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Knowledge transfer mentoring—Part 1 Why your KM strategy should include mentoring

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Large aerospace company

APQC’s research also featured an aerospace company that chose to appear anonymously. The company treats mentoring as one element of an enterprisewide knowledge sharing initiative designed to help it stay competitive and maintain technical excellence. A centralized mentoring lead resides in the HR function and provides tools and resources to support an array of mentoring programs across the company.

One of those mentoring programs focuses on the company’s large workforce of engineers. The company uses mentoring to get engineers up to speed when they join the organization, to close identified skill gaps and to prepare engineers to take on more senior technical roles and responsibilities in the future. Similarly, if a long-tenured engineer is nearing retirement, his or her formal knowledge transfer plan may indicate that he or she should serve as a mentor to ensure certain knowledge is retained.

Some engineers proactively request mentors, whereas others are recommended to the program by managers or technical lead engineers within their work groups. Managers usually try to pair mentees with mentors within their immediate workgroups, but if that is not feasible, mentees use the company’s expertise location system to identify and contact mentors with the requisite expertise.

Serving as a mentor may provide a more appealing alternative to ensure that knowledge is passed on and retained over the long term.

Mentors and mentees have a lot of flexibility to define the learning objectives they will pursue together and the terms of their interactions. For example, they may meet in person or by phone at set intervals, or they may agree to work side by side on a specific project or task. Most pairs use an automated mentoring action plan supplied by the mentoring program to record their activities and track progress against the stated learning goals.

In addition to one-on-one mentoring partnerships, the company encourages employees to seek informal mentoring through its network of topic-based communities. Run as part of the knowledge management (KM) program, they range in formality from communities of excellence—which must formally articulate their goals and how they add value—to less structured communities of practice and online groups. Although the community and mentoring programs are separate, the company believes that both play a vital role in on-the-job learning and the transfer of tacit knowledge.

The engineering workforce development manager said that the engineering mentoring program, in conjunction with communities and other KM initiatives, helps the company deal with attrition and onboarding challenges as well as uniquely technical challenges. Mentees walk away with improved technical skills, but they also feel more connected to the company and have a better understanding of its underlying culture and values.

Next steps

As the examples suggest, some organizations formally link their mentoring and KM efforts, whereas others simply position mentoring as a way for more experienced employees to impart their expertise to the next generation. But regardless of whether the connection is explicit or implicit, APQC recommends that organizations incorporate mentoring into their knowledge retention strategies. While sometimes necessary, formal knowledge capture and transfer projects can be time-consuming and tedious for the people involved—and few departing experts are eager to regurgitate everything they know during long interviews or knowledge modeling sessions. In some instances, serving as a mentor may provide a more appealing alternative to ensure that knowledge is passed on and retained over the long term.

The next article in this series will share detailed advice on designing and implementing a knowledge transfer mentoring program, including how to pair people with the right mentors, tips for structuring mentorships and the best ways to provide training and support. In the meantime, you can learn more about the research and download the full report at apqc.org/mentoring.

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