Transferring Knowledge at the Speed of Intent

Part 1 of a 6 part series on Effective Knowledge Transfer

As the saying goes “experience is what you get, just after the event when you really needed it “ – which means that the spectacular journey through life will consist of lots of bumps and bruises, as we explore the outer reaches of our known boundaries and capabilities and discover new ways to test our personal relationship with gravity, frustrating financial realities, confusing relationship dynamics and the general physical and imposed laws governing everything in our known universe, except our mother’s-in-law.

Whilst this may be marginally acceptable as a painful reality in day to day life, it gains significantly unpleasant risks and levels of unacceptability when it comes to matters of engineering and science. And so thankfully, through the lessons and experiments of thousands of great engineers and scientists before us, we have elaborate Codes of Practice, Best Practice Guidelines and critical Factors of Safety to pass on their “hard earned wisdom” to us and the generations to come.

But what happens when we get caught “with our pants down” so to speak – when the codes and guides are at the office and the cell phone signal disappeared three hills back….how do we make a sound engineering judgement call on something we heard about in the pub once, but to which we did not really pay sufficient attention to give us a warm feeling of “knowing” right now…. and there are 10 concrete trucks in a row, 2 special mobile crane rigs, a hellish client relationship, penalties that are measured on the Richter Scale ….and the last SMS you got from your 7 month pregnant girlfriend said that your third bond application had just been rejected… and it’s starting to rain.

Well, if you can’t start drinking heavily, now is the time to draw on all your reserves, both intellectually and emotionally and search your memory banks for first principles, images, experiences, stories, pictures, “cause and effect” relationships and anything else that you can cobble together to make a winning call based on some sound engineering judgement…and just then you have a cacophonic memory recall, resembling an F16 in Mach 2 attack mode, of an email from the “Centres of Excellence” champion from the Civil’s Division, inviting you once again to attend the monthly Knowledge Sharing Forums on “Site Challenges and Solutions” and all you can remember are the last three lame excuses you had used to miss them !

Unfortunately, this light hearted look at life on site is tragically, more often than not, a reality.

One of the greatest misconceptions on our “potholed and power plagued” Continent is the view that knowledge, experience and wisdom are tradable commodities, which can be bought, sold, transferred or instantly acquired, for a price directly linked to the extent of the emergency, risk or international image needed.

And herein lies the greatest challenge for the effective gathering, packaging, sharing, transferring and storing of Knowledge, as it is often simply misconstrued as Information. We cannot say everything we know about a life- long career’s experiences and we cannot write everything we can say, so by the time we get to recording some of our gems on paper or in the corporate database, our wisdom has been significantly diluted and contains little or no context.

“Knowledge” is after all, essentially “Information in Context”

“Knowledge Sharing” and “Knowledge Transfer” involves the complex cognitive and emotive processes of Perception, Intellect, Emotion, Recall, Learning, Communication, Association and Reasoning to name a few – the effectiveness of which is almost impossible to measure in terms of both Content and Context through the transmitters and receptors of the sender or Knowledge Sources and the receivers or Knowledge Seekers.

Effective Knowledge Transfer and ultimately Knowledge Management should ideally become a core organisational capability and competitive edge, involving an interdependent synthesis between people, processes and technologies, which should be focused on increasing an organisation’s ability to act effectively and promptly, with a continuously improving quality of decision making and timing, in line with well communicated organisational objectives, in order to generate increasing stakeholder value.

And so whilst our esteemed colleagues in the amorphous field of Industrial Psychology dabble with attempts to find the elusive holy grail of effective long term “people development” through the research and publishing of elaborate Organisational Development and Human Capital Management models, each with its own complex competencies and behavioural characteristics, experience in big and small business across all sectors of the economy shows us that we have not got it right yet ….and then throw into the pot Transformation Agendas, Generational Differences, Divergent Cultural Beliefs and Norms, Academic Inconsistencies and Fanatical Curry Cup Allegiances – the “business end” responsibility of “making things happen” through managing complex proposals, projects and people, with every increasing levels of inexperienced young staff, hungry for rapid ascension to the throne, relying on decreasing numbers of ageing, experienced engineers and specialists to get the job done on time and within the appropriate cost and quality constraints.

So how do we go about creating an environment conducive to effective and sustainable Knowledge Transfer, with a culture of “needs based” knowledge discovery, involving knowledge sharing habits and practices that connect our experts and knowledge assets through tools and techniques, into a seamless synthesis of people, practices and protocols.

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One solution is Intentional Knowledge Transfer through well developed processes such as Tacit Knowledge Discovery, Expert Knowledge Forums, Communities of Practice and Structured Mentoring – all of which are formalised, disciplined and outcomes based approaches to transferring scarce and critical skills, as well as key knowledge and wisdom, from experienced engineers and scientists to younger less experienced personnel, through a series of tried and tested Knowledge Sharing techniques.

Intentional Knowledge Transfer is essentially when one individual, or group of individuals, with a significantly developed “knowledge base” agrees to share their substantial treasure chest of personally developed, learned and acquired intellectual property, with another individual, or group of individuals, for the direct benefit of the recipient/s, as well as the organisation (ie, genuine sharing with a sincere intent to transfer the best possible information, context and options available). This knowledge base may take the form of scarce and critical skills, key knowledge and experience, intrinsic or learned behavioural competencies, intuition and insights, heuristics and rules of thumb, contacts and professional networks, ideas and opinions, core capabilities and natural talents, specialist techniques and methodologies and any other form of “knowledge capital” that defines and differentiates an expert from an “also ran”.

Intentional Knowledge Transfer should include both a practical as well as an emotional journey in order to ensure long term sustainability through effective memory retention, and therefore a substantial effort should be made at the outset of any Intentional Knowledge Transfer intervention, to establish a relationship with transparent and mutually agreed knowledge goals and which is based on complete integrity and intent through a values based, knowledge sharing organisational culture of commitment, trust, honesty, mutual respect and fun – the essential magic ingredients of sustainable knowledge transfer.

It could be argued that any real potential of a prosperous and self sustained future on our continent, independent of extensive reliance on international and ” ex-pat” technical expertise, or ageing local “baby boomer” experts, will depend heavily on our current and short term future ability to remove the barriers of job security fear and knowledge being a source of “hoardable” personal power and start building the bridges of mutual trust, open communication and genuine collaboration through disciplined, openly recognised and well rewarded interventions such as Intentional Knowledge Transfer.

In the next article, we will look at various ways and proven techniques in which Knowledge Sources (Knowledge Experts) and Knowledge Seekers (Knowledge Users) can develop an effective relationship to ensure optimum knowledge sharing and transfer.