Gaining Accountability and Ownership in the Client’s Team


One of the main reasons that client’s engage us is our knowledge and expertise in a subject matter area. We may perform brilliantly and complete the assigned work and yet the client may feel the work is not truly complete until “knowledge transfer” (KT) has occurred.

KT is a funny thing. It’s always desired, chronically underfunded and expectations are difficult to set early and impossible to set late.

“Before you leave, please transfer the sum total of all your knowledge to every member of my staff during your last four hours on Friday. I want each member of my team to be able to do everything that you do, as well as you do so that we will not have to engage another consultant in this area ever again.”

If you were writing a Use Case for Knowledge Transfer you would start with defining the Pre-Conditions. It would read something like this.

– The team members desire knowledge transfer

– The team members will commit sufficient time and effort (active participation) to knowledge transfer

– The team members are at a technical level of proficiency where knowledge transfer can be done as an increment to the foundational knowledge they already have

– There is sufficient time and budget to complete the knowledge transfer activity including the preparation of materials to complete it

– There is a mechanism in place (test?) to ensure that foundational knowledge is at the right level prior to knowledge transfer.

– There is a mechanism in place (test?) to ensure that knowledge transfer was successful after the activity

– The team members will “get it”.

This is why KT is such a tricky area and why it is critical to set realistic expectations with your client right up front. In 25+ years of consulting, I have never seen the above pre-conditions all met before a KT exercise is undertaken.

At the end of an engagement you are effectively transferring ownership for the area in question to the client’s resources. You are also doing it with less-than-perfect knowledge transfer and subsequently should not be surprised when the client team rejects the concept of being held accountable for future results.

So what’s the best way to deal with the resistance to adopt the new ownership responsibilities?

First of all you need to influence (please see my blog on  Mastering the Art of Influence )  your client that ownership and accountability is a process not an event that occurs 60 seconds after you walk out the door. It should progress from none to limited to moderate to full accountability over time and you should pre-define with your client what the checkpoints are at each stage to move on to the next. Eventually, the client’s team will be fully accountable and the process to get there should be communicated and discussed by the client and you with the client’s team to make sure they understand they are not on the hook day one.

The best way to gain accountability and ownership in the client’s team is to set expectations in advance that knowledge transfer will be incomplete,  that time is required in role and doing new activities before true ownership can take place and to discuss what (if any) role you may have on a “phone-a-friend” basis to support the team members while they take on progressively more responsibility over time. No one wants to be responsible without the self-confidence to do the job and it takes some time to gain that confidence.

“When it comes to privacy and accountability, people always demand the former for themselves and the latter for everyone else.” – David Brin

It’s your job to temper that view a bit….

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1 Response to Gaining Accountability and Ownership in the Client’s Team

  1. Pingback: Infinite Shades of Grey – A year later and a little greyer | Infinite Shades of Grey

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