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Posted by Dikla Hevion on January 30, 2020.
“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing,” said Socrates. Most organizations are well aware that knowledge is key to achieving their business goals and that efforts should be invested in collection, classification, formalization, and distribution of it, but true wisdom is in knowing how to capture and organize the knowledge you don’t know exists—the tacit knowledge. Organizations struggle with how to do this effectively with the traditional approaches to knowledge management. So, do traditional approaches to knowledge management activities suffice for managing the organizational knowledge and wisdom? To answer that question, we need to address the difference between explicit and tacit knowledge.
Explicit knowledge is the standard, formal knowledge that is relatively easy to store and to access. It is usually found in written procedures, user-manuals, technical literature, etc. Tacit knowledge, on the other hand, is more “elusive,” since it is the personal knowledge employees create during their professional lives in the organization and store in their heads. It consists of the experience, behavior, and skills that are an output of specific employee judgment and interaction with specific situations, and it’s very difficult to capture in a reusable manner.
The key difference between explicit and tacit knowledge is the personal dimension and the nonformal aspects responsible for tacit knowledge creation. There are no enterprise KM gatekeepers or KM team that can review, modify, and decide if it is consumption-worthy. So, if so much tacit knowledge is created among so many employees (thousands, sometimes), how can an organization properly harness this information and benefit from it, mitigating the fear that the informal knowledge isn’t going through a standard filter, and determine how to generate a better, consumption-based knowledge management experience?
It is first important to understand that formal, centric knowledge cannot be replaced and will always provide an answer to predicted, standard dilemmas. Tacit knowledge, based on individual experience, can support and enrich the formal knowledge and function as an additional layer of knowledge, including tips, “how-to,” and crowd wisdom to provide answers to more complex situations that are not part of the frequently encountered processes and dilemmas. (Socialization of Knowledge Management Drives Greater Reuse/Carol Rozwell (1.5.2009). Employees gain experience associated to their role, their organization, and their professional area. They perform their tasks through inherent “knowing what to do” behavior, learned through their interactions in the workplace. Those insights are an outcome of deductive reasoning, which, unlike explicit knowledge, sets a greater challenge to capture due to its intangible nature. Insights and lessons learned might also be elusive; many times employees might not be aware that they hold such valuable knowledge, responsible for business competitiveness issues regarding productivity, decision-making, cost savings, and more. An organization that can capture and share this kind of knowledge in a reusable way can potentially increase its competitiveness and, ultimately, market share.
In order to leverage personal experience and insights, an organization needs to identify the areas of interest, or risk, in which tacit knowledge is considered valuable and even critical to the execution of core processes and procedures. Such identification can be carried out using traditional tools like formal needs assessment interviews and questionnaires or through discussions, stories, analogies, and person-to-person interactions.
As part of the process to identify relevant knowledge areas, we will map the leading subject-matter experts (SMEs) who hold the required tacit experience, tips, and insights (How Knowledge Mapping Drives Knowledge Transfer/APQC 2018). In some cases, we will discover that even if they are already sharing that experience, it is mostly with their close circle and not in a way that can be reused in a broader spectrum across the organization. SMEs should be included as part of the process, letting them not only contribute their knowledge, but also take part in shaping the way that it is shared. A good SME identification, in coordination with rewards and recognition, can help encourage a cultural change that will enable the effective sharing of tacit knowledge among employees across the organization.
Finally, using social platforms and communities of practice that are managed by moderators provide the tools that enable knowledge flow and sharing within and across the organization. These tools take “hallway talks” into a platform that allows the knowledge to be reused, and by doing so, we can identify more easily what parts of that knowledge can be captured and formalized into standard KM objects and platforms.
Dikla Hevion is a manager on the Deloitte Knowledge Management advisory team in the Human Capital practice of Deloitte Consulting LLP.
Carol Rozwell, “Socialization of Knowledge Management Drives Greater Reuse,” January 5, 2009.
American Productivity & Quality Center, “How Knowledge Mapping Drives Knowledge Transfer,” June 29, 2018, https://www.apqc.org/resource-library/resource-listing/how-knowledge-mapping-drives-knowledge-transfer.