Tacit knowledge is one of the most important and valuable resources organizations have. This unwritten knowledge base is often overlooked and unappreciated.
The definition and meaning of tacit knowledge is:
“all of the collective know-how, techniques, processes and difficult to articulate expertise that is part of an individual’s or organization’s knowledge base. It is usually not written down anywhere and is part of a collective knowledge pool that is often the basis for the culture of the organization and how work gets done”.
As organizations develop and grow, they create a history. This history is written by the culture, the employees and the day-to-day events that define the organization.
It is those every day occurrences and pieces of history that make up tacit knowledge.
This knowledge is rooted into the way an employee thinks.
Employees can be taught job responsibilities in a step-by-step process, but transferring the why or the history behind tasks and responsibilities is often more difficult.
It gets into the unwritten rules or norms of the organization.
Characteristics of tacit knowledge are those things that employees learn over time but are difficult to incorporate into a training or orientation program.
An example of tacit knowledge might be, a customer service representative may learn how to deal with difficult customers by experiencing many interactions over time.
These experiences help the representative know how to respond in certain situations.
Customer service training can help to a certain extent but it often takes experience and practice to learn successful responses.
It is difficult to give every example in training, so having a seasoned person mentor new employees can help transfer that knowledge and experience to them.
Organizations with high employee turnover run the risk of losing some of its established culture norms as well as valuable tacit knowledge.
Employees who walk out the door after being with an organization for a long time, take with them some very valuable wisdom that they learned along the way.
4 Tips to Managing Tacit Knowledge
1. Mentor New Employees
These seasoned employees can help transfer that knowledge and develop relationships that can capture new perspectives.
Understanding a new employee experience can also provide important information on best practices for orienting new people to the organization.
2. Focus on Employee Retention
Employee turnover is expensive.
Work to create an employee retention plan so you can keep your best employees.
It is expensive to recruit, hire, and train new employees, so the most cost-effective way is to retain good employees which can help sustain a strong tacit knowledge base.
3. Provide Opportunities to Share
Provide employees with opportunities to share experiences. This can be as informal as weekly staff meetings or as formal as annual employee events.
The more employees share with each other their experience and lessons learned, the more an organization is able to capture this valuable knowledge.
4. Document All Processes
Take the time to document all work processes and systems with written policies and procedures.
This is extremely important because some seemingly unimportant tasks may be significant to the customer service experience.
There are ways to automate this process but it is important to have very detailed and written process steps for every job.
In a world where employees don’t experience the same tenure as earlier generations, losing tacit knowledge can have an impact on organizations that are strong in culture and tradition.
Tacit knowledge can offer a competitive advantage because competitors will have a difficult time replicating it.
It makes up the inner workings of the organization, how it thinks, how it responds, how it does, how it gets along, how it cares – it is the culture.
Do you have a handle on your organization’s tacit knowledge?