Choose the Right Approach

Choosing a process to transfer organizational knowledge can be tricky. You’ll need to decide whether to focus on capturing knowledge in reusable formats or ensuring it is passed directly from person to person, whether the process should be facilitated or self-directed, and whether to involve technology. Choosing a knowledge management process to transfer organizational knowledge can be tricky.

The most common approaches typically fall into four categories: formal knowledge transfer; community- and peer-based approaches; learning sessions and events; and content and documentation.

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Approaches to Address Classic Knowledge Management Needs

Use this APQC collection to understand potential KM approaches and the pros, cons, requirements, and expected benefits of each. Compare options and identify an approach that will work for your organization. Developed by APQC’s Advanced Working Group, this collection was created with input from ConocoPhillips, MITRE, Pfizer, and other APQC member organizations.

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Systematic vs. Organic Knowledge Transfer: What’s the Difference?

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When deciding on the best knowledge transfer approach, consider whether your approach should be systematic or organic.

Systematic processes focus on collaboration between the KM team and business leaders, managers, and subject matter experts. Together, they articulate which knowledge should enter the pipeline, how it should be documented and transferred, and who should learn from and use the outputs of the process. These approaches typically include well-defined processes and timelines, clear oversight, and outcome measures to determine whether objectives have been met. 

Organic processes focus more on the tools and approaches for knowledge transfer, and less on the sources and recipients of knowledge. Individual business units, functions, project teams, and employees commonly decide what knowledge is worth sharing and then to make that knowledge available to others. In these scenarios, business leaders and the KM team provide the toolkit and enablers, but do not define the end-to-end process.

Learn more about transferring and applying critical knowledge

APQC provides unparalleled access to valuable resources including research, expertise, and benchmarking tools that have helped our knowledge management program continuously improve and stay informed.

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3 Questions to Help You Choose the Right Knowledge Transfer Approach

Use these three questions to help you decide between systematic or organic transfer for a particular knowledge need: 

  1. How easily can the knowledge be put into documents or other explicit formats?
    Organic methods are best suited to dealing with knowledge that can be easily translated into white papers, case studies, templates, and presentations. Systematic methods are best suited to person-to-person transfer, either directly from the source of the knowledge to the recipient (e.g., formal training and mentoring) or from the source to an interviewer or facilitator who helps extract the knowledge, prioritize and organize it, and capture it in an easily shareable format.
  2. Who is the current (and future) audience for the knowledge? 
    Most systematic processes require organizations to specify not only the experts who possess unique knowledge, but also the learners who should participate in one-to-one or one-to-few transfer activities to acquire that knowledge. 
  3. How quickly is the knowledge evolving or changing?
    Systematic methods are well suited to stable bodies of knowledge because organizations can identify which knowledge is critical, who has it, and who needs to know it with relative ease. If you represent an emerging and volatile industry, what is considered “critical knowledge” and its experts might shift from one day to the next. An organic approach, in which employees self-declare their expertise and continuously contribute content and knowledge they believe is important to their disciplines, might be more appropriate for your organization. 

In addition to answering the three questions above, consider the speed at which end-users need the information being shared. Enterprise social networking tools give users a way to transfer knowledge that is needed immediately. However, formal training and mentoring are better ways to impart knowledge that employees need for growth and performance improvement over months or years. 

View APQC's Role-Based Matrix for Identifying Knowledge Needs
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Integrating Knowledge Transfer into the Way the Organization Works

Your organization should be prepared for some level of disruption and dedication of resources to support knowledge transfer. Before you finalize your approach, see if you can leverage your organization’s existing infrastructure for content management and delivery, formal and informal learning, and peer collaboration to meet some or all of your goals. In some cases, HR, IT, or other business groups may already have elements in place that can support effective knowledge transfer. Building from an existing foundation is almost always easier than building a new one.

Read "Five Steps for High-value Content Curation and Delivery: An APQC Perspective."

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APQC Advisory Services

You might be in the early stages of developing your organization’s first ever KM program. Or maybe you already have a KM strategy, but need help evolving your KM capabilities. At any stage of your KM strategy implementation, our expert consultants can provide individualized support and customized on-site training to help you accelerate and optimize your KM initiatives.

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Jeff Varney, Director of Advisory Services

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