Smooth transitions depend on orderly transfer of knowledge

Ten thousand years ago on some ridgetop in what is now Washington County, Ohio, a Native American man taught his son the art of stone tool making. We know this because the stone artifacts are still there today.

The craftsman had gathered around him all the necessary materials, a cobble of chert (also known as flint), a hammerstone made of quartzite, two small segments of deer antler, and a leather strap to protect his hand.

The leather strap fit across the craftman’s left hand and gripped the slice of chert. Strategically, blows snapped against the stone sending smooth chips in all directions. Again and again, the strikes shaped the stone until all undesired parts had fallen away and the basic form of a knife or another weapon emerged.

Soon, it was time for the deer antler to be used. Pressure on each edge sharpened the tool into a razor-like utensil. The base was formed with similar pressuring so that the tool could be lashed onto an arrow, spear, or knife handle.

After watching his father for years, the young boy got his chance as the master handed the wide-eyed boy the prototypes of tools he would use to hunt and kill game for the rest of his life. The apprentice broke a few pieces as he improved his skills and even drew his own blood on the sharp rocks several times as he learned to get the feel of stone against stone. In time, he had a tool of his own making that was worthy of a magnificent hunt.

In celebration of the rite of passage, the father took his son in search of game. Usually the older man was the lead hunter, but this day the boy was out in front. On that hunt or on a future one, with the father’s deliberate feedback, the boy hit his mark and food was provided. And so, the cycle of learning how to provide food for the family was once again completed.

Since the beginning of man, knowledge that kept the family and the community alive has passed from father to son and mother to daughter. For most of human history, the transfer of knowledge about everything was a family affair. As cities were built, skills became more specialized but they were still taught person to person.

Today, most behaviors organizations need from employees are taught with documented processes and a combination of classroom and demonstration training. In many organizations, skills are leaving the work site as baby boomers retire. Valuable skills and knowledge are being lost with this mass retirement. Companies could gain a competitive advantage by documenting their key work processes so that new employees could more quickly get up to speed.

Good leaders create a process where experienced employees write down how they perform their various tasks. They make sure the process is explained in detail for each task. With this type of data, organizations can ensure a smoother transition for the future.

R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray’s completely revised, third printing of The Facilitative Leader: Behaviors that Enable Success, visit his Web site, or call him at 740-629-4536. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.