How to capture tacit knowledge
The only sustainable competitive advantage is an organization’s ability to learn faster than the competition. – Peter Senge
Successful executives understand this better than anyone.
You understand the importance of hiring the right people, developing them, improving their skill bases, keeping ahead of advancements and finding better ways to fulfill your company’s vision.
That’s a lot of time invested in learning and development.
The problem is even the best organizations lose people. Whether an employee leaves for a career change, to start a family or simply feels it’s time to retire your organization is going to lose more than just Fred from accounting. It’s going to lose all of Fred’s experience and know-how.
Learning faster isn’t enough, not anymore. The key advantage is to retain what has been learned by trial and error.
Knowledge retention is the key to your success.
Capturing this implicit know-how protects your company against leaking valuable knowledge overtime.
What is tacit knowledge?
Tacit knowledge has many, often conflicting, definitions.
For the purpose of this article, we are defining tacit knowledge as the unrecorded know how individuals develop overtime through mentoring and experience.
The account manager who knows every client by name and can turn a challenging situation around in minutes uses tacit knowledge.
The engineer who’s worked with a particular machine for years and understands its unique idiosyncrasies uses tacit knowledge.
Tacit knowledge is valuable because it’s built around experience and experience takes time to gain.
It’s the culmination of repeated trial, error and victory.
Can you replace experience?
Your top performing consultants carry a lot of expertise. They’ve developed key relationships, figured out what to do (and not to do) in various situations and created a system that works for them.
The problem is that passing internalized knowledge on is hard.
You can give someone a manual written by the top experts in the field but even if they memorize it cover to cover, it wouldn’t be the same.
You can’t replace experience.
There’s no magic shortcut to beam that know-how into people’s heads. At least, not yet.
But, you can significantly cut the time down by creating opportunities to share that knowledge.
Your job on paper versus your job in reality
For most of us, our job description and what we actually do every day are two completely different things.
We improvise all the time. We persevere. Look for new ways to do things.
We develop systems. When things go awry, you don’t pull out your manual. You ask the most experienced member of your team if they’ve ever come across something like this before.
We learn through the experience of others.
These stories that we tell each other are tacit knowledge.
Harness the power of storytelling
We learn by sharing and telling stories. Customer service reps share stories of how they dealt with challenging clients. Programmers share stories about the frustrating piece of code that cost them an entire weekend.
How can an organization transfer knowledge effectively? The short answer is: hire smart people and let them talk to one another.
— Working Knowledge, by Thomas Davenport and Laurence Prusak
They work on a practical level. The clear beginning, middle and end make it easy to follow them from start to resolution.
They work on an emotional level. The direct, practical way Fred dealt with Ms Hudson’s account issue hits us a lot harder than a more formalized description.
Make storytelling a part of your business.
We aren’t talking about the “gather round the campfire” type of tales (though we aren’t going to stop you if that’s how you roll.)
Set aside a regular interval of time for your team to share specific, business related stories. They can be wins. They can be losses.
The most important part is that they start with a problem and end with a resolution.
Your exact setup is up to you.
Just make sure that you:
- Set a regular, recurring time like every Friday afternoon between 2 and 3pm or the first and third Wednesday morning of every month.
- Ask one team member (or a few team members) to bring a story to share. Make it as formal or informal as you like.
- Record the stories and save them in a library in your knowledge management software
- Use tags to label each story so that they can be easily searchable
- Organize the stories by topic or department- whatever makes sense for your company
- Make sure your stories are easily accessible. If team members are going to dedicate valuable time to passing on and capturing tacit knowledge, there has to be some sort of real, tangible ROI to the process.
- Redact real names. Always protect clients by using alternate names when telling the story- the purpose here is to learn from the experience. And, when building your resource, redact the name of the person who shared the story. That way the stories become a part of your team’s shared history- past, present and future.
Now, you’ve captured real world know-how.
These experiences are a part of your shared knowledge library and can be referenced and studied by present and future team members.
Make this a regular habit
Regularly sharing stories will built up your library of tacit knowledge.
You are creating a powerful resource that can be used for training new team members and helping our current ones.
A culture of sharing promotes cross-company collaboration. A team that works together, wins together.
At Skore, we empower teams to share and learn together. We are building the Knowledge Management tool of the future. We don’t call it Knowledge Management though, we call it Knowledge Flow Optimization. We are far from done, but making amazing progress. If you want to check out what we are doing, visit us at Skore.io.