How Do Leaders and Managers Transfer Their Knowledge?

There's a good chance that when companies make changes, in addition to people and resources, knowledge is going to have to be moved around as well. How can an organization make sure that important knowledge doesn't walk out the door with retiring or terminated employees? Steps have to be taken early on, as it's rather difficult to take someone aside on their last day and say, "You've been a great asset to this company for the last 20 years. Now tell Jones everything you know."

What are some of the best ways to keep knowledge flowing? i4cp's 2008 Taking the Pulse: Knowledge Transfer survey found that companies are employing several methods to make sure people know what they need to know. Among the 118 companies that responded, about 82% use training courses. Coaching and mentoring were the next most popular strategies, used by about half of the responding companies. Other methods cited include communities of practice, learning lunches, Webcasts and Web-based collaborative tools such as Microsoft's SharePoint.

Despite all the effort being put into knowledge transfer, almost none of the companies in the survey have a process for measuring the effectiveness of these approaches. There also seems to be a disconnect when it comes to the development of leaders. Almost three-quarters of the companies surveyed place an emphasis on training leaders in the art of knowledge transfer. Yet less than half of companies offer training to managers on identifying, prioritizing, selecting and transferring critical skills.

One strategy that very few companies are using is phased retirement. The knowledge transfer Pulse survey found that only 11% of respondents employed this practice, while the 2008 Taking the Pulse: Phased Retirement survey – which had 267 respondents – showed that only 14% of companies reported having a phased retirement plan in place.

So if retiring Baby Boomers are not going to be around to impart their knowledge, it has to be transferred at some point prior to retirement. This is going to be extremely important in the not-too-distant future as the Baby Boomer exodus mounts and tough economic times force downsizing decisions. It should be recognized that it's not just people walking out the door; it's often critical knowledge that cannot be retrieved once it is too late.
David Wentworth
David Wentworth, Senior Research Analyst
David Wentworth has been a research analyst for the Institute for Corporate Productivity since 2005. David has previously worked with digital media development and delivery, and currently researches several topics for i4cp, including workforce technology and the outsourcing of human resources. David has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Massachusetts.