Transferring knowledge from one part of the organization to another is at the heart of knowledge management. But a general call to encourage more knowledge sharing or transfer is not very effective because there are many ways to transfer knowledge. You need to be sure that you are investing in the best method for what you want to accomplish. There are two questions that influence the choice of method.
- What is the transfer problem you are trying to solve? For example, do you want to:
- transfer the knowledge that has been learned in one project to other projects?
- transfer the knowledge of a retiring expert to his/her successor?
- transfer the knowledge gained from a critical event, such as the loss of a contract?
- What type of knowledge do you want to transfer?
- Explicit – is “know what,” the facts and algorithms that can be written down so others can both understand and make use of the knowledge. Examples are SOPs, job aids, and well-documented process steps.
- Implicit – is ‘know how” A professor or a book can teach you the “know what,” but “know how” is learned through experience. A skilled interviewer can ask the right questions to make the “know how,” that is in someone’s head, explicit enough that others could use it, for example, the rules of thumb the person uses, insights about a difficult client, short cuts to use in fixing a troublesome machine, etc.
- Tacit – is deep knowledge, what a person knows, but often can not articulate; it is what is often referred to as judgment. Tacit knowledge can only be learned through observation of a master or being coached by a master. Examples of tacit knowledge are, what makes one speaker engaging and another less so, how a conductor acts to get the best from an orchestra, what a skilled facilitator does to help a group reach agreement.
Attached is a abbreviated version of a Knowledge Transfer Framework I have built for working with my own clients. It starts in Column 1 with a list of knowledge transfer needs that I frequently hear from clients. Column 2 lists the type of knowledge associated with each need. Column 3 outlines how that type of knowledge can be harvested and Column 4 outlines how it can be transferred to others.
Harvesting knowledge is only the first step in knowledge transfer. Once it is harvested there must still be a process in place to make it available to those that need it. An if it is tacit knowledge there needs to be an additional process to assist those that need it to internalize it. However, in the most efficient and well designed transfer processes, harvesting, making available, and internalizing can occur simultaneously.