posted 22 Jul 2008 in Volume 11 Issue 10
Incoming knowledge? Got a clue?
The managing director of The Center for Generational Studies accepts the importance of transferring knowledge from departing to incoming employees, but is troubled by too little focus on changing management strategies.
By Robert Wendover
The transfer and management of knowledge will continue to bedevil organisations for decades to come.
While technology poses a number of barriers, the successful collection of wisdom and insights from veteran workers, and the transfer of this knowledge to the emerging generations, may well set forth the most insurmountable of obstacles due to the human interactions required.
What follows are five trends believed to represent the most formidable of these barriers. Consider the questions at the end of each topic to assess how it may impact your actions and the actions of those around you.
Perception of the value and relevance of knowledge
The value of knowledge must be measured in different ways. Skills may be essential to daily operations, but the vision and insights gathered over years of experience set organisational strategy - not to mention helping to avoid crises when they appear.
But how will those in the emerging generations perceive the value of knowledge they may not comprehend or appreciate at the time?
Using the case of technology as their guide, some have made the leap that if a certain body of knowledge is not available in a digital form, it must be no longer relevant. In other cases this knowledge may not appear meaningful, as application of it is not necessarily immediate.
It will be incumbent upon organisations to convince younger workers of the value of knowledge while delivering it in a way that demonstrates relevancy.
Questions to consider: What steps does your organisation need to take to convince young users of the relevance and applicability of a particular base of knowledge? What kinds of information within your environment will prove particularly challenging to transfer and manage?
The impact of convenience on critical thinking
Technology has always been a mixed blessing. Society appears to be migrating towards a model of menu-driven thinking that replaces traditional problem solving approaches with choice-oriented applications.
On one level, this kind of technology can enhance the delivery of training and instruction by offering applications that appeal to young minds by addressing their expectation of entertainment and stimulation. At the same time, it can be argued the nuances of critical thinking are lost on those who develop a reliance on menu-driven options to make decisions.
Yes, simulations and games may offer solutions to this challenge, but the technology and true integration of this approach is in its infancy.
Questions to consider: What knowledge bases within your organisation are amenable to being managed using a technological platform? What knowledge bases will prove difficult because of their nature of problem-solving orientation? What steps can you take to address the challenges of both?
The influence of impatience and non-stop stimulation
The emerging generations are products of a 24/7/365 multi-media environment that leaves many uncomfortable with silence.
The nature of knowledge transfer, especially within non-technical realms, is based largely on patient information gathering and processing. A classic example of this is the passing of wisdom and insights from a veteran to an emerging leader. The methodology for this typically consists of story telling, discussion and repeated exposure to the environment.
For the impatient young learner, this may be a struggle, especially if the mentor is less than effective at investing in the value of what the protege has to offer. These relationships cannot be forced, but contain the transfer of knowledge critical to organisational health over time.
Questions to consider: How can you best coach veteran managers and leaders to work with emerging professionals in transferring their base of knowledge and wisdom effectively? How can you convince emerging workers of the value of story-telling, interviews and reflection as an effective menu for learning and embracing a non-technical knowledge base?
Rejection of veteran’s knowledge
Many have assumed young workers will reject the knowledge of experienced contributors out of hand. But this is not so much an outright rejection as a search for relevance.
While experience is hailed as buttressing knowledge, it can also bedevil the transfer of critical information by obscuring it with non-essential data, insights and stories. After all, the older we become, the more we tend to use the past as a reference point for the present.
Emerging workers have little patience for enduring the embellished tales of the 30-year veteran. This is not new. It has been exacerbated by the impatience and over-stimulation mentioned above.
If knowledge is to be transferred successfully, both parties must work collaboratively. Veteran workers must distill their experiences and wisdom down to the essentials. Emerging workers must accept the fact that the nuances of this transfer will take considerable time and effort, with those currently possessing the knowledge.
Questions to consider: How can you encourage workplace veterans to share their knowledge and insights in ways that are most appealing to the emerging generations? How can you encourage young workers to embrace the relevance of the knowledge they are learning and to work collaboratively with veteran contributors to facilitate the process?
Expectations of continuous learning
The emerging generations have concluded that knowledge and skills equal versatility. This versatility will, they believe, enhance their ability to remain consistently employed in a meaningful way. They willingly embrace opportunities to develop new proficiencies and learn new disciplines. For this reason alone, most eagerly search for novel experiences and knowledge bases to conquer.
The acquisition of these skills and knowledge bases, however, should not be equated with topical mastery.
Veteran workers are sometimes put off by the youthful desire of some young professionals because they see little evidence of an ability to apply these newly-acquired skills within the environment. Given a choice between working with a 20-year veteran who has a high school diploma and a newly minted MBA, veterans will tend to embrace the person with the years of experience.
Organisations will need to manage the transfer of knowledge to those most willing to embrace mastery of a topic over time effectively. This will require a system that effectively addresses several issues:
Reluctance on the part of older workers to share knowledge that some equate with job security;
Skepticism on the part of emerging workers that the knowledge is relevant to them, not just within the organisation, but in a broader context;
The desire to learn using delivery methods that young workers embrace, such as simulations and Web 2.0 applications.
Encouraging the patience, reflection and endurance required for emerging workers to master the bases of knowledge contained within their areas of responsibility.
Questions to consider: How can you and your organisation successfully address the issues identified above? What resources will be required to do so? What obstacles can you anticipate in addressing these issues.
How do you ...
convince the emerging generation of the value of ‘old’ knowledge?
know what knowledge will be challenging to transfer and manage?
know which knowledge bases suit a technology platform?
coach veterans to work with emerging professionals?
convince young workers of the value of tacit, as well as explicit, knowledge?
What resources will be required to address these issues? What obstacles can you anticipate?
The managing director of The Center for Generational Studies explains why these questions are important and asks you for answers. If you don’t have answers, there’s more to come. Look for a major workshop with Bob Wendover in a future issue of Inside Knowledge magazine.
Robert Wendover is managing director of The Center for Generational Studies,