In my last two years as a Postdoctoral Fellow in Behavioral Medicine at McGill University, I spent a considerable amount of time sharpening my skills in the diffusion of innovation and knowledge transfer. Back then, the importance of knowledge transfer was just taking shape and academics were required in their request for research funding to demonstrate how they intended to transfer the knowledge acquired in their research to the population that would benefit the most. My work entailed creating, designing, and implementing a knowledge transfer plan that would meet scientific muster. Although some researchers were hesitant to engage in this type of work, those who did saw their careers soar. Soon enough they became the model to follow for many, many researchers who by then lagged behind. Fast forward to 2015: Here I was designing and researching a knowledge transfer methodology that Papillon MDC Inc. would offer our clients who requested to capture their corporate knowledge. Unbeknown to us, however, was the incredible push back from many who thought that transferring knowledge simply meant shadowing a more experienced employee. Let’s look at some of the common myths encountered when dealing with knowledge transfer.
Myth 1: An experienced employee knows HOW to transfer his/her knowledge. NOPE!
Perhaps one common misconception is indeed that an experienced employee has the know-how to transfer his/her immense tacit knowledge to a less experienced one. Research has clearly shown that the gap between knowing and doing is noticeable. And even more alarming is the observation that people have a hard time articulating all of their knowledge in a concise and explicable manner. The truth is that the experienced employee is most likely to transfer the knowledge that he/she readily uses every day, and only to retrieve the more important knowledge in the face of a challenge and/or an unexpected event. Still, the retrieval of this precious knowledge does not follow a precise and methodological process. In fact, the experienced employee is less likely to “naturally” articulate the flow of his/her thinking while he/she searches for the best solution to handle the given situation. Hence, having an inexperienced employee shadow a more experienced one when the inexperienced talent has little clue insofar as what to observe and what questions to ask is unlikely to unearth the process by which the experienced leader dealt with the situation. This common misconception has dire consequences for corporations who refuse to listen to the truth about how knowledge transfer is acquired, managed, and transferred from one person to the next. Here are a few other myths we encountered in our work with corporations.
Myth 2: Those who leave the organization always leave behind a RELIABLE TRAIL of readily accessible knowledge. Not True!
Consider the reality of how most executives are asked to leave the organization. The majority are “escorted out”, and their teams are left patching up the work left behind. If you are lucky, the executive asked to leave was meticulous, organized, and had a great sense of priority and strong communication skills as well as writing skills. Rarely have we found this to be true. Instead, most executives hold a significant amount of important corporate knowledge and experience in “their heads”. Getting to this knowledge is not just about asking them questions. Most people (and that includes me and you) are not able to access deep knowledge. This is knowledge that is concerned with underlying meanings and principles, how the person has integrated facts and feelings about events and experiences with previously acquired knowledge. This fundamental knowledge with general applicability can be used in conjunction with other deep knowledge to link evidence and conclusions, and to arrive at a solution faster. In essence, we are looking at the assimilation and accommodation of knowledge with experience, both actions that form part of our Executive functions (mediated by the frontal lobes). Executive functions consist of several mental skills that help the brain organize and act on information. These skills enable you to plan, organize, remember things, prioritize, pay attention and get started on tasks. They also help you retrieve and use information and experiences from the past to solve current problems. Ah… this is where the kernels of competitive advantage lie. Wouldn’t you want to capture how your leaders solve issues in a manner that is more profitable and efficient rather than having to go through a period of trial and error?
Myth 3: Onboarding programs include ENOUGH knowledge and information to ensure newly hired employees succeed. Think again!
The majority of onboarding programs we have seen focus on (1) bringing the new hire up to speed on what is going on and what needs to be done; (2) briefings on obstacles, people and challenges affecting the completion of current projects; (3) readings and/or lectures about the products/service lines, competitive advantages, as well as customers/networks of importance; and (4) information on resources and corporate culture, including history and current vision/mission. Some corporations also include some shadowing with experienced employees. Hardly ever have we seen an onboarding program that focuses specifically on transferring deep knowledge. New employees are likely to focus on behaviors and attitudes visible to everyone, and to make their own conclusions on what works and what doesn’t work. Those who succeed seem to have a natural proclivity to engage in critical thinking, and to rely on a vast network (both internal and external to the corporation) to help them confirm and/or refute the information and observations they make. Nonetheless, they do not have the skills to access deep knowledge, and the experienced employees who have this knowledge also do not know how to transfer it. Hence, your newly hired employee will take years before he/she gets up to speed on the type of knowledge that your corporation will need to have to maintain a competitive advantage. By then, however, many things may have changed in your industry, making such efforts no longer relevant.
Myth 4: Corporations only need to have explicit knowledge to ensure survival because tacit knowledge is irrelevant in how work is performed. Wrong.
Both types of knowledge are important for the survival of any organization. The problem lies in the importance attributed to explicit knowledge because it is the easier of the two to capture and record. Explicit knowledge is knowledge that can be readily articulated, codified, accessed and verbalized. It can be easily transmitted to others on the team. Most forms of explicit knowledge are collated in the form of job descriptions, as well as contained in corporate manuals (who we are, and what we do). Perhaps the easiest way of understanding explicit knowledge is everything you “remember” learning from your textbooks and other written forms of communication. But, it is the tacit knowledge (as opposed to formal, codified or explicit knowledge) that is difficult to transfer to another person by means of writing it down or verbalizing it. And, it is this knowledge as argued above that makes your corporation stand out from the competition.
Isn’t your competitive advantage worth protecting?
Invest, invest, and invest in a knowledge transfer structure. And, make this structure part of an overall knowledge management mandate. Make sure to incorporate this structure with your corporate culture such that every single leader is aware that you care enough to capture not only what they know, but how they know what they know. Papillon MDC Inc. believes that designing a knowledge transfer framework, and making it a part of your overall knowledge management initiative, must be embedded in your leadership structure. This means that your top leaders are brought into the initiative as champions and partners. The key advantages to your investment can be stated as follows:
- You will have access to highly specialized or highly contextual knowledge that is not available through job description, performance review tracking, and/or conversations with departing employees.
- You will capture, identify, and codify deep knowledge held by key employees that sets your corporation apart from your competitors.
- You will not have to worry about transitions and departures of key employees because you will have a smooth knowledge transfer process in place that is ongoing and current.
- You will increase a sense of ownership in all employees when it comes to working with corporate knowledge and transferring it to their successors.
Put simply, you will never need to worry of where your investment in your employees is going. You will have captured its development, its many permutations, ingenuity, and evolution in actual time and space. And, if you are ahead of your competition, you will be able to engage in forward-thinking and planning as it relates to the coming of age of artificial intelligence (AI) in your business domain. In fact, the first steps in AI involve uncovering, codifying, organizing, and articulating in writing the deep knowledge acquired. This makes it possible for algorithms to be invented that imitates step-by-step reasoning (again assimilated and accommodated with experiences, which are imprinted by emotions and feelings) that your employees use when they solve problems and/or encounter issues and circumstances. It is all of this that sets your corporation apart from the competition. Ask yourself this question: How much is this worth? Want to know how we go about this monumental task of helping you acquire and maintain your competitive advantage in the form of knowledge? Ask for our Knowledge Transfer: Protecting your Investments™.