How to Transfer Knowledge
Organizations restructure operations, streamline processes, and reduce workforces every year. Employees get sick or leave. Have you ever had to handle this type of transition for your company?
Let’s meet Anisha.
Anisha is the director of talent development for a regional conglomerate of healthcare providers. One of the locations that delivers specialized care is not meeting revenue goals, so corporate decided to reorganize that location and reduce headcount by nine employees during the next three months. Anisha knows who they are; she is working closely with the finance and legal divisions to prepare the employees’ exit packages under strict confidentiality.
These nine employees are the keepers of critical knowledge for the location. The business needs their knowledge, yet it does not have a formal knowledge transfer process.
Anisha has three options:
• Decide to not do anything about knowledge transfer and let anyone who assumes new responsibilities learn on their own. This will take a while, but eventually they will figure out what needs to be done.
• Encourage individual departments to cross-train employees informally to perform different functions so the company can maintain operational continuity during vacations and other absences.
• Initiate a company-wide formal knowledge transfer program that will allow employees with critical expertise to share it with other employees. Those who participate can learn other functions, thus increasing their knowledge and career flexibility. The program has to be open to those employees who will assume the responsibilities of departing employees, as well as to anyone else who might be interested. By doing this, Anisha avoids potential issues among employees about why someone is or is not participating, which could lead some to make unfounded assumptions about the upcoming changes.
Which option would you choose?
Businesses need to have formal knowledge transfer and cross-training programs in place before transitions arise. These programs must consider situations such as the following:
Jake, an hourly employee who is the only one who knows the password to release federal funds that support several child care centers. He receives phone calls to access the system and enter the password when he is on leave. If he does not answer, the funds are not released.
Millicent, an hourly employee who knows how to prepare the three most critical financial reports for the end-of-year closing. She is getting tired of not being able to visit her family during the holidays, and she is considering leaving the workforce.
Andrew, a car dealership employee who is the only one who knows the combination that opens the key vault. Without him, the dealership cannot open for business.
Naomi who handles accounts receivable and Herbert who handles accounts payable. They have accounting backgrounds but cannot perform each other’s roles because of the specialized nature of these functions and the intricacies of the company’s operations.
Regina, the only project manager for the most important project of the company. Regina is not happy with the long hours and pressure. Her salary and benefits are good; nevertheless, she has been commenting about having personal issues at home.
Are you ready to let these employees go? Are you ready for their transition out of your company?
Cross-training and knowledge transfer efforts to prepare backups for employees like Jake, Millicent, Andrew, Naomi, Herbert, and Regina have to be fully documented and available for deployment on a short notice to meet business needs.
Learning and development has to be proactive and work in partnership with other departments so the company is ready for employee transitions.
The beginning of a new year is a good time to start taking the right steps to prepare for the unexpected.
These questions will help get you started.
Step 1: Get a snapshot of your company’s current state.
• Which business areas are more vulnerable to disruptions if certain employees leave or are unavailable?
• Are employees with long-term tenures beginning to inquire about retirement benefits, which suggests they might leave the company soon?
• Are emerging companies in your area or elsewhere seeking specialists in fields where your key players are recognized as experts?
• Who seems ready to move to another role, whether internally or somewhere else?
• Who are your key players (those individuals whose knowledge and skills are valued across the organization and who could be ready to assume other responsibilities within a short period of time)?
• Which are your key positions (those that would not allow the business to operate if vacant)?
• Does your company have a succession plan in place? If so, for which positions?
• What has the company done to ensure that specialized knowledge stays in house?
• How has the company documented its cross-training and knowledge transfer efforts so that someone can replicate them without reinventing the wheel?
• Are core company processes and procedures documented? Is the documentation up-to-date?
• Are any passwords indispensable for operations stored in secure places, yet several employees have access to the information?
• Who has a natural tendency to share company information with others and mentor newcomers?
• Who is well-suited to deliver group sessions about specialized topics?
• What electronic platforms does your company have that could serve as information repositories easily accessible to employees?
• Does your company offer online on-demand learning experiences?
• How receptive are your company’s employees to online learning experiences?
• What have been the results of the company’s cross-training and knowledge transfer efforts so far?
Step 2: Benchmark your current practices against those of other similar companies.
• What initiatives have they put in place?
• How do they choose which tactic to use to meet the needs of different positions? For example, how do they transfer knowledge between hourly production workers versus information technology specialists?
• Do they rely only on face-to-face interactions or online learning experiences?
• Do they provide job aids or other tools to facilitate transitions?
• What results have they obtained?
• What did you learn from your benchmarking exercise that you could put in place?
Step 3: Define what knowledge and skills your company will need in the future.
• Which of today’s vulnerable business areas will remain that way in the near future?
• Which will be your company’s key positions?
• What competencies, skills, and specialized knowledge is required for those positions?
• Where does the company expect to find the talent it will need to fill those key positions?
• Will those newcomers still need additional learning experiences because of your company’s culture?
• How will the company’s employee development strategy change in the future?
Step 4: Examine the difference between your company’s current and future states.
• Does your company have the talent it will need to meet its future needs?
• Does your company have the resources to acquire and prepare the talent to meet those needs?
• Is the necessary electronic infrastructure in place?
• What components of your company’s current employee development strategy will stay the same and which will change in the future?
• What will the company need to do differently to meet those needs?
• What will the company need to put in place?
Step 5: Design your knowledge transfer and cross-training efforts.
Based on the answers to all of the above questions, you will be ready to establish priorities and design a knowledge transfer and cross-training approach to meet your company’s needs. We recommend that your company:
• establish priorities to include positions in its efforts based on business needs and resource availability
• adopt a continuous learning culture where learning experiences are part of daily operations
• use a blended learning approach to knowledge transfer and cross-training, because nothing can substitute for face-to-face interaction
• start small and build your company’s program step by step.
Do you have ideas on how to best manage transitions? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.
Every day, it seems, we read reports of workplace sexual harassment. Many of these news or social media pieces attribute the events to lack of knowledge about what’s right or wrong, macho entitlement, or, worse, the stigma of women as inferior beings who are supposed to accept what is happening.
As learning and development professionals, it’s time to reflect on our role in business initiatives beyond delivering training and supporting organizational communications. It’s time for us to see ourselves as owners, advocates, and sponsors of company initiatives to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace because we are the experts on how people learn and communicate. It’s up to us to design and implement solutions that have the desired impact on employee behavior.
Based on the recent statistics and reports that are being published, what we have done so far is not having the intended effect. Why? Most training initiatives are focused on the basics and not on prevention, and many times they’re not taken seriously. They become one more thing we “have to do.”
Now is the time to change this and create training that works. Before planning future initiatives, though, review what you have as a starting point:
In our practice, we have found many examples of companies that opt for off-the-shelf courses on sexual harassment, whether online or face-to-face. These courses tend to offer general information, are not based on the company’s policy, and are not targeted to address the particular needs of the business and its industry. Therefore, we urge you to review them carefully to ensure that they meet your company’s needs and are appropriate for the level of risk your company faces.
Sometimes sexual harassment training is not mandatory across all levels of the organization. We often find shorter versions of the training available for certain groups, such as senior management, under the guise that they are busy or do not have time to attend regular sessions. All employees, regardless of role or tenure need to be aware of this issue and its consequences, however. Further, when supervisors and managers attend trainings with their teams, regardless of having to take a different version also, they become role models and, implicitly, communicate and reinforce the importance of this issue for them, their teams, and the business.
Courses are often designed and delivered under the assumption that all participants will learn and retain information in the same way. Often seen as an issue of compliance unless an incident forces the organization to take remedial action, these trainings do not receive the attention they deserve when it comes to targeting different learning styles and using delivery methods that engage learners in meaningful ways, even if the content is rather similar every year. Many times, these courses become presentations rather than learning experiences or, if they are delivered online, “click and check the box” where participants just go through the motions with little or no personal investment in retaining the information. No wonder such courses have low levels of impact.
All employees need to understand what is sexual harassment, what their options are if they are victims of it, and what the company will do about it. However, supervisors
and managers have the additional responsibility of handling complaints and enforcing the company’s policy.
Based on our practice, we recommend including the following in your training design:
The Value of Work Experience
Today’s training participants demand more than credentials. They want to learn from our experiences, connect with us as people, and apply what they learn to their own circumstances. Thus, as a learning and development professional you need to be more proactive and resourceful than ever before to balance your credentials and your experience to succeed as a facilitator.
Have you ever wondered what is the most critical element for success in training? Conversations among learning and development professionals often include addressing participant learning styles, creating an inviting atmosphere, using music, or allowing ample time for questions and venting. Others refer to addressing participant preferences, such as interactivity, few slides or handouts, daylong sessions, and so on.
What about you and what you bring?
Step back for a moment. Think about your own learning experiences. What stands out? Have you ever attended a training where the facilitator suddenly says or does something that changes your perceptions of her positively or negatively or reduces (or increases) your engagement in the learning process? If so, what did you do? What impact did those incidents have on your own attitudes towards future trainings?
Let’s meet Lilith. She is the barista training specialist for a local chain of upscale bakeries entering the competitive coffee service market. Her primary responsibility is to ensure that all new hires deliver coffee products of consistent quality across stores. Lilith remembers clearly what happened when she was a new hire beginning to learn about the coffee business.
At the end of a lengthy first day of lectures and more lectures, Lilith asked Justin, her instructor, about his personal preferences of acidity levels in coffee and how these compared with those of the typical bakeries’ customers. His answer was, “I don’t know. I don’t drink coffee.” So much for Justin’s credibility. “How could he make and sell something without having direct personal experience with the product? How can I trust Justin? Preparing and selling coffee is not only about the beans,” Lilith thought.
What do you think most participants do when they are in situations such as this one? Many of them lose interest in the topic and complete the training to move on to what they have to do. Others speak negatively about the facilitator or the training itself.
Lilith did otherwise. She decided to take an active role in her own learning and tasted every product that she prepared. Her knowledge of the business, its products, and her ability to connect with peers and customers positioned her to become an instructor and allowed her to influence the redesign of the company’s training for new hires into one with ample guided opportunities to taste products and practice coffee making techniques.
However, not everyone is as astute as Lilith.
Let’s meet Marcia. She is an external consultant who designed a development program for incoming future leaders at an insurance company. Marcia earned several prestigious academic degrees and certifications. She can quote facts and figures about leadership and its impact on business. She remains impressively up-to-date on books about leadership. She speaks clearly and authoritatively.
On the program’s second day, focused on the topic of influence, Quentin asked Marcia to share an example of when she had to influence a group of employees to follow a company policy with which she disagreed. At first, Marcia gave Quentin an example from the last book that she had read. When Quentin insisted on a personal example, her answer was, “I cannot give you a personal example because I have never been in charge of a group of employees.”
In total disbelief and disappointment, Quentin picked up his materials and left the session. Other participants followed soon afterwards and the session had to be cancelled. Marcia lost her credibility and trust from the group, as well as the contract with the insurance company, because of how she handled Quentin’s question.
What would you have done in Marcia’s situation? She had strong credentials and solid subject matter content knowledge, yet her lack of experience with one particular issue and her inability to still position herself as an expert led to a major career setback.
The outcome of Marcia’s situation could have been different if, for instance, Marcia referred to the book that she read and connected the content with an experience at a personal level. She could have drawn from an instance when she had to convince a friend, child, or relative to follow a rule or an instruction with which she disagreed. She could have also asked the audience for examples of similar situations and inserted her own recommendations based on what she had read, thus demonstrating how to apply information to real-life scenarios. By establishing a link between the training’s content and “real life,” Marcia could have forged a critical connection with her audience that would have allowed her to complete the leadership development program successfully.
What do Lilith and Marcia’s experiences mean for you as a learning and development professional?
Even though everything that we do in a session contributes to participant learning, your experience is a critical element for training success.
Ever wonder why some learning and developing professionals are frequently sought after as speakers for major events? Or why a particular person gets invited to speak on radio or television or is seen as the company’s go-to person whenever someone needs something written about the field? One employee’s sessions have waiting lists shortly after being announced, yet another’s are often cancelled because not enough participants register. The difference is branding.
As a learning and development professional, your educational credentials and certifications will get you only so far. We strongly believe in the value of professional credentials; however, experience and your capacity to deliver are what will allow you to own your career and move it forward. Whether you are seeking another internal position, want to join another company, or intend to become self-employed, you must be aware of the impact of your personal brand.
Let’s meet Natasha.
Natasha reinvented her career. After many years in one industry, she transferred her learning and development skills to another one and became a senior learning and development consultant. Her new employers were impressed with her educational background and achievements. Doing what she did best, Natasha immediately became immersed in reading about trends and getting to understand the business.
As a newcomer, she received invitations to attend meetings and events, which she accepted reluctantly. Because she did not feel quite ready to express her views in her new environment, she hardly spoke during meetings. Senior managers, used to interacting with consultants whose approach to doing business was more direct and forceful, dismissed Natasha as insecure and, subsequently, stopped seeking her input.
Employees who attended Natasha’s training sessions perceived her positively. She connected with her audience, communicated clearly, and incorporated learning technologies to enhance sessions. She knew her subject matter well and found ways to bring it to life. Some even said in the evaluations that she was “the company’s best kept secret.”
Natasha had already wasted the opportunity to establish credibility with senior managers regardless of what other employees thought of her.
Let’s meet Harry.
Harry quickly rose through the ranks in the learning and development field attaining a coveted senior learning and development consultant position at a company and playing a similar role in others. Recruiters are constantly luring him to go somewhere else; his resume reads like the list of Top Companies to Work For. He is part of his company’s succession plan for the role of learning and development manager. Some senior managers believe that he has potential to become vice-president for learning and development in three to five years.
Harry makes a point of establishing relationships with company key players just as much as he does with his peers, clients, and other employees. He does not hesitate to share his expertise. He adds value in every interaction, becoming the company’s go-to person in learning and development. His energy and positive attitude are so contagious that employees cannot wait to sign up for his trainings regardless of the topic. Senior managers always take notice.
Never one to underestimate the value of personal contact around a shared meal or snack, he often stops by the local deli on the way to work and brings something to share. He remembers details of conversations and brings them up in subsequent encounters. His clients feel valued and appreciated.
Harry always feels like he is “on stage,” whether he is at work, a professional event, or a social function; he moves seamlessly from one to the other. His professional image inspires trust. His training delivery is stunning, and his way to connect topics with real life scenarios is outstanding.
His personal grooming is impeccable. He comes across as confident and self-assured, regardless of the setting and audience.
What can we learn from Natasha and Harry?
Natasha relied on her credentials for her professional success; she did not optimize her initial opportunities to show her value to the organization. She did not gauge her limited timeframe to develop relationships vertically and horizontally in the company. She could not overcome the impact of her initial hesitation to speak up and position herself as an expert. She missed opportunities to brand herself as an expert. In contrast, Harry combined his credentials and his experience to position himself as an expert. He mastered the art of relationship building and used it to his advantage personally and professionally. He shared his knowledge at every opportunity. His awareness of the importance of his image and professional style became part of his brand and contributed significantly to his ability to achieve goals, thus propelling his career. The cliché that says you never get a second chance to make a first impression gains greater relevance as learning and development professionals navigate through multiple business situations daily. It’s no longer enough to be an engaging trainer; a learning and development professional also must be a relationship builder, subject matter expert, solutions provider, and business partner. He has to own his career and be ready to make changes on short notice. She has to build and maintain credibility at all times. The following suggestions will help you build your brand.
The beginning of the year gives us a great opportunity to take stock of where we are and where we want to be in the next 12 months. Moving beyond traditional New Year’s resolutions, as professionals we need to focus on what is important for us, our careers, and our businesses so that we can plan to take action.
Let’s meet Jill, Brad, and Annette.
Jill is the manager of the mortgage closing department. She is in charge of 12 employees whose functions have different levels of complexity. She already completed their performance reviews for 2016 and identified their development goals for 2017. Each one has an individual plan focused on some competencies that need to be strengthened and others that need to be acquired for the employee to become more effective in their current role. Some have even been identified as high potential employees, which means they will have even more growth opportunities. In addition, Jill has already scheduled a meeting with her own manager where she will discuss the plan that Jill designed for her own development.
Brad is an independent consultant who specializes in organizational cultural change. His business depends on his knowledge and expertise. He must remain current on the latest trends in cultural shifts so that he can be a valuable advisor to his clients. Brad built his brand by being present in different activities many of which, on the surface, do not seem to be development-oriented yet actually are. For instance, Brad hears about what local subsidiaries of international companies are doing by attending networking events where he interacts with clients and competitors. He stays informed about emerging key players reading specialized and general business publications either online or in print. Further, he asks lots of questions about subjects that catch his interest to discover hidden business opportunities.
Annette is an individual contributor at the marketing department of a major automobile distributor. Even though she is not interested in a management position, Annette has made it clear to her supervisor that she is interested in expanding her role in the company. Annette is thoroughly familiar with the business strategy beyond that of her specific department. She seeks cross-training opportunities, volunteers for special assignments, attends meetings of professional associations, networks internally and externally, and reads anything that crosses her desk or her mobile devices. Over the years, Annette has become an expert in targeted marketing and is often invited to speak at local events.
Jill, Brad, and Annette have in common that they place value in development for themselves and for their businesses.
Consider the following key benefits of owning the value of development for you:
Create A Resume That Works
Have you ever asked yourself what you would need to include in your resume to present yourself to potential clients and employers? You know this document makes a difference in whether you receive that long-awaited opportunity, but where do you start? A resume is not something that most of us write every day. Yet we should be familiar with some fundamentals for when we are called to action.
Let’s meet Lisa. Lisa is a learning and development manager who is interested in a position where she can be more involved in a business’s strategic planning. Like many other learning and development professionals, she thought she was off to a good start after visiting a few websites that offer career guidance. She soon found out otherwise.
Lisa started by listing her employment history, beginning with her current position and working backwards to her first position as training clerk. She had a long professional track record to present and ended up with more than 20 years of experience to write about.
Then she started listing her duties and responsibilities, her degrees and certifications (including dates), and every professional development activity, certification, recognition, and publication that she could remember. Lisa had read somewhere that she should include as much information as possible so that whoever received the resume could pick and choose what was relevant for the position. To her, that meant everything she had ever done needed to be included in the resume.
“A five-page document is better than a three-page document,” she thought. Then, soon after, she connected with Maggie (a training and development professional herself, an SME in career and succession planning, and a professional resume writer) at a local ATD chapter meeting. Maggie offered to review Lisa’s resume and give her feedback from another perspective. They agreed to meet to discuss Lisa’s resume later that week. Lisa expected to receive a glowing review of her document. Instead, she received a very constructive critique focused on the following key points:
Remember: Your resume is what opens the door for you. Your experience will allow you to enter and your interview will give you the opportunity to stay.
Norma Davila and