Knowledge Transfer Challenges and Best Practices

by Tracy Cox on May 1, 2013

Last week, we took a look at the state of onboarding programs in today’s organizations and made some suggestions for improvement. Today, we take a similar approach to a related topic: knowledge transfer.

During my recent webinar, I asked participants to share their definitions of knowledge transfer. I received a number of interesting responses, all of which are accurate. The group essentially understood knowledge transfer to be an ongoing, iterative process through which knowledge is captured, codified, put in context and moved from source to source.

When Raytheon Professional Services (RPS) conducted research in partnership with Training Industry Inc., we used a specific definition of knowledge transfer, allowing all the learning leaders to organize their responses around a single foundational thought. We defined knowledge transfer as the process through which experienced employees share or distribute their knowledge, skills and behaviors to the employees who replace them.

We surveyed 210 learning leaders to collect the following data:

These survey respondents reported that poor (or nonexistent) knowledge transfer practices have caused their organizations to experience high staff turnover, low productivity, role confusion and a lack of understanding among employees around how they impact business goals. Given these undesirable consequences, it is alarming that 61 percent of respondents identified their organizations as “ineffective” in this area. Clearly, there is significant room for improvement, and something must be done. But where should you start?

A few key practices will help promote successful, valuable knowledge transfer throughout any organization:

  • Develop a formalized strategy and employ it consistently.
  • Create opportunities for coaching, peer-to-peer and team training. These practices take the knowledge transfer process beyond a simple data dump. Through these methods, information is presented in a practical manner and contextualized in real time.
  • Maintain a single knowledge repository that is relevant, organized and frequently updated.

In my opinion, one of the greatest examples of knowledge transfer comes from the U.S. Military. There is a strict requirement – with a very direct impact on performance evaluations – that outgoing leaders must ensure the individual filling his or her role is proficient, confident and capable in the post as quickly as possible. This gives everyone involved a vested interest in an efficient and effective knowledge transfer process.

Find a solution that is right for your company and stick with it. You’ll soon see the far-reaching impacts of this often undervalued exercise. If you found this helpful, I encourage you to check out my full Onboarding and Knowledge Transfer webinar for additional insight.

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