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3 Strategies for Successful Knowledge Transfer

Written by Dana Youngren

Oh, look, there goes another valued member of your team, leaving the organization with a huge treasure trove of information and insights amassed during his or her tenure. It happens all the time – no great surprise when 10,000 baby boomers are retiring every day and recruiters are advising people to change jobs every three years.

No matter how often you experience a loss like this, you always find it painful when a formidable store of knowledge is gone forever. And it doesn’t really matter why it happens; a once-in-a-lifetime career opportunity, an early-retirement buyout, an unfortunate wave of downsizing, or any other reason. The result is the same. People are leaving, and everything they know is going with them.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. With the right strategy and tools in place, you can make sure that all the knowledge a departing employee has accumulated will stay in the organization. Even better, you can make sure their knowledge will be easy to transfer to others who can put it to good use.

Decide what you need to keep, and how to store and share it.

If you haven’t given a lot of thought to what kind of information should remain available to people on your team, much less how you’re going to capture it and provide access to it, there’s no time like the present. Begin by thinking carefully about what kinds of knowledge are useful to people every day, and create a process for capturing it for future reference.

Here’s a cautionary tale: A client with thousands of employees recently turned to Bloomfire for help following a disastrous downsize. Many departments lost up to 50 percent of their team, and there was no formal system in place to retain knowledge that lived in the brains of those leaving the company. Of the hundreds of team members who left, many of whom worked for the company for 5 or more years, the company was only able to save 80 documents… 80. This means that hundreds of studies, reports, and projects were lost, along with years of work and the money it took to produce them.

You can’t blame employees for a poor knowledge-transfer outcome when there’s no specific institutional guidance for what they should pass along, and no simple way to carry out the task. Invest some time and effort in thinking about these issues before they create problems.

Choose knowledge base tools that leave nothing to chance.

Once you have a clear idea what kind of information you want to preserve when people leave your company, look for technology that doesn’t put the responsibility on employees to preserve it. The main reasons a company’s efforts to preserve knowledge fail is that employees are responsible for determining what they should save, have little guidance for making that determination, and are forced to use a tool like Box or Google Drive which can quickly become a disorganized nightmare.

Contrast that scenario with one in which there’s knowledge base technology in place that requires little special effort to add information to it. This eliminates many obstacles to successful knowledge transfer, including problems stemming from differences and inconsistencies in how people work and learn. For example, you may have someone on your market research team who carefully and methodically documents every detail about every project – to the point that there’s more information saved than anyone can possibly access or use efficiently. And at the same time you may also have an employee whose work style is just the opposite – relying on memory, documenting a minimal amount of information and leaving little behind to guide others in the future.

A good knowledge base tool will make these kinds of differences irrelevant, by enabling you to standardize and automate how information is preserved, and by taking natural human differences and preferences out of the equation.

Use the knowledge base to keep knowledge alive.

A good knowledge base can be more than a place to preserve research reports and other forms of information. It can be the foundation for a complete program of knowledge transfer that includes a variety of support for keeping knowledge alive when employees move on. Choose a knowledge base that you can use to support:

  • Learning communities – Virtual spaces where employees meet and share experiences and best practices (which then become part of the knowledge base).
  • Mentoring – Opportunities for veteran employees to pass along what they’ve learned to future leaders and to capture the knowledge shared.
  • Social networking – Tools that provide a far-reaching way for employees to share information with each other in real time and across multiple locations.

Don’t wait until the next time someone leaves and takes a ton of key information out of your company in the process. Start thinking now about the knowledge you want to preserve and transfer – and about the technology you’ll need to get the job done.

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