Why Businesses Should Focus On Tacit Knowledge
Have you ever been in a scenario with your boss, asking them a question about how they did a comprehensive task smoothly, and then they explained it to you in a vague way? This might be tacit knowledge happening in action. I don’t know about you, but this kind of scenario always happened in my workplace. Even with me, when someone asks me how I did something quickly that I’ve done for many years, I found it hard to explain, and it all comes down to the collective knowledge I had from my previous experiences.
We may find ourselves incompetent at explaining things or training someone who’s behind us on several levels, but if you’re aware of tacit knowledge, you will understand this know-how and vague answers. This may be the reason that people say, “experts have a hard time teaching and transferring their knowledge to beginners.” As we know, experts acquire their skills with years of practice, and so these are developed into instincts and habits that are formed into expert intuition.
In corporate learning, training programs in organizations swelled to improve the skills of their workers; however, are Learning and Development (L&D) teams really using the right methods to train their workers? Are online courses, self-directed learning, and training programs really enough to transfer expertise to someone? Let’s explore what tacit knowledge is and why you should care at all.
What Is Tacit Knowledge?
Research shows there are extremely varied definitions of tacit knowledge . So, let’s try to define it in the simplest way. It is defined as:
- Informal, subjective, and non-codified knowledge
- Learned through personal and professional experiences
- Learned through observation and training
- Acquired through continuous sharing of experiences at work
- Includes skills, experiences, intuition, and judgment
- An intangible asset of your company
While tacit knowledge can’t be expressed by words alone, it can be expressed by actions, habits, behaviors, instincts, intuition, and responses. After all, it’s the knowledge that sets each person apart, due to the experiences, values, beliefs, and wisdom they’ve acquired over time.
Tacit Knowledge Vs. Explicit Knowledge
If you’re familiar with tacit knowledge, you might have heard the term “explicit knowledge.” So, what is the difference between the two? Tacit means implied but not actually expressed, while explicit means fully revealed or expressed without vagueness. Tacit is hard to express by words alone. In short, it’s difficult to pass this knowledge on to others. Meanwhile, articulated facts, techniques, processes, workflow, records, etc. are counted as explicit knowledge. Examples of explicit knowledge are:
- Brand guides
- Company manuals
- Library of content
Tacit Knowledge Vs. Implicit Knowledge
Implicit is easily transferred through conversations. While tacit is something hard to capture and involves a process, implicit knowledge is explicit knowledge that isn’t yet documented. Some say tacit is implicit knowledge, while some experts say it’s not so at all. Examples of tacit knowledge in action:
- Identifying companies from a prospect list, that will most likely become clients
- Creating a seamless workflow for the software engineering team on how to build a software
- Being able to deliver a speech without effort and practicing beforehand
- Identifying the problem with a certain machinery without checking the parts
- Identifying if a candidate would be a perfect fit for the company without an interview
The Advantages For Your Company
1. It Sets Your Business Apart
If tacit knowledge sets each person apart, just imagine how collective tacit knowledge, when captured, can set an organization, a group, or a community apart. With full access to know-how and information, your current and new employees can take advantage of this knowledge. In addition, capturing this knowledge through a knowledge management system can differentiate your branding, your internal system, and your organizational knowledge from everyone else.
2. It Increases Learning Productivity
You might be thinking, so are online courses enough to build the skills of our employees? The answer is, yes, it can be. However, self-paced and self-directed courses aren’t enough. As mentioned above, observations and group discussions can capture tacit knowledge. That’s why it’s important to add cohort-based learning, where there is mentoring and coaching, and focus group discussions create a friendly learning atmosphere among junior and senior employees.
3. It Helps Employees To Communicate Effectively
Since tacit knowledge is vaguely expressed, capturing it can increase the effectiveness of communication in your organization. As far as you can manage, there will be no more secrets; instead, there will be more open discussions, job shadowing, observational learning, coaching, and mentoring.
4. It Strengthens Your Company’s Learning Environment And Knowledge Bank
One way to capture tacit knowledge is to create a learning space for your employees and then document this knowledge through videos, written forms, etc. You can turn it into explicit knowledge too, such as playbooks, guides, etc. Since employees are growing their knowledge over time, your knowledge bank will be growing and changing as well. Capturing this changing knowledge can strengthen the learning environment and keep the knowledge bank up to date.
Now that you are aware of its benefits to your organization, let’s explore how you can capture tacit knowledge and turn it into explicit
How To Convert Tacit To Explicit Knowledge
1. Create A Continuous Learning Environment
Many organizations create a learning environment by building a Learning Experience Platform inside their companies . Although this isn’t wrong, it doesn’t capture tacit knowledge at all. Remember that creating a continuous learning environment doesn’t only mean access to online courses and self-directed learning. You need to create an environment of continuous learning where your employees can participate. This is through:
- Building a weekly habit of small learning sessions where #sharingiscaring, and team leaders or members can share how they achieve certain tasks through storytelling or a “show-me-how-you-do-it” activity
- Organizing open group discussions
- A form of asynchronous learning through private forums, communities, etc, or even a Slack channel, where employees can ask, share, and demonstrate certain tasks, workflows, processes, etc.
- Synchronous learning, where scheduled calls such as AMA with senior-level employees, can be the agenda
- Matching up senior employees with juniors for mentoring or coaching programs
- Adding a job shadowing activity for newly hired employees
Integrating your employees into the learning environment itself can help you convert tacit to explicit knowledge. Document each learning session, activity, and program through different content formats, such as a playbook, manuals, short courses, etc.
2. Build An Internal Open-Source Knowledge Management System
Building a knowledge management system can capture tacit knowledge. And making it open-source means senior-level and C-level executives can contribute to the content inside your system and can level up your game. Why? Because not only are you building your knowledge bank, but you also allow your senior-level employees to maximize on their experience gained to capture their tacit knowledge in the form of documentation. Integrating the power of storytelling can be helpful too! So don’t wait for next year. Talk to your L&D and tech teams to materialize this project.
Although the main point of this article is that tacit knowledge is hard to capture and express, as an organization, you should still try to do so because of the benefits mentioned above. A report from 2019 said that the intangible assets of companies were worth $21 trillion. We don’t want you to waste your assets by not acting upon this issue of tacit knowledge. It’s time for you to make use of your internal resources to outperform and set your company apart from the rest.