When an important employee announces they’re leaving, it is only natural to stress over losing all the company knowledge and insights they possess. What can you do to preserve that expertise? When, where, and how do you transfer all this information? Who should you involve? How do you get your departing employee to cooperate?
Organisations struggle with knowledge loss every time a team member leaves. With 38.6 million resignations reported between January to September 2022 in the United States and 1 in 3 European workers expected to quit their jobs in the first half of 2023, it is the perfect time to set up a knowledge transfer plan for your company.
With the Baby Boomer Retirement Crisis and the Great Attrition aside, there are other reasons to chew over a knowledge transfer strategy. Remember the times how frenzied a department gets when a point person goes on a work leave? With a reliable knowledge transfer plan, you can forget about the chaos by having all relevant information accessible to all whether the ‘knowledge owner’ is around or not. This proves useful, especially to teams in current post-pandemic hybrid work setups.
Having a proper knowledge transfer program also simplifies onboarding for interns and employees, whether they are new, transitioning to another department or growing into a different role.
Whatever the pretext, when employees leave, they bring what they know with them. Without a system that preserves and transfers this specific knowledge, companies will scramble to train replacements and new hires and fail to deliver consistent service. Build a strong foundation in streamlining your staffing changes and employee development through a solid knowledge transfer plan.
Knowledge transfer takes place in the workplace all the time. During casual interactions from water cooler conversations, lunch break chats, and coffee breaks, to after-work drinks, informal knowledge transfer happens and proves to be helpful when it comes to passing knowledge related to job tasks, roles, and organisational norms.
Because the term knowledge transfer is so formal, we tend to think of boring company knowledge transfer protocols. However, it is good to be reminded that these are basic processes of how a company distributes its knowledge to the entire organisation, specific departments and individuals, like the following:
In the formal sense, knowledge transfer is a methodical process of storing critical knowledge from key personnel and sharing them to equip the entire workforce for maximum efficiency and operational excellence. Knowledge transfer is important in the ongoing success of an organisation with benefits including:
To achieve these maximum efficiency outcomes, you need a KT plan. A knowledge transfer (KT) plan is essentially a comprehensive process documentation of how a company transfers important information, processes, and ownership from one key employee to their colleagues. This includes the resources, activities, staffing, training, procedures, tasks, milestones and indicators needed to bring the knowledge transfer to completion, plus all the software and tools associated.
The main components of a typical knowledge transfer plan are as follows:
The ultimate goal of a knowledge transfer plan is to avoid knowledge loss. Knowledge transfer plans that have demonstrated success always have the capacity to capture explicit, implicit, and tacit knowledge. This way, specific knowledge and best practices are stored and shared no matter who comes and goes. Your knowledge transfer plan ensures that your teams are equipped with the same knowledge. No more knowledge gaps even when your best employees take a leave or ultimately leave. Even with mergers and acquisitions, your knowledge transfer plan will see you through.
Additionally, a KT plan is central to a knowledge-sharing culture that institutionalises a single source for all company information. Whether new, tenured, on-site, or remote, all employees can access accurate, updated company knowledge, reducing time spent searching through files, emails, messaging apps, and Slack for their needed information.
Although particulars vary across situations and industries, a general guideline for knowledge transfer can follow these four steps:
Study and understand organisational knowledge that gets things done. Sort and define their value in terms of context, application, and impact. Rank their importance and indicate their level of priority. What remains high on the list of high risks when lost, is your essential knowledge. These should be captured and transferred.
Essential knowledge is only useful if both the source of knowledge and the receiver of knowledge are competent and actively involved. This is integral in the transfer process.
Find out what skills and abilities are needed to accomplish a knowledge transfer and design appropriate procedures and methods that would accurately capture and transfer your essential knowledge.
Choose a platform that supports the knowledge transfer activities you need.
Start with identifying what knowledge is crucial – the absence of which creates a gap within tasks, processes, or teams. Here’s a step-by-step guide to determining essential knowledge:
Consider the kinds of essential information useful to your daily operation and to your everyday staff. This can be a simple task, like tagging a document in a category, or something more complex like using a report template for structured and standard capturing of specialised data. If you fail at pinning down what is essential, you will fail at ensuring consistency in your processes and documentation, and risk losing essential knowledge every time a team member sets off.
To find out key knowledge holders and receivers, use these questions to get you started:
Your answers to these questions would help you find your knowledge holders and the perfect successors to certain knowledge sets. A clear understanding of your key employees will help create relevant processes to preserve critical knowledge and determine how extensive your knowledge transfer plan should be.
After picking which essential knowledge can be replicated to support future decisions and projects, it’s time to capture and transfer them through a combination of processes. Here are some knowledge transfer tools and methods you can use to share and transfer pertinent information:
These are a list of questions commonly asked in a specific context with a knowledge expert providing elaborate answers that can be found in one place. This saves answering the same questions repeatedly and people with common questions can find answers for themselves.
Job aids are cue cards or similar prompt tools that anyone can quickly reference if they need information to perform a task. This saves employees from needing a point person to tell them what to do and boosts productivity.
Documentation refers to creating a record of specific knowledge. Documents can include company best practices, training guides, job aids and FAQs.
Knowledge of experienced employees can be kept in video and audio recordings that are available across the organisation for anyone needing the knowledge through a simple browse search.
Some complex knowledge may require visual illustrations like images, graphs, and charts for context. For example, a process map may help illustrate the sequence of events to design a product or reach a goal.
These are just some examples of how you can capture rich and contextual knowledge ready for sharing. Establishing methods specific to your knowledge transfer needs allows archiving of important information in useful formats. By standardising these processes, there is no doubt you will have a reliable, seamless knowledge transfer plan companywide.
Now that you have a clear view of what information you want to keep and how you are going to keep it, find a suitable technology that would facilitate your capture process. Having a program or software is not enough. You need to include a plan that provides clear guidance and strategic instructions regarding your tools and processes. Google Drive is useless when there’s no logical system applied to your organising.
Instead, look for a knowledge-sharing platform that allows you from the very beginning to structure what kind of information you want to capture, then standardise and automate how that information is saved. It’s essential to choose a platform solution that enables you to create rich content, identify duplicate files, keep the information up to date, inform relevant co-workers with contextual notifications, and share documents and resources all in one centralised space. Your company knowledge is alive, relevant, ready to use, and prepared to transfer for remote work or even when a key employee decides to pursue something else.
To assist your knowledge transfer plan and related processes, look for a knowledge management solution that supports the following:
Active knowledge means your platform ensures that your knowledge content has an active owner who keeps everything up to date, allowing anyone with access to revisit documents and materials that they need.
Content transfer allows you to transfer ownership of content from a deactivated user to an active user. This is especially useful when a key contributor leaves your platform. Coupled with the expiration date, these two features allow you to keep your knowledge base up to date while making employee offboarding a breeze.
Just because you are transferring knowledge, it doesn’t mean you have to lose information. A good knowledge management solution ensures information security and privacy, preventing information loss and theft by disabling large-volume downloads quickly. Admins are alerted immediately for any unexpected activities.