Monday 5 September 2011

A new look at mentoring in knowledge transfer

Mentors Reading with Children at Purdue College Mentors for Kids Mentoring and coaching are tried and tested ways of transferring knowledge between an older experienced person, and a younger less experienced person. However this relationship often breaks down. In a recent study for a client we found that knowledge transfer through mentoring was running at about 20% of the efficiency that was needed.

When the relationship broke down, the two sides blamed each other (“he won’t tell me anything”. "he never asks me anything" (remember this?)), but in reality there were very few incentives to build the trusting relationship required for effective coaching. 

Part of the problem with the traditional view of mentoring is that accountability for knowledge transfer lies with the coach or mentor. It is written into their job description, they are coached in the process of mentoring, and they take a leading role. The status of "having knowledge" is compounded with the status of "driving the process". The mentee plays a passive role, and we end up with "Knowledge Push" if we aren't careful. We end up with Teaching; not necessarily with Learning. At the same time, the mentor is still busy doing what he or she sees as "real work", and when push comes to shove, real work takes precedence over mentoring. As far as the coach or mentor is concerned, there isn't much of an incentive to do the coaching. This is especially true of the experienced person is due to retire. Ineffective transfer of knowledge is "not my problem" as far as the retiree is concerned.

More recently we have been looking at changing this realtionship. If the mentee is given an active status, that of a "dedicated learner", and is trained in the skills and processes of knowledge elicitation and interviewing, there is a change in the dynamic. The mentee takes a more active, more leading role - almost like an investigative reporter, or an industrial spy. After all, ineffective transfer of knowledge IS "my problem" as far as the mentee is concerned. It becomes a Learning-driven process, not a teaching-driven process.  That learning can be planned, through a learning plan, and monitored and measured. And as he or she learns, then instead of just taking notes in their personal note book, they start to build knowledge assets in the company knowledge base. So as well as transferring the tacit skills, a documented knowledge base can be created as well. Now we have knowledge driven by Pull, not Push, which as we know is far more effective.

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