Knowledge Transfer—Support Learning, Don’t Control It!

As a learning professional for over 15 years, I have designed, developed, facilitated, evaluated and basically "done it all." But when I was asked to lead knowledge transfer for our off-shoring efforts, I realized I still had a lot to learn.

I started out in the corporate university at a large company. We were a team of highly skilled, highly trained, well-respected learning professionals. Everyone in the company knew who we were and what we did, but there were still these unconverted "rebel training teams" out there on the loose and, even worse, those subject matter experts (SME) who thought they could actually train others! How dare they do my job without the experience, credentials, title, adult learning theory—the list goes on. After all, I was part of the corporate university, and we knew that if we didn’t control the content and how people learned it would be disastrous. I mean, how could you actually learn something without adult learning theory behind it? "Impossible," I said.

Well, fast forward a few years. The university was disbanded, the training teams were slashed…er…displaced. However you put it, for very good business reasons, we were reorganized and a lean learning community was all that was left. At one point it looked as though all was lost. But just like the Whos in Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, learning happened anyway. How could this be? The university was not there to ensure that all of the I’s were dotted and the T’s were crossed on the content before it was shared. The governance around learning evaluation was absent. They said it was a meeting, but it was really training. Did anyone care? No, the point was that the Whos were doing it themselves—it wasn’t pretty, but they were muddling through. All the while technology was playing right into the Whos’ hands. They had Wikis, blogs and Facebook. They had instant messaging and net meetings! It looked as though the properly-trained learning professional may be a thing of the past. So how can we use our skills to ensure learning is not just happening, but that it’s also effective and efficient?

During my work in supporting our off-shoring efforts, I realized that, with such a lean training community, we had no choice but to rely on the SMEs to share their knowledge. Did we have time to teach them adult learning theory and how to effectively facilitate? And how about Kirkpatrick’s learning evaluation theory? Not only did we not have time for that, but it seemed unlikely that the SMEs would have an appetite for such skill building, or the time during an off-shoring transition. Then a brilliant discovery! In our operations group a veteran trainer, once a member of the corporate university, had been facilitating a course that enabled SMEs to coach and teach successfully. He facilitates, in a very traditional manner, a very nontraditional course called Structured Job Coaching. The audience is filled with subject matter experts. They learn how important their role as a coach and teacher is to the business. They learn how to ensure comprehension by understanding that adults need to "do," not just "see." They learn how to evaluate progress and coach on development needs.

This veteran trainer quickly became my hero! I introduced his course, and the concept of supporting the SMEs, to the off-shoring community. The trainers focused their efforts on making the SMEs successful in their coaching/teaching role. The off-shoring transition timelines were not slowed down with traditional training methods, and the new hires in India successfully learned their new skills and met service level agreements.

So what is the key to success? Let go! Let go of the content, let go of the evaluation, and start supporting the learning! Put your efforts in helping the SMEs (and the learners) have a better experience during their knowledge sharing or "knowledge transfer." Help the Whos help themselves. This is easier said than done, especially for those of us who have been formally trained in human performance and know there is a "right" way of doing things. Yes, for some business learning needs, the traditional design and development of content is very appropriate and worthy of the money and effort that goes into that type of solution. But, for much of the fast-paced business world, we must support learning at the speed of business. So, if the only place the content resides is in the SME’s head, then help him or her figure how to pull it out and share it with others in the most productive way. With Wikis, blogs, instant messaging and other tools at SME and learner finger tips, it’s going to happen anyway. So as trainers, I say we stop fighting the change, and add value in this new world of content development and sharing. It won’t be perfect, but it will be fast, and surprisingly, very effective. And, the more the learning community supports and coaches that SME, the more successful the knowledge transfer will be. It may even bring those "rebel training groups" and "teaching SMEs" out of hiding to ask for help. Then, like all of the Whos in Who-ville, we can all join hands and watch learning happen.

First published on Human Resources IQ.