No matter what industry or market you compete in, your ability to not only survive, but also grow, is based largely on the knowledge and experience of your people — and none more so than the employees you regard as your subject matter experts (or SMEs). Their familiarity with your organization’s history, products, processes, customers, and even competitors add up to an enormous asset.
However, reliance on these SMEs can limit a company’s growth. Consider the likelihood that many of these senior, knowledgeable employees are baby boomers and may be retiring soon, taking with them experience and insights that took years or even decades to accumulate. Or perhaps your organization has been affected by the recent halt in travel due to COVID-19, and your SMEs can no longer travel to a location, whether in the United States or elsewhere, to apply their expertise in order to help your company grow. These real scenarios make a strong business case for implementing a process for capturing valuable knowledge and codifying it in such a way that other employees can use it to help your company continue to grow.
Creating and implementing a knowledge transfer plan is neither simple nor easy. Rather, it requires strategic planning, attention to detail, and a lot of work — which can make trying to handle it internally a risky proposition. That’s why many organizations outsource the process to companies that specialize in knowledge management, training and documentation.
Assuming that you’ve already come to that same conclusion, here are four things you can do to get started.
- First and most important, is to identify the specific business drivers that are powered by your subject matter expertise. These drivers vary greatly from one organization to the next, but at a minimum, they might include:
- Product or service design and production details that control product quality
- Insights into channel and supply chain partners that influence inventory and throughput
- Problem diagnosis and resolution that drives sales or service quality
- Market intelligence regarding customers and competitors that inform competitive advantage
You may have some of this information captured already. But if you’re like many organizations, there’s much more knowledge that is vital to your success, yet currently exists only in the heads of your SMEs. That’s the kind of intellectual property that an effective knowledge transfer plan can capture and make available to other people in your organization.
- The next step is to identify those SMEs whose knowledge is most important to your ability to achieve key business goals. These could include senior sales executives or leaders, R&D scientists or engineers, business development specialists, and others with significant or specialized institutional knowledge. One of the realities is that because of their seniority, these individuals are probably not as readily accessible as other younger employees, so it makes sense to begin planning early about how to best engage with them to extract their knowledge.
- Next conduct at least an initial inquiry into what information you currently have. As noted, there may be a lot of valuable information in the heads of your SMEs, but it’s also worth considering all the other resources that comprise your organization’s knowledge base. These could include training materials, articles, presentations, proposals, and countless other internal sources.
- The last critical step in your preparation is to consider what the organization is willing to invest in continuity, success, and growth. When creating your budget, keep in mind the financial value of your SMEs’ information and knowledge — and the fact that it could vanish in just a few years, unless you have a workable solution. In addition, there may be a range of budget line items that deserve a fresh look, such as travel and accommodations expenses related to instructor-led training that could be more efficiently addressed with new eLearning and other solutions. Last, if you’re considering expanding into new markets, opening new facilities, or finding new supply chain partners, superior knowledge transfer solutions can help make each of those initiatives far more successful.
The next step: find an experienced partner who can help you
To get started, it’s critical to find an organization with experience in developing and implementing sound knowledge transfer plans. The investment you make now will mitigate the risk of your knowledge assets literally walking out the door — and will continue to pay strategic dividends for years to come.