retaliation or adverse treatment.
Associate Signature Date Manager Signature Date