Deep smarts: Experience-based business-critical knowledge
Dorothy LeonardDeep smarts: when you've got them, you want to keep them.
In the project business, deep smarts could be the SMEs with the bona fides in some technology or knowledge domain that win new business -- those individuals that are the discriminating difference between winning on exceptional merit, or a me-too offer that's probably only got cost going for it.
Or, deep smarts are what leaders have that makes the difference between delivering discriminating and strategic business value, or simply another entry in a crowded space.
And the issue is? ....
These folks know their value and they not prone to shoot themselves in the foot, to wit: if an attractive offer comes along, they might just take it!
And, they may be just a bit self-serving (actually, who isn't from time to time?) as they may "hoard knowledge", building an asset for that possible day. (Who's not proud of the experience they have, or the special capabilities they've developed?)
But anyone who has tried to do "knowledge transfer" as both associates and consultants walk out of the door know that it's no small matter to be effective in retaining the know-how in-house.
Indeed, whenever I've added consultants to a team, I've always assumed that my investment is short-lived. That my ROI from staff has to be immediate, because there's no long-term future, benefit, or return coming from temporary staff themselves. Thus, their contribution has to be in the sustaining difference made in the business itself -- everything else walks on.
Dorothy Leonard has addressed this issue for us. In her book "Critical Knowledge Transfer" -- with co-authors Swap and Barton; and in an hbr.org she makes these points:
Lack of time or resources can, of course, constrain knowledge transfer. But one barrier to passing deep smarts along to the next generation that is often unaddressed is the expert’s inclination to hoard knowledge.
Financial incentives, personal ego, and discontent or frustration with the company are three of the top reasons individuals choose to keep their expertise to themselves.
But they’re also three issues that managers can actually change.
And, so what to do? My approach:
- Pair up: from the outset, pair some permanent staff with the temps. Give the paring a mission: No knowledge hoarding!
- Exit plan: Figure out what to ask, and how to capture the answers as the SME prepares to leave. Be sure to let the SME know what they can't walk out with
- Retention incentives: when someone announces an untimely departure, try for an extension with a retention incentive but only if there is commitment to share knowledge
- Document: if it's intellectual property per se, document it, but don't forget the non-disclosure agreement. You might even file a patent or record a trade-mark
- Non-compete: if you're concerned about a SME walking over to a competitor, a non-compete agreement may be required
- No enemies: Avoid the burning bridge. Stuff has a way of coming back, and you might just find that useful
- Kiss-and-tell: You might want to get an agreement on any pre-approval of post-employment tales that might find their way into social or professional media, publications, etc.
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