We often think of knowledge as something that can be recorded in words, visualized and taught. This is called explicit knowledge.
- Explicit Knowledge: The knowledge that has been recorded and structured into an organizational knowledge asset. Others can find it, reuse it, and collaborate on the knowledge. Explicit knowledge includes documents, code, manuals, websites, videos, presentations, procedures, etc.
However, this isn’t always the case. Tacit knowledge is a class of knowledge that’s difficult to communicate.
- Tacit Knowledge: This is the information and knowledge you keep in your head, and you can spew at will. It’s what we know that we don’t know. In other words, you don’t know what you know, until someone asks. For example: “What are the 3 sales strategies you would tell people to follow?”
Tacit knowledge is a particular challenge for knowledge management. Teams strive to make it accessible among co-workers and would like to prevent knowledge loss during employee turnover. Unfortunately, tacit knowledge almost always goes with the employee.
Tacit knowledge is essential to competitive advantage because it’s difficult for competitors to copy. It’s the reason some teams pump out innovation after innovation while other teams struggle.
Here are three ways you can capture that tacit knowledge before it’s too late:
1. Create a culture of knowledge sharing
Communicate the need and value of a collaborative culture. We get it; sometimes you don’t like to share your best ideas; it’s nice to have an ace up your sleeve. And sometimes it’s nice to consider yourself an expert. But, consider this: knowledge is not power if it is not shared.
To overcome these pitfalls, encourage teamwork. By having employees work in teams, your organization may be able to increase its employee’s perception of their team members. Working closely with each other will give the employees the opportunity to see how valuable their knowledge can be. This, in turn, may encourage the employee to want to help out their team members when they see that there is a knowledge gap, error, or false truth present. Help your employees understand that they will be gaining much more than they are giving.
2. Create incentives based on quality
Provide incentives (both monetary and other types) to employees who participate in knowledge sharing. An air of caution, though — volume does not equal value! So don’t just provide incentives based on the amount contributed; otherwise your knowledge base may end up being overloaded with non-value adding contributions. Recruit knowledge experts or knowledge managers who are responsible for verifying submitted information and ensuring each submission adds value to the business. Having this system of checks and balances will also help cut down the possibility of errors and false truths.
3. Create opportunities to share
Daily scrums, weekly one-on-one’s, monthly roundtables, or quarterly town halls — these are the perfect opportunities to elicit tacit knowledge. Ask questions, interview each other with the intent to learn, and convert that tacit knowledge into accessible, reusable information. Remember to phrase questions properly, listen, avoid arguments, focus on the expert’s approach, and look beyond the facts. Be cautious not to interrogate, interrupt, put the expert on the defensive, or pretend to understand when you actually don’t. Go in with the mindset of wanting to “know” how the experts know what they know.