Note: This article was originally published on TacitKey blog. You can find the article here: Managing tacit knowledge: Challenges and how to solve them
Tacit knowledge is one’s personal, experiential and intuitive knowledge as opposed to explicit knowledge that can be codified and communicated easily. Tacit knowledge is a competitive advantage and most crucial for the success of an organization. Therefore, managing tacit knowledge is an important exercise that organizations should carry out every day to promote overall performance and growth. That way, the employees receive the right resources and knowledge within the organization, for them to be efficient and productive.
Unlike explicit knowledge, tacit knowledge is difficult to bring to the immediate awareness of the individual. The best way to manage tacit knowledge is provide a platform for employees to create it and facilitate the sharing of such knowledge among employees using tools and various methods.
Managing Tacit Knowledge
You can manage tacit knowledge by establishing an organizational culture that rewards employees for sharing knowledge and constantly encourages employees to learn and gain on-the-job experience. Having informal and formal meetings, mentorship programs, trainings, interviews, focus group discussions, conferences, seminars, demonstrations, simulated exercises also help in the transfer of information.
Formal and informal groups at workplace help employees seek and receive guidance from others. Tacit knowledge can be stored efficiently through proper documentation like presentations, user guides, case studies etc. Workplace collaboration with the right software, digital platforms, social media and messengers also help capture tacit knowledge. A sensible knowledge sharing and community building platform is TacitKey.
Overcoming Challenges in Knowledge Management Systems
In knowledge management, it is about collecting all the raw information and ideas; decoding and structuring it; adding it to a repository; and retrieving that processed knowledge for organizational needs.
Through knowledge management, you can streamline ideas and processes, and document them so that they come in handy when employees need resources to do their jobs efficiently and productively.
An extensive study done in 2011, by N. Herrmann shows that barriers could be in content, technology, procedures, employees and the organization itself when it comes to managing knowledge. He has outlined some solutions and strategies to overcome such barriers in his research.
Therefore, robust knowledge management systems have to be in place to capture data at the right time from the right people. However, there are a few challenges in setting up and managing tacit knowledge.
Having the right tools and technology will help in effective knowledge transfer. The software or the platform has to be user-friendly. The tool should be agile to incorporate changes in structures, methods, processes, workflows etc.; it should be able to transfer information efficiently to employees as well. The platform should incentivize people who regularly use it so that they keep contributing and more users feel encouraged to contribute.
The data has be structured, categorized, labeled and placed in the right folders. The data should have the right keywords, tags and labels so that the users can retrieve it efficiently.
Since tacit knowledge is a competitive advantage for organizations, securing it with passwords etc. becomes mandatory. There are lot of possibilities where the data may be tampered due to internal conflict within employees and lose its credibility and confidentiality. Employees with the right credentials can get access to sensitive data and the management can grant restricted access for the rest.
Who should own and maintain the Knowledge Management system: the human resources, project managers, the information technology department? Several companies have in-house platforms with each user given a profile and exclusive login access to all the forums and the knowledge repository. Other online platforms like TacitKey allow employees to join communities where they can share their knowledge with one another.
Therefore, the organization has to focus on having a single common repository to capture ideas so that the employees can retrieve information effortlessly and not lose data.
Making people contribute regularly is also the key. An organization cannot thrive on old content. Constantly researching and updating the old information is important for the organization to be on par with the current trends. Once employees stop sharing important information, the knowledge the organization possesses also becomes stagnant and that in turn impedes its growth. Management can reduce knowledge stagnation by making changes to the organizational culture and providing an environment that encourages employees to learn constantly, train them and make them share their knowledge with the rest.
The organization should establish learning programs for employees to seek the latest information through seminars, meetups, conferences, workshops etc. The management can give employees access to courses and tutorials every month as well.
The quality of knowledge that the employees share also depends on how each employee participates in the discussion. If every employee is devoted to transferring his/her acquired tacit knowledge to others, the value of the knowledge management platform will increase. Experts have to answer employees’ questions periodically and consistently. New employees must be motivated enough to seek help and resources for their jobs using the platform.
One significant way to increase participation and engagement is to gamify the platform using appropriate and graded incentives. The organization can identify and reward employees that are active in the knowledge management platform and recognize their work if they have been helpful to others. The management also has to promote the platform internally repeatedly using marketing techniques.
The quality of learning mainly depends on the relationships that the employees have with each other. With an active community, the dialog is not forced, employees are able to express themselves freely and seek information without hesitations.
Quality of Knowledge
The acquired tacit knowledge can be so vague and ambiguous at times, since it ensues from each person’s personal expertise and experience. That way, the data cannot be communicated to the end user properly. It has to be relevant, valuable, lucid and directly answer the questions of the employees.
So, the treating the raw data becomes essential before distributing it to the rest of the community. To ensure proper tacit knowledge transfer, researching and improvising the existing raw data becomes the key. One can look for evolving patterns of similarity or contradictions to compare, analyze, and simplify the data. It would be best to validate and standardize the data before different users interpret the data correctly. Scrape the old or irrelevant data. Since the right ideas and the latest information has to reach the users, it is best to amend the existing data periodically.
Again, knowledge derived is both quantitative and qualitative. Sometimes it is best to allow knowledge to be in its raw form instead of quantifying it. Some data is also contextual and cannot be applied to all circumstances. Using discretion to identify such exceptions is also a challenge. It would be best to run that data by various experts and then treat the data based on their inputs.
The efforts the management puts in a knowledge management system should not go to waste. To analyze your returns on investment, invest in a good analytics tool and track the progress of your knowledge management system. Measure the outcomes against the objectives and find out the effects of social collaboration and innovation on various projects.
To conclude, one can overcome the challenges in knowledge management by:
- Having a knowledge management repository in place, either as a software or web application, with the right learning tools and user-friendly technology.
- Providing proper security to ensure that such knowledge is safe and employees have access to tacit information based on their job roles.
- By establishing the right learning culture, we can motivate employees to contribute the latest information to the community.
- By gamifying the existing knowledge management system, we can reward and incentivize employees to participate in community discussions.
- By standardizing and validating the existing data acquired from various sources, we can apply such knowledge for various scenarios. Invest in a good analytics tool to understand the effectiveness of your knowledge management efforts.