Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Framework for Knowledge Transfer

Today I had an interesting exchange in the 'Knowledge Managers' group on LinkedIn. I enjoy reviewing questions posed by the various groups I participate in on LinkedIn but found this one quite interesting. www.linkedin.com
The subject was on the transfer of tacit knowledge and goodness knows I have a few opinions about that.

I posted that frameworks help organize the deeply held knowledge to be transferred from experts, to help make the knowledge applicable and actionable. Again I thought of the complexities of knowledge and the importance of organizing what has been accumulated over years and years of experiences, decisions, missteps and successes. We do struggle to identify what needs to be transferred and what does not. Not only do we need a framework to organize but we need to discern in some objective way, which areas of knowledge should be the focus to apply the framework on. Let's start there.

Unique, relevant and critical are the three terms I use to begin to determine if what someone knows needs to be transferred to the successor or the organization. Why? Because if many people hold the knowledge, is it necessary to transfer? No. It's a commodity.  What if it is unique but not relevant for the future? The expert may know something fascinating about the history or background of the product or company, and that knowledge might appeal to the KM practioner. But does it have an impact, will it matter in the future? Much of the historical knowledge held will matter, it may well provide context behind decisions, structures, processes. But not all of it is relevant and we must discern (with verification) if it is relevant. And then there is the issue of what I call critical. Is this knowledge crucial? One way to consider this is to imagine what might change if the knowledge is lost. Will things slow down, will quality fail, will products be more difficult to produce? Will relationships falter?

Are these criteria for discernment scientific? No. But do they work? My 16 years of experience says yes. I have applied these criteria in many situations and, like the framework, they have yet to fail me. It is less about the criteria being perfect and more that they are practical. Applicable. They are relevant.

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