5 Steps to Tapping Into Your Tacit Knowledge

Implement this five-step process to go from siloed information to a shared knowledge base.

There’s explicit knowledge — “We produce our products in Ohio” or “The conference room is down the hall on the left.” And then there’s tacit knowledge, which is much harder to identify and transfer because it’s contextual in nature. If you can unlock the tacit knowledge in your organization, you can get it — and the teams within it — to a higher level of success. But how do you unlock your tacit knowledge? 

One Common Model

It’s by no means a simple task, but we’ve outlined some fundamental steps. Start your knowledge management strategy plans with these items: 

  • Instill a knowledge vision
  • Manage the conversations
  • Mobilize knowledge activists
  • Create the right context for knowledge creation
  • Globalize local knowledge

We work within all these areas, but the idea of globalizing local knowledge — essentially, making sure that certain bits of information aren’t tied up in one person’s head — is one of the true value-adds of our software.

All the steps above are crucial, even if the terminology can sound a little business-schooly from time to time. What exactly does it mean to “instill a knowledge vision,” for example? How do you “mobilize knowledge activists?” Let’s see if we can break this down into some day-to-day examples.

Simple Things We Can Do To Uncover Tacit Knowledge

  1. Set one meeting a week aside for discovery. Have three people picked beforehand; their goal is to do five-minute presentations (no longer than that) on an aspect of work that isn’t part of the day-to-day grind — something that really intrigues them. After the 15 minutes of presenting, the other participants in the meeting go to one of the three presenters (whoever interested them most) for a more in-depth exploration of the idea. This promoted the idea of learning, looking outside the day-to-day, and fostering discovery among employees.
  2. Set one meeting at the beginning of the month to identify gaps. You could also run this meeting via a shared doc or Slack thread. Essentially, everyone is supposed to list some of the biggest knowledge gaps that prevented them from doing their best work in the previous month. They’d also share two to three new things they learned in the work context. If everyone contributes in the first five days of the month, you’ll have a picture of your biggest knowledge gaps — as well as what you’re doing well. You can plan for the coming month off of that.
  3. Lucky Lottery partnerships. At the beginning of a six-week cycle, bring clusters of 25-50 employees together and draw them off in a lottery into groups of six to eight. Over the next six weeks, the newfound groups need to share new types of knowledge and demonstrate how they did so. This can be through weekly meetings, coffee dates, a poster or white paper, or something else. It can feel like more work — that’s where you need top-down buy-in — but in reality, it helps cement a culture where the pursuit of learning and new knowledge is paramount. That type of culture will thrive long-term.
  4. Pulse checks. The idea here is to quickly (brevity is a key) figure out how your people are most comfortable learning. Would they rather learn from peers or external experts? From SlideShares or videos? In quick bursts or day-long seminars? Remember, a key differentiator between top companies (in terms of engagement) and low-ranking companies is the access to and context around new opportunities to learn and grow. Your employees want you to provide that, so you need to figure out what makes them learn the best.
  5. Process software: The ultimate goal with tacit knowledge capture is taking local knowledge — only Bob knows how to do this, so when Bob is out of office or Bob takes another job, we’re doomed — and making it global knowledge. Software like AnswerHub can be a powerful tool for doing just that. The key elements are:
    • Making sure Bob realizes his value
    • Figuring out the most comfortable way for everyone else to learn Bob’s skills
    • Setting up a few different modalities and programs for Bob’s knowledge to be transferred
    • Creating organic communication channels where people can ask Bob questions
    • Having a space where the shared knowledge is now physically shared.

When you implement this five-step process (with help from technology), you can go from information silos where knowledge is contained locally to shared knowledge throughout your organization.