Capturing Tacit Knowledge

Posted on: 13th April 2018, by :

An organization has heaps of knowledge like a dungeon full of treasure. A smart organization will be able to identify such knowledge and use it to its advantage.

One such knowledge is Tacit knowledge – something that is personal, experiential and intuitive for a professional.

TacitKey is a platform that enables working professionals to become thought leaders by sharing their knowledge with others.

I have discussed what Tacit knowledge is and how to capture it in organizations, on TacitKey’s blog.

Here’s the copy of the article:

 

What if several key people in your organization leave at the same time? What if a group of employees shut down a department in your organization? An organization cannot leave its fate to chance.

To be successful, an organization has to supply employees with crucial information when they need it the most. Knowledge transfers within an organization are necessary for promotions, job rotations, new recruits, and in growing new teams. Through the transfer of knowledge, there will be a consistency of work across teams and employees will be more productive.  

Why do hospitals have several duty doctors attend to the same patient? How do attorneys convince the jury to return verdicts in their favor? How does safety engineers stationed at aircraft check if the flights are ready for departure? Every work involves a repository of knowledge that transfers from one employee to the next that helps them carry out work efficiently. This repository also helps ensure that information is not lost and work is not dependant on a single person. This way, an organization gives importance to processes that are independent of employees.

Explicit, Implicit and Tacit Knowledge

Employees acquire three kinds of knowledge at organizations: explicit, implicit and tacit. Explicit knowledge is structured, recorded and can be shared with other members of the organization. Examples would include learning how to make a sales report or using a software application.

Implicit knowledge is less accessible than explicit knowledge and cannot be recalled immediately by the individual. The person can indirectly express this information in the form of categories, processes, flow charts, or other symbolic representations. Examples would include estimating the price of a car based on its make, model, and features.

Tacit knowledge is acquired through experience and cannot be reproduced or shared easily. It is distilled wisdom a person possesses and does not know about until he/she is specifically questioned about it. It is difficult to capture it but read our previous article on how to codify tacit knowledge. Examples would be making sales presentations that consistently impress clients or coming up with intuitive ideas to run marketing campaigns that are popular among the audience, or handling negotiations and conflicts at the workplace.

How to transfer knowledge within an organization

Tacit knowledge occurs in the form of subjective insight, intuition, judgment, innovation, or inspiration. It is a problem-solving expertise that is gained more from one’s experiences than from other sources. The key players in an organization have more tacit knowledge that a new employee may lack. Organizations consider tacit knowledge a competitive advantage since it is hard to communicate. Employers strive to set up effective knowledge management systems within their organizations.

If you are an employer, below are some strategies that may help you capture tacit knowledge from employees:

Organizational Culture

Establish a culture that incentivizes knowledge-sharing behavior. Positively reinforce people who share quality knowledge with others. Set up monthly meetings, conferences, town halls, presentations, scrums, and other one-on-one interviews with key people. Reduce attrition rates and retain older employees to preserve the tacit knowledge of the company.

Mentorship programs

Encourage senior employees to train juniors and deliver lectures. Have junior employees shadow seniors and participate in informal discussions with their superiors. Invite experts to talk about concepts and share their real-life experiences with your employees. Assign a mentor for every new employee who may not necessarily belong to the same department. This mentor can guide the new recruit on how to handle work at the organization. This helps the new employee to align himself/herself with organizational goals and deliver work as per company’s expectations.

Workplace Collaboration

Whether the organization has a flat or hierarchical structure, encouraging teamwork and workplace collaboration helps in effective knowledge sharing and management. Use collaborative suites like Trello, Asana, Basecamp, and Teamwork.com etc. to track processes. Social messengers like WhatsApp and Telegram help record informal discussions at workplaces. Encourage your employees to contribute to public platforms for sharing their tacit knowledge like Github, Stack Exchange, and TacitKey.

Documentation

Use technology, information and document management systems to store knowledge in a structured manner for easy access. User guides, manuals, how-to books, presentations, policies, and tutorials definitely help. However, these need constant improvisations with work hacks ─ if employees do not question the existing processes periodically, there is no scope for growth. Employees can also produce case studies and whitepapers of previous projects to capture tacit knowledge effectively.

Meetings

When a new project comes in, many organizations conduct meetings to brief employees about its objectives and deliverables. Companies also conduct brainstorm sessions for employees to pitch ideas for projects. However, very few organizations conduct debriefing meetings to understand what went right and wrong in the project after its completion. Some organizations conduct Root Cause Analysis meetings only when a fatal error occurs in the project. Conducting analysis meetings before and after projects helps employees to gather best practices and learn to manage failures.

Forums and Informal Groups

Create forums on an internal platform for employees to discuss work problems and processes. Employees can seek and receive work-related advice or documentation to perform better. TacitKey provides its users with a Community feature that helps an organization’s employees to form multiple online communities in various industries to come together and discuss their works.

Companies also have Community of Practice (CoP), a term developed by Lave and Wenger (1991). It is an informal group where people interact and engage in a collective learning process. They may be from different departments holding different positions as well. Employees socializing during smoke and snack breaks or at casual outings etc. are part of the CoP, and as employers, you have to allow such informal groups to thrive. Such groups enable a lot of tacit knowledge transfer among their members.  

Training

Since tacit knowledge is mostly experiential, employee training becomes pivotal in knowledge sharing and management. Experiential learning can include on-the-job training, demonstrations, and simulations. Employees can see how a job is done and perform it themselves to learn better. Workshops, events, conferences, and meetups help employees understand how to approach a concept with different perspectives.

Professional and Social Networks

Big organizations use professional networks like LinkedIn and premium features like LinkedIn Elevate to have employees share their knowledge in an exclusive platform. Each employee has a profile that explains what he/she does in the organization. Every employee can share his/her own work experiences or knowledge as status updates, articles or share information from third-party websites for other organizational members.

Organizations can create email distribution lists where employees can share relevant and current information about their industry. Every week employees can take turns to send an email explaining a concept or a process in the organization.

Benefits of knowledge management in an organization

Through effective knowledge management, an organization can stimulate innovation and protect its intellectual capital by empowering its human capital. This improves productivity and drives growth in an organization. The organization can provide deliverables with quicker turnaround times.

According to a Global Deloitte survey, over 80% of Deloitte Knowledge users indicate that sharing knowledge leads to competitive advantage and adds real client value. expert.

Employees receive proper guidance and training; have the right resources to do their jobs efficiently and this boosts their morale as well. They are able to solve problems quickly, as they are equipped with tactics and techniques. Employees are able to capture the organization’s best practices, processes, and gain a tacit understanding of how and why certain methods work. They are able to use their discretion at ease while dealing with risky and high-priority projects, as they are able to make informed business decisions.

Takeaways

To transfer tacit knowledge within an organization, the employers:

  • Should develop a learning environment
  • Provide mentorship programs and experiential training for employees
  • Provide a platform for workplace collaboration and teamwork
  • Encourage informal socialization among employees
  • Have a rigorous information and document management system
  • Conduct meetings and brainstorm sessions
  • Make employees contribute to professional networks and forums

 

 

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