Offer your experts a guiding hand; don’t assume they’ll know
how to share their expertise.
“Really brilliant experts are rarely also good at communicating
what they know,” said Trautman. “Tell them exactly what you want
them to teach and give them a simple and clear way to deconstruct
their expertise, teach it and then test to ensure it has been learned
– and fast.” Include tools and a process to transfer knowledge, he
adds, especially for the most technical knowledge.
Don’t assume that certain kinds of knowledge can’t be taught.
There’s a common belief that while sharing explicit knowledge is
reasonably straightforward, implicit or tacit knowledge is elusive.
“That secret sauce or that tribal knowledge – the first thing
to know is that it is teachable,” said Trautman. The key is in
asking the right questions: What are the mistakes new people
make? Who do I have to work with to get this done? How do I
know if I’m in over my head? What are the rules I have to follow?
Which ones can I ignore? What’s the difference between normal
“If you use those kinds of questions rather than ‘How do you
do it?’ – which is an explicit question – then you’re going to get
at the tacit knowledge,” said Trautman. “You can pin down tacit
knowledge for even the most esoteric topic, like, ‘How do I make
the video game fun?’ or ‘How do you build a relationship with that
Have your expert and nextpert spend time together.
“If you have enough time, creating an accelerated apprenticeship
is ideal because you capture not only explicit knowledge, but also
implicit knowledge and a good deal of the tacit knowledge as peo-ple
work closely together,” said Leonard.
Mentorship arrangements can be part of the process, too, as
“Just don’t fall into the trap of having mentoring programs that
run like a dating service, matching two people who might build a
relationship if the chemistry is right,” said Trautman. Instead, he
suggests, make it much more tactical. The relationship should be
about transferring specific knowledge to solve a specific problem.
“The selfish motivation on both sides is clear here,” said
Trautman. “The expert grows a co-worker who ‘gets it’ and can
take on some of the work without making too many mistakes and
the apprentice develops a new set of skills that makes him or her
more valuable to the organization, as well as often dialing up their
chance to do more meaningful work.
“If you give them a collective problem to solve, they’ll collabo-rate
to solve the problem. They will build a working relationship,
they will learn from each other, they will introduce each other
around. All the magic of mentorship will happen, but not because
you ever call it mentorship.”
Marcia O’Connor, president of AM FM Consulting Group,
consults on knowledge transfer in the field of facilities manage-ment.
She points out that developing a working arrangement
between two people encourages a degree of comfort and familiar-ity
that leads to more open and productive communication.
“Junior facilities managers (FMs) can make the most of their
time with experienced FMs by asking specific questions rather
than asking to verify or review an existing routine,” said O’Connor.
“It’s important that new employees feel at ease to ask specific, task-related
Setting aside specific times each day or week to have people meet
is essential, as well. In some professional areas, including facilities
management, where there’s a great deal of intrinsic knowledge,
going as far as job shadowing can make sense.
“It’s helpful to ensure overlap between incoming and outgoing
personnel so new FMs get a chance to follow the daily, weekly and
monthly routines of more senior FMs,” said O’Connor.
If a successor – in any field – can learn from more than one
expert, then there’s a chance to build knowledge above and beyond
what exists and improve upon existing systems. In facilities man-agement,
for example, O’Connor suggests that when a company
has more than one location, junior FMs can rotate through shifts
or job shadowing in multiple locations, to develop a standard of
best practices across its multiple locations.
HAVE SUCCESSORS CLAIM OWNERSHIP
For best results, empower the learners.
“Make it someone’s job to learn from the expert,” said Trautman.
“Tell them they have to develop this new set of skills in a finite
amount of time and tell them how to prioritize their learning rel-ative
to other tasks.”
You might even consider renaming the process “knowledge
acquisition,” if it helps, and put the more junior person in charge.
“The expert is already too busy to make driving knowledge
transfer their job, too,” said Trautman.
How an organization approaches knowledge transfer depends
on the time available. While an apprenticeship might be ideal
when there is ample time, it’s not feasible or effective when the
deadline is tight.
“When there’s an urgent situation – someone is retiring in a
month or so – you’re not going to be able to set up structured
mentoring and apprenticeship,” said Leonard. “So you have to go
to such techniques as interviewing; sometimes a 360-interview
djvstock / 123RF Stock Photo
CONSIDER WHAT KNOWLEDGE
NEEDS TO BE SHARED TO MEET
FUTURE GOALS AND TARGETS.
18 ❚ JUNE 2018 ❚ HR PROFESSIONAL