This is what things would look like in a perfect world: Whenever one employee learns something, their co-workers would automatically have access to the new knowledge. When an employee leaves the company, they are given a warm send-off, but their knowledge remains with the organization — permanently. Or perhaps a customer has a question about one of your products. But instead of coming to you for an answer, they find it all by themselves — the knowledge just finds its way to the right person.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world. But there are solutions that can make life in the real world a little bit better. So, what’s the secret? If you want to facilitate knowledge transfer within your company, you have to be proactive. But first, let’s back up a step.
What factors prevent the unlimited availability of knowledge within organizations?
When knowledge can only be found in the brains of specific individuals, the risk of losing it is high. That’s why it’s important to consider this type of implicit knowledge, not just explicit knowledge. Unfortunately, no tool exists that can convert 100% of a company’s implicit knowledge into explicit knowledge. There will always be people in organizations that possess experience which is best conveyed by means of a one-on-one conversation. But good knowledge management ensures that as much knowledge as possible is made available to others. It’s a proactive way to prevent the company from losing knowledge.
But there are other risks to watch out for, too. For instance, when the documentation of information, processes, and changes is insufficient or unsustainable. Collecting highly specialized knowledge is a complex task. Another issue that may cause some uncertainty is the frequency with which this knowledge will be used. Finally, the knowledge of employees who perform a wide range of tasks with no set routine is often at risk of being lost. Staff who frequently move from one client project to the next often find themselves in this situation.
Proactively encouraging knowledge transfer by setting up a dedicated knowledge management system minimizes the above risks while also increasing a company’s competitiveness. But there are other benefits as well. Your employees will be much more satisfied and efficient once knowledge begins to flow freely. Building a common foundation of knowledge is also a very positive experience that can establish a community spirit. And it prevents the frustration that feeling “left out of the loop” can cause.
But what steps must be taken to encourage knowledge transfer?
First, it is important to identify relevant information within the company and then collect it in a structured manner. To do that, you need to get all the right people on board. Knowledge workers are responsible within the organization for creating and processing the relevant knowledge. Then you need some fresh eyes to come in and ask the right questions to see if the knowledge that has been identified and structured is coherent. Obtaining a fresh perspective makes sure that your highly specialized experts don’t miss the forest for the trees.
As the process of transferring knowledge continues, it’s important that editors are provided with and have constant access to all the knowledge that they are asked to collect. Establishing good quality management practices is recommended. Bringing in someone to function as a reviewer is a good idea, for instance. Next, you want to ensure that the transfer of knowledge is efficient, for example by deploying a knowledge management system. Editors at your organization then ensure that the knowledge in the system is presented in a correct and coherent way. Finally, knowledge that has been processed must be maintained in a sustainable manner.
With the right content, internal communication, and quality standards, knowledge transfer can successfully address a range of business challenges such as a shortage of skilled workers, the trend toward increasing specialization, and turnover. Add it up, and you get a company that is more competitive all around.
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