Most people in the workforce have spent an unfortunate amount of time fighting with temperamental organizational systems. Workplaces can be inundated with miscommunication, redundancy, scattered communication channels, and departmental isolation. Sometimes a few authorities or seniors become guardians of a majority of their company’s critical knowledge. At best, these authorities waste time answering the same questions to different people over and over. At worst, the business suffers an unexpected major staff transition and never fully recovers the knowledge lost. Exit interviews may mitigate the loss of information, but they do little to solve the overarching gaps in communication throughout the company.
With a quality knowledge transfer plan and the help of a technical writer, your business can avoid these pitfalls.
What is a Knowledge Transfer Plan?
Most businesses already perform some degree of knowledge transfer. The humble shared calendar, for example, is a simple yet vital knowledge transfer tool. The real challenge is creating a cohesive, comprehensive knowledge transfer plan.
A knowledge transfer plan systematizes and centralizes the sharing, evaluation, dissemination and adoption of information. It saves time and money, acts as a fail safe during staff transitions, and can accommodate all kinds of workplace structures.
What is Knowledge Transfer?
Broadly speaking, knowledge transfer is the exchange of information between employees or departments within an organization or company. All kinds of knowledge can be transferred: skills, processes, documents, norms, tools, data, and so on.
There is a common misconception that knowledge transfer is synonymous with employee training or on-boarding. While knowledge transfer can include training and on-boarding, it encompasses all company communication. In other words, knowledge transfer is not just a means to getting your crop of new hires on their feet. It involves creating a sustainable, efficient system and culture of communication and collaboration.
What is an Example of Knowledge Transfer?
A common example of knowledge transfer is interdepartmental communication. If the research and development department is maximizing their productivity at a rate at which the accounting department is not, it is useful to have a way to allow them to share notes. Perhaps an employee in research and development has devised a new and effective way to manage data. They could transfer that knowledge with an example spreadsheet, a tutorial, a folder to store it all in, and a means of dissemination.
Another example of knowledge transfer is in customer service. It is difficult to teach customer service employees the imprecise and situation-dependent art of de-escalation. As a result, some business will record customer service calls to provide employees with examples of teachable moments.
What are the Five Elements of the Knowledge Transfer Process?
UC Berkeley’s David I. Levine and April Gilbert break down the knowledge transfer process into five steps: idea creation, idea sharing, idea evaluation, idea dissemination and idea adoption. These steps may be compressed—in a single meeting, staff can share, evaluate, and disseminate in one fell swoop. However, it is useful to dissect the steps, especially for more complex transfers of knowledge.
To create ideas, a company needs to first foster the right culture. A company cannot expect its employees to perform creatively if their environment does not encourage it. Levine and Gilbert present these baseline considerations for cultivating creativity:
- Is there sufficient employee diversity so as to encourage diversity of thought?
- Do employees respect the knowledge they and the business have acquired and have a drive to acquire more?
- Can and will employees advocate for ideas when need be?
- Is experimentation part of work culture?
- Are all employees able to innovate or is innovation restricted by hierarchy and power imbalances?
Sharing begins with knowledge transfer documentation and organization. What can you record? What can other employees use as reference material? Ineffective communication, be it via text, video, or image, will kill a transfer of knowledge. Technical writers are a great asset for this deceptively complex step.
There will always be knowledge that you can’t record. How do you teach a writer to know when to stop tweaking a sentence? Offer employees time and mentorship to account for issues like these.
The final component of sharing is willingness. The same hierarchical rigidity that can stifle creativity can discourage employees from speaking out about their ideas. Furthermore, parallel departments may be isolated and thus resistant to cross-communication. All employees and departments should have the incentive and ability to keep communication channels open.
Every idea warrants feedback. If your company has fostered a culture of open communication, employees should be able to accept, adjust or reject the idea shared. If your company already has a knowledge transfer plan in place, they can also consult documentation of past projects to see what worked and what didn’t.
A frequent inhibitor to successful knowledge transfer is oversaturation of information. Employees receive too much knowledge from too many channels all at once. Some it is not relevant to them. Some of it is too detailed or vague to digest in a useful way.
To disseminate knowledge effectively, the disseminator must know its audience. A large part of effective knowledge transfer plans is understanding your employees, their individual expertise, and leveraging that to your benefit. As such, dissemination should be targeted and strategic. As a failsafe, companies can establish a navigable, centralized information storage system that anyone can access if they are missing information.
Successful dissemination of information does not necessarily entail the successful implementation of knowledge. To put new information into practice, employees must be individually capable of doing so, permitted by their environment to do so, and, sometimes, incentivized to do so. If employees require extra resources to understand the material, they should have access to appropriate recourse.
What are the Four Ways Knowledge is Transferred?
Let’s dive into knowledge transfer theory a little more to appreciate the range of communication that a knowledge transfer plan must account for. Director of knowledge management consultant firm Knoco, Mick Milton, posits four ways by which knowledge is transferred: on the job transfer, serial transfer, parallel transfer, and far transfer.
On the Job Transfer
On the job transfer occurs when multiple parties work together at the same time. Mentorship is a common example. Another is an After Action Review, which is a short team meeting reflecting on their successes and finding ways to improve. After Action Reviews can occur after any period of work, such a shift, workday, project, etc. The objective is to transfer knowledge on the spot, or indeed, on the job.
Serial transfer occurs when the involved parties work together, but not at the same time. For example, if different members of your team submit project updates throughout the week, that information will have been transferred serially. Companies may consider supplementing serial transfers of information with Knowledge Handover Meetings, where a presenter summarizes the serially transmitted information.
Parallel transfer occurs when multiple parties execute corresponding projects in different locations, departments, etc. As mentioned previously, employees may feel isolated from others by their departmental or geographical designation. Face-to-face and real-time communication is key in combating this.
Far transfer occurs between parties working in different times and places. These parties are not able to communicate in real-time, so all knowledge transfer must be recorded preemptively.
What Should Be Included in Knowledge Transfer Plans?
A knowledge transfer plan should explain the knowledge transfer processes, organization and communication systems, and feedback systems that the company chooses to use. It should also include relevant leadership contact.
Knowledge transfer plans need account for both explicit and implicit, or tacit, knowledge. Explicit knowledge can be transmitted verbally, while tacit knowledge is best transferred through experiential learning. That is, mentorships, hands-on experience, in-person training and time. They may also contain subsections. The on-boarding and training process, for instance, may require its own knowledge transfer employee transition plan. A specific project between collaborating departments may warrant its own section.
Knowledge transfer documentation itself, meanwhile, should make use of multimedia and multi-modal transfer techniques. Videos, documents, real-time training and ongoing practice are just a few examples.
What is Learning Transfer?
It’s important to consider how your employees learn before embarking on your knowledge transfer project plan.
Transfer of learning can be positive, negative or neutral. Positive transfer occurs when previous knowledge makes it easier to acquire new knowledge. For example, being fluent in Portuguese is a great advantage in learning Spanish. Negative transfer is the opposite: learning that is hindered by previous knowledge. Learning the follower role in ballroom dance and then learning the lead can be harder than just learning the lead from the beginning. Neutral transfer of learning occurs when past knowledge doesn’t affect the acquisition of new knowledge. Being an excellent driver will probably not affect your ability to code.
When creating your knowledge transfer plan, keep in mind how employees’ skill sets may affect their learning process. Millennial employees have native fluency with technology, for instance, which may make online training comfortable for them. However, middle aged-employees might find online training cumbersome and ineffective.
How Do You Implement a Knowledge Transfer Plan?
First, all members of a company have to be informed of the plan itself. Not only should the logistics — the technology, meeting schedules, employee responsibilities — be explained, but employees should understand that a knowledge transfer plan is an ongoing process facilitated by everyone’s willingness to participate.
Next, find knowledge that needs to be transferred. Start by figuring out who the keepers of knowledge are in your company, so to speak. Who does everyone go to when they have questions? Is there information that only a few key people have that would be useful were it more widely known? Prioritize this knowledge and these people. You can always expand your range as your system develops.
Companies may also use external sources of information like consultants or communities of practice. Communities of practice are groups of people from disparate fields with connections to shared subject matter. They can offer a unique cross-section of perspectives.
Then begins the hard work of knowledge transfer documentation. Organize the information according to its audience in an easily digestible and accessible way. Technical writers and knowledge transfer platforms and learning management platforms like Google WorkSpace and iSpring Learn can help streamline this process. Take into account the type of knowledge transfer, the type of knowledge, and your employees’ skill sets. If you are conducting a parallel transfer of knowledge, try to include cross-group real-time interactions. If the knowledge is tacit, attempt to make it as explicit as possible and use experiential learning to communicate the rest. Take advantage of your employees’ transferable skills when teaching them knew things. Companies can even offer incentives in the form of money or recognition to encourage participation. It is crucial to convey to your employees that their efforts are appreciated.
Once your knowledge transfer plan is up and running, keep updating it. Ask employees for feedback on the clarity of the material and effectiveness of the system. Take stock of employee performance and knowledge retention.
Benefits of a Knowledge Transfer Plan
Knowledge transfer plans can be intimidating, but they are more than worth the trouble. If your company commits to implementing one, you will have:
- An efficient, centralized tool for the sharing of useful information, practices, and data across employees and departments
- A way to ensure that employee input be documented and shared, and thus valued
- A greater ability to safely and securely manage release of data from company departments
- A consistent system for onboarding new hires
- Less loss of knowledge as natural employee turnover occurs
- A workplace culture of participation, creativity, and problem-solving
- Increased productivity, moral, and cohesion
- Decreased management resource expenditure
Whether you need a team of consultants to produce a complete line of documentation or a single technical writer for a brief project, Essential Data’s Engagement Manager will lead the project from start to finish. At Essential Data Corporation, the quality of our work is guaranteed. Contact us today at (800) 221-0093 or firstname.lastname@example.org to get started.
Written by Aviva Palencia