During my travels I try to pay attention to commonalities in my interactions across leadership groups, industries, and regions. There is one thing that has been nearly universal in recent discussions.

It seems the great recession has caused many industries to now see a gap in their talent development; some companies simply did not hire people for as long as six years. Some may have even laid off a percentage their newer employees. Or, once the market turned, the newer employees left to find a different challenge.

Fast-forward to today and many businesses have noticed a gap in their talent pool. Succession planning, high-potential development, having the right amount of skilled labor, preparing for retirement, and attracting talent are only a few of the challenges facing organizations. Different businesses have different needs, but the theme seems to be consistent.

While it takes on many forms in many different situations, one thing is universal: Knowledge transfer. Businesses need to figure out how to get the knowledge capital from their experienced workers into the minds of their newer employees.

We often tackle this issue with our clients. Today I wanted to offer a few hints.

It is nearly universal that some of an organization’s best people are what is called “unconsciously competent.” In other words, they really don’t know how they know everything they know! (You may want to read that again.)

I use the example of driving a car. You get in the car, turn the key, and drive. Fifty miles later you arrive and have accomplished literally hundreds of micro tasks along the way. You’re not even conscious that you are accomplishing these small things that lead to your safe trip home.

Likewise, some of your best folks accomplish hundreds of micro tasks along the way and have no conscious memory of doing them. Like driving the car, it’s just what they do.

Now, here comes the rub. Since these are your best folks, there is a tendency to ask them to be mentors of new talent. On the surface, it’s a brilliant idea. In practice, it can be a fatal mistake.

Since your unconsciously competent and experienced folks don’t know how they know what they know, how can they possibly pass along what they know if they don’t know how they know it. (I’m pretty certain you’ll need to read that one again!)

While I am making light of it, do not fall into this trap. All you may be accomplishing is frustrating your senior folks and, also, your new talent. Your newer talent will ask questions, and rightfully so. Your experienced folks will not know how to answer and will become frustrated. They will also start to believe the new talent is either lazy or stupid! This may be harsh, but we see it more often than not.

There are better ways to pass along and transfer knowledge. If you must use your unconsciously competent and experienced folks, please, please, please get them some training on how to be a mentor.

If you are using your experienced folks to train the next generation, please, please, please get them some training on how to train. We find, more often than not, experienced folks droning on and on and on and the audience tuning them out and missing very important information.

Across the board, across the country, and around the world knowledge transfer is a topic of conversation at every level of an organization. Do not make some of the common mistakes and think knowledge and experience can be transferred so easily.

Help your experienced pros learn how to help your future pros.

art of knowledge exchange