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Transfer of knowledge: a practical case

Often when telling people that Simple + Smart are the experts in Transfer of Knowledge, I get the question: ‘what does Transfer of Knowledge actually mean?’. Theoretically, Transfer of Knowledge refers to the concept of ensuring that your valuable intellectual property doesn’t walk out the door when your staff do, and that all of your staff are constantly up-to-date with the current processes, procedures, and techniques that are unique to their roles and your organisation.

In practice, it can be so much more than that. For instance: a couple of months ago, I started a project with an IT department in a well established bank. The IT Manager required Simple + Smart to assist the Project Manager with the implementation of an automated testing tool for the front office. Simple + Smart were tasked to “ensure that throughout the implementation, ‘Transfer of Knowledge’ was accomplished”. From the perspective of our definition above, Transfer of Knowledge did not really come into play, as there was no established process or skill set that needed to be preserved. Transfer of Knowledge in this case meant understanding a new skill set and process, clarifying how this would fit in to the current environment, and then defining this information in a clear, concise fashion to ensure ease of communication to, and uptake by, the staff.

Other times different projects call for different definitions of Transfer of Knowledge – tasks can often involve such things as:

Even with the complexities that can arise with differing interpretations of what Transfer of Knowledge means, the one common thread is clear communication that ensures that all stakeholders are aware of all information necessary to be effective and efficient in their roles.

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Transfer of knowledge: the importance of clarity.

Any transfer of knowledge project within your company should really start with a clear and simple understanding of your goals and the scope of the project – after all if you don’t know where you are going, you have little chance to arrive. Without a clearly thought-out and articulated plan any project has much less chance of success, meaning you end up wasting time and energy, and any future attempts at transfer of knowledge projects will be met with, at best, scepticism.

In transfer of knowledge projects, the aim is to ensure that your company’s valuable intellectual property doesn’t walk out the door with staff turnover, and that all employees, especially those that are new, have access to accurate, up-to-date documentation, training and process maps.

It is quite a natural human reaction to feel threatened when a company starts talking about mapping processes for specific roles to ensure that every job can be handed over. Staff can freak out, fearful that they will no longer be indispensable to your company. This means staff can be reluctant to share any information, unfortunately the information they most often hold back is the unique processes/tasks/skills that are the key to your competitive differentiation.

It is imperative therefore, to not only have a unambiguous vision for the project, but also to very clearly articulate this to ensure everyone buys in and is willing to invest their time.

As the project sponsor you also need to be positive to convey not only the necessity of your vision, but also the benefits to all. Easy to say, sometimes quite difficult to achieve.

I always recommend that you think of your audience as you would your customers. Any message needs to be clear, positive, short and, I believe, passionate – talk from your heart. If you’re convinced that what you’re planning is good, there is no challenge that cannot be overcome. A message that is simply expressed, with that touch of beauty that anything truly simple and clear can provide, has much more chance of convincing your staff.

Developing the content for your message should be relatively easy once you have clarified your goals & the scope for the project – your analysis during this initial process should give you the necessary input. As a French Philosopher once said: “what we conceive well, expresses itself clearly”.

With a clear vision, and a clear message, the challenges often associated with transfer of knowledge projects can all but disappear. In fact transfer of knowledge projects can be a very positive experience, after all, it can be extremely rewarding to feel that you are an integral part of the continuity of the company.

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Running your own Business: finding a balance between commitment and casualness

About three years ago when I started my company – Simple + Smart, I immediately invested my time in business networking, took some necessary steps – such as spending a bomb on a designer for both the website and my business cards, and invested oodles of time and energy to ‘make it work’….and so far, it’s worked: we are still here after all! The whole time, I knew that growing my own business was going to be hard work, and would take immense commitment to be a success.

It shocked me then when I discovered that many people seem to run their business almost nonchalantly, with a touch of ease, or half seriousness. For instance, I once met a young lady that left her job in a bank, as she was fed up with the system, and became an independent insurance agent. I asked her at the time why she started her own business instead of looking for a similar job in another company. She told me that she wanted to have the time so that she could return to university.

Whilst I was pleased for her, that she believed she would have such success that she would have enough income and time to herself to pursue her personal goal, it suddenly made me re-examine my own approach to running my business. I started my business with such seriousness. I was committed to doing whatever it took to make it a success. I was fully prepared to work hard and put in many more hours than when I was ‘just’ an employee.

Maybe she had it right though, maybe I needed to take a leaf out of this girls’ book and look at the opportunity that might exist to take more time for myself, to pursue my own personal agenda. About six months later, I found out that the girl had returned to the same bank, with the same job she had so recently left. It turns out she didn’t make it, her business turned out to not be profitable enough to support her idea of returning to university.

Was she not ready? Was she naïve to think that starting her own business with a laid back attitude could reap the types of rewards she needed to follow her dream? After all, starting a business itself in Singapore, is relatively easy. So what exactly does it take to make it work? Can an entrepreneur approach setting up a business in a nonchalant way, and just trust on positive thinking, and having a solid base model to make it a success? Or does it take much more commitment, and focus on ‘making it work’ especially in the early days? Is there a balance that can be reached between casualness and commitment that provides the best possible outcome? While I have had more success in my business than the girl, perhaps I can benefit from taking on board some of her attitude and approach. I certainly won’t just sit back and trust on fate to deliver the next big project, but perhaps I could benefit from taking some more space for myself to ensure that I am not subsuming my own personal goals under the greater goals of the business.

Perhaps I am being a bit of a freak who gives it my all for the business to grow, while missing the opportunity to stop and smell the roses?

I realize now that I am a lot like my father, when I was a child my father was always reluctant to take holidays. He argued that time spent holidaying was time not spent looking for new business, or actually bringing money in. At the time I thought he was getting it all wrong. Many times I told him that he was missing the essence of life. I felt he was not embracing the things that make life worthwhile – holidaying, sharing wine with friends, etc; and therefore it made the focus on making money to live, irrelevant. Now that I run my own business, I understand his dilemma. I understand how hard it is to balance on one hand – the focus on continuously building the business for success, and on the other -taking the time away from this focus to enjoy how having a successful business allows me to live.

I challenge you all to stop for a moment and take a breath, perhaps even smell a rose if there is one available, and reflect on whether you are truly achieving the balance between working hard to fulfill your dreams, and taking the time to live those dreams.

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Transfer of knowledge: impact of Generation Y

A few months ago I blogged about the new habits we are all starting to develop: constant googling, addiction to looking at our mobile devices, and the impact of this new culture on training.

Today, I would like to talk about transfer of knowledge to the Generation Y staff that are entering the market today. In research completed by Karl Fisch, Scott McLeod, and Jeff Brenman, in 2008. It was found that ‘The top ten jobs offered in 2010 did not exist in 2004.’ And that ‘We [were] preparing students for jobs that [didn’t] yet exist, using technologies that [hadn’t] been invented in order to solve problems we [didn’t] even know [were] problems yet.

Generation Y staff come fully equipped with deep exposure to new technologies that provides them with an automatic level of comfort that older generations just don’t have, or have to work hard to achieve. On the other hand, the education that older generations were exposed to provided them with tools to not only tackle their specific roles, but also to problem solve when unexpected challenges arose. When older generations finished their studies they knew where to go to find solutions, and had strong methodology for resolving new problems, often providing them with much stronger capacity for resilience. This difference in mindset when entering the workforce needs to be understood to ensure transfer of knowledge is successful. The new challenge is to train these Generation Y staff that have very little work experience, and also may not have been prepared for the work environment as specifically as we were.

This challenge needs to be met by openly sharing our knowledge, more so than we may previously  have felt comfortable with; and understanding the different ways that different individuals need to be stimulated in order to embrace new information. The open exchange of knowledge brings more enjoyment of work to all parties, it’s not a competition between new technologies and a pen and paper approach, but a fusion, where the whole ends up greater than the sum of its parts. The format with which new information is presented to Generation Y staff is also incredibly important. This is a generation reared on instant gratification, and amazingly rich and interactive learning environments. In order for us to reach their minds, and train them effectively, we need to adapt our methodologies to capture their attention and imaginations

The question remains: are we actually able to do this? Are we ‘old generations’ able to adapt to new tools, and techniques, and even adopt a new language? Are ‘generation Y’ capable of listening, understanding, and then sharing their knowledge?

It’s quite astounding how much new technology we are creating and needing to assimilate to, and the rate at which we develop new technologies is only getting faster. Our thought processes, our ways to resolve problems and to tackle our daily tasks, and the very way our brains work has inevitably changed. We don’t think the same way we would have a century ago, and realistically we would not be able to cope in today’s world if we did. Generation Y is just reflecting this change in a heightened way, as they have grown up in a world where advanced technology has been an integral part of every stage of their development.

Of course this leads us to the almost frightening question of whether technology will soon overwhelm us. Has even Generation Y’s brain evolved enough to handle the new challenges of new technologies, that we can’t even begin to imagine today?

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Workflow & Process: Assuming basic knowledge

Lately we have been working with a new client in a completely new field for us: maritime engineering. The project scope is to create a mobile interactive tool that engineers can access via an iPad wherever they are working remotely on ships, or in the shipyards. The tool is a simple workflow that provides them with a step by step process to perform. The tool acts as an aid to prompt their memory to ensure that every crucial step is completed accurately. The tool is not only for young engineers in the field for the first time, but also for those expert engineers, for whom this may be a new process, or one that they do not complete very often and so may be in need of a reminder.

So, in a few words, this is a very interesting and challenging project. It may be a new field, but wherever we go, we tend to come across the same challenges.

Last week, we were talking about gathering the right information from interviews. Today, let me talk about the challenges that can arise from the common mistake of making assumptions during that process.

Making assumptions is unfortunately part of the human condition, and for the majority of the time they can actually serve us well – assumptions can allow us to cut down on unnecessary detail to get to a destination faster and more efficiently. However, when it comes to understanding and documenting process flow, assumptions can make the difference between a perfectly executed process, and one that literally can make a whole ship go ‘kaboom!’

To avoid this I tend to continually repeat the following during interviews: “assume that I don’t know anything at all about the process you’re explaining, in fact pretend that you are describing this in the most basic fashion to say, a 5 year old.”  The idea is that a comprehensive process map needs to take into account every single step, no matter how obvious it may seem, to truly make it comprehensive, and to ensure that there is no margin for error.

There is a common anecdote for IT helpdesks that the very first question you ask a caller is “Is the computer turned on?” Now this may seem like you are inferring that all users are idiots, and in reality the most common issue is indeed the interface between the chair and the keyboard, but this is also the smartest way to start to fully understand how a process is being conducted, and to be able to define where a fault has occurred. The same bears true when creating a process for the first time, or even documenting an existing process. It is important to ensure that you are covering every single step, no matter how obvious it may seem to those who have a little bit of experience.

Cast your mind back to your very first job. I’m sure you will remember at least one process that, for you now, is a piece of cake and extremely obvious; but at the time, had you feeling more than a little stressed out. This was often due to the fundamental fear of the unknown, but also would have been exacerbated by the pressure of ‘wanting to do it once, and wanting to do it well’. You probably constantly referred to your notes, or manual, or user guide just to be sure. Imagine if a very basic step in the process was missing in that documentation – potential disaster!

The common problem with documentation and process flow is that the ones with the expertise in the process, are usually the ones called on to develop the process map – as only seems logical. However, when experienced staff are the ones to document processes, the demon of assumption is more likely to come into play. The expert has often been performing the role for years, and many tasks have become a reflex. It is easy then, when mapping a process, to neglect some basic steps.

Of course this is why companies like Simple + Smart exist. We have the benefit of being able to say ‘treat us like we are 5 year olds’, and tease out all the details, no matter how ‘obvious’ – without fear of losing face, or having to admit there is a hole in our knowledge that we should have had as ‘base knowledge’ upon entering the role.

There is another reason the experts tend to miss some of the basic steps when charged with mapping processes…. this is purely because it is often viewed with frustration or even boredom. When we are the ones probing for all the process details, we often get the feeling people are thinking “Why are you wasting my time over-analysing these basic and obvious steps?”. Imagine however, that you’re on a tanker with holds full of flammable gas, and the engineer coming to perform his tasks is either new, or hasn’t performed this task for a while, or perhaps had a very big night last night and is a little bleary eyed. Wouldn’t you be more comfortable knowing he’s following a process where nothing at all is take for granted?

Just some food for thought.

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The delicate dance of gathering information

Last week, as you may have noticed, I was on leave, but you’ll be happy to know I am back this week to talk about the delicate art of gathering useful information.

One of the frustrations of my job is that when I am working with clients to provide them with better documentation, the clients themselves often don’t even know where to start to provide us the raw information we require. This means that we have to go into the field and gather the information ourselves, most often by interviewing subject matter experts (SME).

As mentioned in a previous blog, people tend to confide more to external consultants as they feel that their job is not threatened, and that our job, at the end of the day, makes theirs easier. Even with this understanding, gathering information about processes or applications can require quite a bit of subtlety, and make even the most complex tango look like a piece of cake.

The first challenge is not to lose ourselves in the passionate spiel of some fellow that absolutely loves his job and can’t get enough of the intricacies of his role, the product or the process. I call this person ‘the rambler’. With the ‘rambler’ it is important to have a structured list of questions that will make the interview run smoothly. I always have a watch on my wrist, and control the flow of information to keep the interviewee on track.

While it is important to have a clear structure – it is equally important to keep an open mind. While you will start with your list of questions, and don’t want to stray too far from those, if the expert starts to talk about something you haven’t thought about, you need to be open to where they may be taking you. Contradictory though it seems, this is part of the delicacy hinted at in the start of this blog – the fine dance between keeping things on track, clear and un-muddied; and allowing information to organically flow to ensure you are not missing any of the nuances of the information that may prove to be crucial to the entire process. It does require some sort of experience to make that fine distinction between a detail that doesn’t matter at all, and the one that could pre-empt the world’s next ‘ipod’

The second challenge is that of drawing the information out of a non cooperative person. The second type of person I call ‘the controller’. These people often consider that retaining information is power and sharing it is to lose that power. Unfortunately quite often ‘the controller’ type is your ‘expert’, and the person you most need to obtain information from. So how do I deal with ‘the controller’ you ask? I usually find that the best method is to motivate the person, the focus then becomes finding the right leverage to get the information I need. While this can be time consuming, it is well worth the effort, as you can change a ‘controller’ into quite an avid ‘supporter’. Of course finding out what motivates your ‘controller’ is unique every time, and requires some experience in the field – it is similar to anticipating the steps of your dance partner.

Interviewing both the ‘rambler’ and the ‘controller’ can be both challenging and time consuming. Of course, knowing the steps of the dance and having a clear vision of how it fits in with the overall choreography of the organisation, will make it that much easier.

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Business networking: a matter of planting the seeds to let a tree grow

These days an essential part of business is to participate regularly in business networking sessions. With the left pocket of my jacket full of business cards, and a positive attitude, I enter sessions with the clear objective to plant some seeds. The seeds come in different forms, the obvious promotional ones -to tell people what my business is about and how I have helped other organisations in the past; the relationship building ones – to understand the business of the person I am speaking to, and determine if and how I can help this person to connect with other businesses; and my favourite ones of all – the ‘just having a good old time’ with some new potential friends.

Sometimes I wonder if I am the only one who approaches these events in this way. Often I notice people seem to react with great suspicion to other fellow networkers, and seem to feel that networking is an onerous task that one should get over and done with as soon as possible. These people tend to be the ones who treat you like you are a used-car salesman trying to con them into a lemon, and are often the ones who are only there themselves to ‘sell’ whatever it is they have to offer, without any interest in building lasting relationships or enjoying the company of others for the mere sake of it.

In the past my next least favourite networkers were those that seemed to have a personal agenda that was so compelling that it needed to be pushed on to you regardless of the relevance of what you were actually talking about. For instance:

“What is it that you do?” asked an innocent networker

“I’m a transfer of knowledge specialist, you know documentation, user guides, manuals, help online…”

Before I could continue the guy interrupted me like a lightning bolt had struck him: “oh, so you’re doing support online? So if I have a problem, I can call you and you can help me out” Seriously? I thought – SERIOUSLY?!?

It has baffled me how difficult it seemed to be for people to understand my business, when to me it was so clear. My challenge therefore, and I am sure I am not alone in this, was how to describe what I do to people who hear my message through the filter of their own experience. How to ensure clarity of my essential message to a diverse audience? This is absolutely imperative as, if the person I am talking to doesn’t really get it, my seed will never grow, and I will have missed the opportunity to have a beautiful tree. To take the seed analogy even further, successful networking is often not just about the seeds you plant, but also about the seeds you encourage others to take with them, and sow on your behalf in possibly more fertile pastures.

It makes me think about a game we used to play when I was a child; where a group of people sit in a circle, and the first one whispers a story into the ear of the next person, who then whispers the story to the next person and so on. The fun of this game was always in how ridiculously the story would change from the first person to the last. It is not so funny though when the same effect applies to your business message.

So I worked out my business cards, my tag line, and developed an ‘elevator pitch’ that would knock your socks off. The most important thing I have found, however, is to remain flexible. Truly listening to my ‘partner’ in any discussion allows me to connect my message with this specific person. The clearest messages, and the ones that have the greatest chance of retaining their essence in the retelling, are those that resonate strongly with the recipient. Also I have found, that understanding that someone’s misunderstanding of what it is I do, is not necessarily a reflection on the clarity of my message, but on the filter with which the recipient is hearing the message. This not only allows me to reduce my frustration, but also to see it for the opportunity that it is – the opportunity to evolve my message to something that will resonate with someone in a fresh way, one that I may not yet have encountered, but may indeed also play well to others.

So my friends, next time you are at a networking function, sow those seeds with wild abandon, and really connect with others so that they will carry your seeds further afield for you, and then tomorrow, next month, or maybe within the year, you may not be able to see the forest for all those trees.

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