At this year’s Bootcamp on Training Strategies, Marco Beaulieu, Head of Knowledge Management and Product Development Engineering at Bombardier Aerospace, and Laurent Simon, Associate Professor in the Department of Entrepreneurship and Innovation and co-director of the Mosaic research group at HEC Montréal held talks on detecting and transferring knowledge. Here’s a brief summary of what was said.
The loss in expertise that comes with the retirement of senior employees constitutes a potential threat for the stability of any given organization. With the upcoming wave of baby-boom retirements, knowledge transfer becomes a key issue for companies from all lines of business. As a solution to this problem, Bombardier Aerospace decided to lead a large scale knowledge transfer project involving the major players from the aeronautics industry, as Marco Beaulieu explains.
Expertise as a Legacy
“The Héritage Project was launched in 2014, in collaboration with AéroMontréal, Emploi-Québec, and all of the industry’s supply chain. We also receive support from HEC Montréal’s Mosaic team, who have a vast expertise in this domain, and a research/action approach that fits our requirements perfectly. They guide us through the process of setting up our knowledge transfer policy and the steps that have to be taken, all of which we want to develop in accordance with best practices, so this process can be used by the whole industry,” says Mr. Beaulieu.
Researchers from Mosaic first conducted interviews in the field in order to assess the contexts and issues specific to intergenerational knowledge transfer for various positions and departments in partner companies, and to detect best practices and their related positive effects. Drawing on the results of the interviews, and comparing them with existing studies, the team came up with a “Solutions Menu” that allows managers and employees to identify and apply transfer practices that best suit their situation, while assessing the critical and somewhat challenging nature of documenting knowledge.
To foster knowledge transfer, Bombardier does not ask its senior employees to sit through tedious analysis sessions, with a blank piece of paper in front of them. “First, they fill out a questionnaire, so they’re adequately prepared. We then rely on storytelling: they tell us how they work, what their greatest accomplishments are, about their network, and so on. We, on the other hand, map out their knowledge so we can identify what constitutes critical knowledge, and what steps must be taken to acquire it,” adds Mr. Beaulieu. Feedback from participating employees is very positive: “They enjoy this approach and are proud to pass on their knowledge to future generations,” he explains.
The approach put forth by Mosaic stresses the importance of relying on simple practices, available for immediate use to encourage an official and well documented transfer of critical knowledge. It also emphasizes the necessity to make these practices as social as possible, in the spirit of sharing and collaborative action, as demonstrated by the employees themselves.
A Culture Worth Spreading
According to Mr. Beaulieu, one of the main challenges that come with knowledge management is finding experts who can make themselves available. Another is to consider knowledge management as a cultural shift to implement, rather than a one-time project. “To do so, the project must be a priority for the organization, valued by its management teams, and integrated to the assessment and performance criteria of those who take part in it.” In the end, this method of transferring knowledge should not only concern those about to retire, but anyone changing positions within the organization. This way, even though people move on, the knowledge and expertise remains a lasting legacy.
Marco Beaulieu is an expert in the management of knowledge and informative and collaborative systems. Since 2011, he has been the lead on a project to change the knowledge management approach of Bombardier’s engineering teams across the world.
Laurent Simon conducts research on the management of creation in the innovation society, notably with qualitative approaches on the management of creative projects in various industries. He is the author of a dozen scientific articles on this topic. His teachings cover the management of creation for innovative purposes, design-thinking for innovation, etc. He chairs the Mosaic research group and co-facilitates the Montreal-Barcelona Summer School in creation management, of which he is also a co-founder.