What is tacit knowledge?
Tacit knowledge is information that is hard to verbalize or communicate. It can be wisdom, insight, or intuition. To understand the concept of tacit knowledge, let’s take a real-life example. Let’s say it is the holiday season (in fact, Christmas is just around the corner). You have decided to whip out your Grandma’s famous chocolate chip cookie recipe. You have had these cookies throughout your childhood, and you’re sure they’ll be a hit with your colleagues as well.
You manage to scrounge up the old recipe book, passed down as an heirloom. The recipe is short enough, and you follow it religiously. The result, however, is far from what you originally tasted. You make a second attempt: it’s better, but still far different from what Grandma made. You decide to call her, and she offers to make it along with her. While baking, you notice the spatula your Grandma uses, the little ‘tricks’ she does with the dough – and sure enough, the final result is closest to what you wanted.
You now have a better understanding of her cookie-making skills – not just by following the recipe, but by observing her making it. There are things she did in a certain way that’s not written down in the recipe book. For example, when she meant three spoons of flour, she usually heaped them and cut off the excess with a butter knife. This information, which is unknown until observed, is tacit information.
The concept of tacit knowledge in organizations.
Micheal Polyani, a Hungarian-British polymath, introduced the concept of tacit knowledge. According to him, knowledge is bi-structured with a combination of conscious and unconscious propositions. He emphasized that all employees needed a combination of theoretical and formal knowledge and experience, intuition, and spontaneous information. This mixture allows them to know and act within the rules of the organization, and cope with changing conditions flexibly.
The development of new professions eventually led to the concept of tacit knowledge. In the 1960s, a large part of the population was involved in primary production like farming, mining, etc. By 1987, the number of people in the service industry had increased substantially, while the number of those in production or manufacturing industries had decreased. The success or failure of organizations began being more dependent on the management and motivation of employees. Information technology was another significant strategic advantage adopted for organizations that aimed at staying competitive in the global market.
Regardless of the quantity and quality of information available online, the tricky part of sharing tacit knowledge in organizations remained a challenge. The gap between season pros and newbies widened as experiential knowledge became further embedded in each employee. A bigger organizational knowledge database was then created to obtain the collective information of intelligence and skills of employees. With the power of tacit knowledge in their hands, employees received the needed level of comfort to get started on their work and were provided access to knowledge about things they may not have been familiar with.
How to apply the best tacit knowledge management practices.
Now that you know what tacit knowledge is, it’s time to talk about how to capture and document it. However, hiring busybodies that record your employees’ every move doesn’t sound very comfortable, feasible, or convenient.
What if we told you that no matter your company size, you can start capturing all the tacit knowledge known by your employees – without breaking your bank or invading the privacy of people who work with you? Read along to discover some of the best tacit knowledge management practices that can help your get started right away.
Identify tacit knowledge gaps in your content.
Start by auditing your organization’s currently available knowledge base to ensure that it is comprehensive, practical, and helpful in decision-making. By doing so, you will identify and fill tacit knowledge gaps.
Build intentionality in the learning process
Ever wondered why your driving instructor decided to take you on your lesson during peak traffic hours? They are trying to purposely create an atmosphere wherein you will not only put into practice all that you have learned so far but one in which you are forced to tackle and overcome any challenges or doubts you have about driving in a heavy traffic area. Your organization can adopt this same learning process. There are a few ways to do this:
Guided experience for newcomers:
Encourage a new employee to shadow an experienced one for a while to absorb typical work processes, and discuss any issues that they may come across while working together. The expert will then guide the newcomer with a technical and tacit understanding of how the processes work.
Create a tacit knowledge sharing culture:
There are many reasons why people within an organization would be hesitant to share their knowledge with others. They may be worried that they will lose their job, be replaced, or just be too shy to share. To overcome this challenge, you can encourage teamwork and thereby promote a culture of sharing knowledge. Providing monetary or other types of incentives to employees who actively share their tacit knowledge will bring value to the organization.
Incorporate storytelling to solidify tacit knowledge:
You probably are wondering how storytelling can be a tool to share knowledge. Well, it’s been one of our core tools all along. Right from the beginning of humankind’s social evolution, we have been hard-wired to share stories and exchange knowledge in that form. You can narrate tacit knowledge you have collected through graphs, pie charts, or in narrative forms with a real-life scenario.
Invest in trustworthy knowledge management systems
Now that you have filled the gaps with the proper tacit knowledge, the next step is to solidify it. The best way to do this is to put in place a knowledge management system. This will allow your organization to convert tacit knowledge into explicit/formal knowledge, making it easier for everyone to access it.
Capture tacit knowledge with smartPeople software.
HRForecast understands that effective tacit knowledge management plays a vital role in an organization’s success, and its ability to remain competitive in the global market. smartPeople is a SaaS platform that ensures that reflective learning takes place in the organization, helping organizations break barriers and enabling the overall process of tacit knowledge sharing.
Here’s how incorporating smartPeople can be beneficial in the long run:
- Confidently embark on new business strategies with all the proper knowledge in place.
- Generate added advantage over competitors with a robust knowledge support system.
- Improve positive outcomes in performance assessment and team effectiveness by empowering employees to share information.
- Create an efficient platform for interaction between people, technology, and techniques that would otherwise be difficult to accomplish.
- Effectively distribute tacit knowledge among all employees.
While leaving things to the imagination can be acceptable in some aspects of life, every bit of knowledge counts for business. Make the wealth of your organization’s tacit knowledge available to all who need it, thereby resolving an issue critical for any organization’s success.