Very few companies are planning ahead when it comes to knowledgeable people leaving the company and retiring. The knowledge that is lost to the company when Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) leave can have direct impacts to the top and bottom-line and yet, there appears to be room for improvement in this process.
The need for implementing a structured process for knowledge transfer or sharing can naturally come from any of the following process and review discussions involving HR representatives and Managers:
- Succession Planning
- Workforce planning
- Recognition and Reward reviews
- Training needs assessment
- Organizational capability discussions (now and future)
The question is: how are you ensuring that those with recognized expertise in a specific area contribute to the learning of others?
In many cases such a recognized SME needs to be assigned to mentor a more junior employee delivering promising results early in his/her career with the company. However, the time commitment associated with mentoring one to three people individually plus ensuring that the interactions meet content coverage expectations can soon become a concern. So how do you optimize the knowledge transfer or sharing process, while not taking up too much of the SMEs time doing so?
The solution is to structure the knowledge transfer or knowledge sharing process and to include multiple participants. Ideally participants with an SME should range between 3 and a maximum of 8 people. Structuring sessions where those present interact improves learning as it facilitates discussions leading to deeper understanding and the ability to get into more detail on some topics.
Preparing the managers
It is helpful to ensure managers (of those attending knowledge-transfer sessions) are prepared and understand the process. When they know the topics that would be covered, they can plan post-session assignments for employees to benefit from the new knowledge and help them retain what they have learned. New knowledge is much easier remembered when it can be applied on-the-job soon after the learning session. This greatly improves the amount of newly acquired knowledge integrated in decision-making and execution of daily work activities at the company.
- Adding a pre- and post- survey with questions related to the topic can help you measure the increase in employee knowledge from sessions.
- You can also use a 360 feedback survey and get feedback from those working with, for and managing the employees before they start attending sessions. It would give you a snapshot of their current strengths and improvement points. Structure the 360 feedback survey to include competencies in the areas that will be covered by the series of sessions to come.
Preparing the Subject Matter Expert
Structuring the discussions that will take place between an SME and assigned participants can be a daunting task for an SME. They often do not realize how much they know about various topics.
The first task would be to unpack the area of knowledge the person has – look at processes, clients, products, technology, developments outside your company, projects that the SMEs are particularly proud of. You can also survey the intended participants to find out what they would like to learn more about. That is the first task – focusing on the highest priority topics over a 6 months trajectory of sessions. As a starting point that would give you a good start and the opportunity to do a process check 6-months later to see what can be better.
Once you have the topics settled for each session, the SME would need some helpful structure to disseminate his or her knowledge in a helpful way as opposed to telling several war stories from the past which leaves session participants confused.
The questions below can be used by the SME to prepare for each session and it could be helpful for him or her to even present the information to the group in this structured way.
Capturing knowledge in a database would be one approach to knowledge sharing, but helping adults learn and know how to apply new knowledge requires that you build in room for questions and discussions in the process. This can be accomplished using face-to-face meetings, video conferencing, and webinars.
The best way to ensure that knowledge is retained and expanding within the company is to apply discipline and structure to knowledge sharing and transfer. This is especially important to do when you consider those who plan to retire in the next two to three years. Involving recognized experts (SMEs) within your company to share their knowledge with others is important for the sustainability of your competitive advantage in the market place. Its is about the things you know about your marketplace, the things you know how to do better and faster than your competition etc. Using the process and approach shared above will help you plan ahead and improve organizational capability over time.