KNOWLEGE TRANSFER as a day-to-day PRACTICE
September 25, 2009 at 11:46 pm #81495
I know I’m a little late commenting on Mark Hammer’s post (August 5, 2009) about KNOWLEDGE TRANSFER. He wrote: Johari Rashad asks: “Has anybody developed a process for transfering the knowledge of retiring employees, like using exit interviews or allowing time for pre-retirees to document (by audio, video, on paper, or electronically) their knowledge before they exit?” Enjoyed this post very much and especially the story about his grandmother.
What Mark’s post brought up for me is that KNOWLEDGE TRANSFER as an ongoing conscious, integrated priority would be nice, don’t you think? Waiting until you retire assumes you don’t have much to share until then. I think we have so much to learn from one another, if we work to develop a genuine curiosity about what we might discover. I flash on how many new thinkers and people I never imagined that have passed on knowledge to me that endures.
I’m not retired, but I did leave one leadership career some years back — 21 rewarding years at IBM — to start my own business for which I am most grateful. What I remember about the transition is a reality that I imagine hits most of us. Time flies You work so diligently through the years from one deadline to another; under the pressures of the time. You never stop to evaluate what it all meant and what you KNOW — it’s rare that you document it, right?
So when I think of KNOWLEDGE TRANSFER for a retiring employee — suddenly being faced with the daunting task of documenting his/her career “knowledge” before leaving, I feel a great sense of empathy. I remember my “blank screen” when I first left IBM and the days I spent figuring out what I had to offer the world. It took a while for me to discover the inventory of knowledge of those years. Ultimately, as you step into the new life on the other side, you discover how much you learned in reflection and gratitude.
A friend told me that “WISDOM is KNOWLEDGE with a long shelf-life.” I cherish the tidbits I pick up from all those that cross my path, do you? Now because of Mark Hammer’s comment and Johari Rashad’s question, I will be more conscious about making “KNOWLEDGE TRANSFER” a day-to-day practice.” Thank you.
Global Dialogue Center and Leadership Solutions Companies
author, Putting Our Differences to Work
September 28, 2009 at 2:06 pm #81501
What a thoughtful message you wrote. I was particularly struck with how social media opening up new possibilities for us to capture and share knowledge in many forms, as we are doing right here. The ideas and the articles you shared are inspiring with excellent examples!
Your message also gave me flashbacks of creative ideas to add to the mix that help us see the many kinds of opportunities we all have to leave our legacy. Here are two memorable ones, I’ve observed and experienced:
1. STORYTELLING: A few years back, one of my clients, a senior manager at Hewlett-Packard in their professional services organization, headed up the “Wisdom Dissemination Project.” They gathered stories from employees around the world in collaborative partnership with a “storyteller.” The introduction tells of the intentions: “At the heart of our great company is a set of values…These values, guide all of our operations and are easily captured and understood in stories. …we found that many employees had stories to tell. We also found that people were so busy at work that they rarely had time to glean all the tales from their years of work and share them with one another. They welcomed the chance.” My company had the opportunity to turn the stories into a published, illustrated book. The chapter themes were… The Power of Partnership, Solving Problems, Keeping Perspective, Taking Initiative and Responsibility, The Human Touch, Vision and Leadership. In addition to its distribution around the world and to new employees, it was also used to introduce the company on tours that their headquarters with visiting customers.
2. SOCIAL NETWORKING’s INFLUENCE: Similar to GovLoop, IBM started a worldwide social/business networking organization a few years ago. It was initially thought that it would be an IBM Alumni organization. In my book, I tell the story of their discovery early on that there was little interest from former IBMers in being labeled “alumni.” They wanted something more: to feel INCLUDED — to be connected with the company, old friends, and current employees. The organization, now nearly 100,000 strong is called the Greater IBM Connection, a business and social networking organization of PAST and PRESENT IBMERS. What this organization has afforded relates to the possibilities you suggest. There are lots of opportunities to share knowledge, coach, mentor, continuous learning, collaborate across generations and cultures. It also creates a great place to see the wide range of ways, former employees and retirees have taken on new careers and contributions in their communities, as well as a way to tap into the KNOWLEDGE and KNOW-HOW across the world.
So I can see that everything we need to share our KNOWLEDGE is all around us…I guess the big question is what will we do with them to ensure meaningful ways to transfer knowledge?
In a management course years ago, I learned that we should think of our work as being part of a “value chain” and that when we left an assignment, we would be leaving behind something of great value, so others would benefit from us being there. A humbling responsibility, yes?
Thank you, John. I look forward to hearing what other ideas and examples surface in this discussion.
September 30, 2009 at 5:24 pm #81499
One of the things I keep harping on about to folks in management here is that there is usually a paper or electronic record of WHAT decisions were made, but very little record of how they were made or how competing priorities were balanced off in making those decisisons. That balancing IS the collective wisdom of the organization, and is essential to transfer in some fashion if the organization is to stay true to its mission/mandate.
Earlier this year, I was directed to an inspiring little tome by the late Larry Terry entitled “LEADERSHIP OF PUBLIC BUREAUCRACIES: THE ADMINISTRATOR AS CONSERVATOR”
( http://books.google.ca/books?id=EYXGNHDI_6EC&dq=Larry+Terry+administrator&printsec=frontcover&source=bl&ots=h3w_pwtAD8&sig=xd7loI_ie3PZfXTSaVxK6iuUS1Y&hl=en&ei=B43DSvjAFZS4lAfOj-jiBA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CAsQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=&f=false ). Terry’s notion of administrator-as-conservator is that of staying true to the mission, and everything that needs to be done to accomplish that task. Certainly one of the principle tasks is that of going beyond one’s mere legal authority, as enshrined in law, and establishing (and maintaining) one’s authoritativeness. Indeed, it is one’s authoritativeness that lets you get the work done, moreso than one’s legal authority, because it assures buy-in, trust, and all those other lubricants of public institutions. That solid organizational identity, “brand”, SME status, or whatever you wish to call it, requires maintenance over time, and nourishment. Terry makes the case that the wisdom of the organization needs to be transferred to emerging staff and leaders so as to be maintained.
One should distinguish maintenance from mere stagnation and rigidity. What needs to be maintained is not just the same practices or processes, but rather the overarching vision and mission, and a concomitant capacity to recognize the continuity of the mission despite changing times, tasks, contexts, etc. To do that, the values of the organization have to be transmitted in a manner that seeps into the pores of new staff, and becomes their default way of seeing the world and the institution. And as Debbe wisely points out, storytelling is a vital means of transmitting values. It is also important to recognize that values don’t come out of thin air. They come out of the collective experience and history of the organization. So, for me, the kind of story worth telling would be one like “What the toughest decision I ever had to make as a manager was, why it was tough (including how we got to that problem), how we got through it, what I had to balance off to tackle it, what I learned and what I might do differently now.” Now THERE is the sort of Friday afternoon brown-bag lunch session that’ll turn “staff” into a team with a common vision.
A half dozen or so years ago, a survey of Canadian government executives (a large proportion of whom were sitting at the edge of eligibility for retirement) found that many would consider staying on a bit longer past their official retirement date if their role could be redefined so as to shepherd the organization through transitions. I see this as a nice example of Erik Eriksson’s notion of “generativity” in later life. But beyond all the touchy-feely aspects, the cold hard fact of the matter is that many public-sector organizations that benefitted fiscally from belt-tightening in the 90’s now find themselves in the position of having a huge exodus of senior staff, who will walk out the door with their corporate knowledge, leaving a bunch of well-educated “pishers” in their place. Re-engineering their roles and responsibilities to provide more “shepherding” opportunities might be the very thing to defer their retirement a bit longer and weather the transition more successfully. In other words, more than just the “right” thing to do, it is also likely the practical thing to do.
I wrote a paper 7 years ago on “wisdom management” that may be of interest to some readers. You can find it here: http://epe.lac-bac.gc.ca/100/200/301/psc-cfp/getting_keeping_wisdom-e/html/research/knowledge/wisdom_e.pdf
October 2, 2009 at 1:05 pm #81497
Hi Mark, I enjoyed your perspective very much and I look forward to reading your “Getting and Keeping Wisdom…” This conversation continues to bring up diverse points of view with a common theme — a suggestion of a personal responsibility we all hold to create our own “link” that will weave our wisdom into the chain of value, created before us—-with a welcome reaching out to those who follow to keep it going. You stated it well, “One should distinguish maintenance from mere stagnation and rigidity. What needs to be maintained is not just the same practices or processes, but rather the overarching vision and mission, and a concomitant capacity to recognize the continuity of the mission despite changing times, tasks, contexts, etc.”
I remembered a quote I’ve carried around in my head for reasons I can’t explain—it was passed on to me in the wisdom value chain: “The true test of a leader is that he leaves behind in others the will to carry on.” — Walter Lippman at the death of President Roosevelt
Thanks for adding so much to this conversation.
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