Knowledge Transfer and Legacy PlanningApril 22, 2013 | By Maurielle Balczon
“When you’re at the inflection point to grow, how you respond will determine not only success or failure, but ultimately your legacy.” –Nancy Egan, President, New Voodou Brand Strategies.
A long-term career full of lessons learned gives seasoned leaders deep smarts, but who is going to take on that knowledge as the organization continues to grow over time? How will critical content be transferred even after the current leadership’s tenure is over? All levels of the organization feel they own a piece of the business but, without a plan for the continuity of knowledge, the hard won work may quickly unravel as senior leadership take on other avenues in life.
In organizational theory, knowledge transfer is the practical problem of passing along information from one part of the organization to another. It seeks to organize, create, capture or distribute knowledge and ensure its availability for future users. If it were merely a matter of communication, then a memorandum, e-mail or meeting would accomplish the intellectual sync. So why does there always seem to be an epic disturbance when top leadership turns over to a new generation, which frequently results in a temporary yet unfortunate implosion of the business rhythm?
The truth is that critical knowledge is both technical and contextual, and so for a company to perpetuate the important lessons learned from both facets, what is actually required is the legacy planning of an organization’s experiential capital. Legacy planning, as a part of knowledge transfer, is an ongoing process that involves participatory decision-making which intermingles current leadership and those strategically chosen to be included from the incoming generation. Candidly, knowledge transfer is so much more than a statement of fact catalogued on some document. That memo or email is just a snapshot of something that was relevant at a particular moment in time, and will most likely go unacknowledged into the oblivion of the internet once sent unless it is given greater context. Beyond instantaneous relevance, legacy planning ensures intellectual, experiential and behavioral consistency progressively moving forward.
In our practice, Wayne O’Neill & Associates sees four pivotal choices that organizations have with knowledge transfer and legacy planning:
1. When growth strategies are set at an executive level (which is most often older), are you ensuring that the mid-level managers or sales /operations teams (which are often younger) understand why the senior executives are moving in this direction? This is an opportunity to bring cohesion between strategy and execution.
2. Is the senior leadership team engaging in conversation with mid-management and sales/operations teams who are working most directly with clients to gather their technical and experiential lessons-learned about the current needs of the markets they serve? This is an opportunity for sales growth and product or service development.
3. Is the organization actively pursuing intergenerational conversations as part of their decision-making process, and allowing for mentoring over time? This is an opportunity for leadership evolution.
4. Are there easily accessible, tangible means to supplement the pivotal conversations senior leadership is having so that everyone in the organization can participate in some way? This is an opportunity to have cutting-edge input and to be accountable to the organization’s primary stakeholders- it’s team.
Knowledge transfer is complex because so much of it resides in individual networks, tools and tasks. In addition, the lessons learned are often unspoken, inferred, highly intuitive, or hard to articulate. Wayne O’Neill & Associates recognizes the complexities of managing knowledge transfer and brings such issues to the forefront with clients so that they can be leveraged as a catalyst for growth. What others often see as a challenge, we see as a game-changing opportunity.