When I talk to CIOs, one of their biggest concerns is digital transformation. As a former IT executive who has led a number of digital transformation projects, I understand their concern.
Digital transformation is more than technical. It’s also procedural and cultural. It can change how thousands of employees do their jobs, make business decisions, and collaborate across the company. In short, digital transformation can change everything.
This is where change management and training come in to help with a roll out. They teach employees how systems work, but not necessarily how to get the most out of them. When your goal is increased productivity and innovation, that’s a big problem. It’s also a potential risk.
Knowledge transfer is a tool CIOs can use to help manage digital transformation, close skill gaps, and reduce adoption risk. It empowers employees to manage their own skill development and gives them access to the tools, expertise, and documentation they need to become an expert on a new system. It’s a simple process that gives employees the support they need to be great at their jobs even when the company is changing around them.
Example: A rollout that nearly failed
A large manufacturing company that I once worked with invested hundreds of millions of dollars on a new ERP system. The primary goal was to improve the productivity of its accounting team, which would allow the company to close its monthly books in five days or less. However, when the company rolled out the new system, it took 21 days to close the books.
Teams began pointing fingers at one another. Accounting blamed IT. IT blamed training. Change management had scorecards that showed green. It was a mess.
When the numbers were in, the team could see what had gone wrong. Accounting didn’t understand how to use the new system. They had been using a custom built application that largely prevented mistakes. Now, there were no guard rails and the training materials hadn’t prepared them to work without them.
Use knowledge transfer to close skill gaps
When the company realized the problem, it quickly rolled out a knowledge transfer process to train the accounting team to use the new system. Within 45 days, the accountants had acquired the skills they needed and went on to close the monthly books in just three days.
The process is simple and effective. Here’s how it works:
- Identify an expert to set the standard. Your goal is to train a team of people to be experts in the new system. Identify the person in your company that you believe sets the standard. Then, ask her or him to participate in the program.
- Create a skill development plan. Work with the expert to identify the skills that an apprentice will need to develop in order to become proficient in the new application. Then, break down each of these skills into teachable blocks that will take one hour to learn.
- Empower the apprentice. Unlike traditional teacher/student relationships, knowledge transfer puts the apprentice in the driver’s seat. Apprentices have the most to gain from knowledge transfer, so arming them with tools, processes, and goals allows them to get to work in a way that works for them.
- Test the transfer. Create a series of questions for each lesson. When the apprentice can answer each of the questions to the expert’s satisfaction, both the expert and the apprentice can be confident that the new skill has been acquired. Once the skill development plan is complete, the organization can be confident that the apprentice is now proficient in the new application.
I have seen knowledge transfer work for hundreds of people in a variety of functions. I have seen it used to transfer technical skills from one person to another, across teams, and across geographies.
If you’re working on a digital transformation initiative in your company, look at your risk assessment. If your team has flagged user adoption risk as a key concern, think about how you can use knowledge transfer to mitigate that risk, close skill gaps, and keep teams happy. It’s one of the very best ways to give employees the support they need to excel at their jobs, as the company transforms around them.
Traci Hudson is a consultant at the Steve Trautman Co., where she helps CIOs mitigate talent risk, close skill gaps, and accelerate knowledge transfer. Previously, she was a senior IT executive at United States Steel.