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 is 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 a one to three people individually plus ensuring that the interactions are meeting 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 people interact improves learning as it facilitates discussions leading to deeper understanding and the ability to get into more detail on some topics.
You may choose to add elements such as a pre- and post-test to measure the increase in knowledge gained during a session or series of sessions. Preparing managers of session participants to ensure that newly gained knowledge can be applied on-the-job, would further help participants internalize what they are learning and have learned. This greatly improves the amount of newly acquired knowledge integrated in decision-making and execution of daily work activities at the company.
Structuring the discussions that will take place between an SME and assigned participants can be a daunting task for an SME, who often does not realize how much he or she knows about various topics. The questions below may be useful. Combine those that make sense to combine and do not get too hung up if the group takes longer to discuss a particular question/topic than anticipated. The questions or topics are merely a guide to help the SME consider the various aspects relating to a topic that he or she may be an expert at. The topics/questions below pertain to a process, but can easily be modified to facilitate knowledge sharing related to tools, applications and other areas of expert knowledge.
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 sessions and could also be webinars and video-conferences.
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 another important area where this approach could be useful. Using the process and approach shared above will help you plan ahead and improve organizational capability over time .