When Stan’s colleague Heather decided to quit her job, their former boss didn’t seem blue. “Don’t worry,” he told Stan. “We’ll find someone in a minute.” Heather had been the office’s assistant for eight years, and soon after she left, everything turned into chaos. Although her paper handling job looked easy to many and didn’t require advanced computer science skills, her implicit knowledge had been irreplaceable long after.
All types of knowledge are valuable – but that’s a lesson that most organizations learn the hard way, most precisely when employees leave and their knowledge is lost once they’re out that door. No matter your type of business, sharing knowledge internally benefits the whole company. When organizations decide to capture knowledge, employees find their information resources easier and projects don’t get delayed for the lack of it. So how should you handle these situations? Let’s start by talking about the two types of knowledge – explicit and implicit.
Explicit, implicit – it’s all knowledge
First, there are the things we know and we can explain. For instance, you can say what’s the procedure for crossing the street or for cooking an omelette. Then, there are things that you just do, but can’t quite say how. It’s that feeling, based on instinct and experience, that tells you why you should do something instead of something else. Like how long to keep that omlette on the stove at that specific temperature and using that specific skillet before it gets burned 🙂
Explicit knowledge is easier to pass from one employee to another because it’s easier to verbalize. It’s the know-what and since it is already formalized in different documents (procedures, notes, databases), communicating it is most of the times a straightforward process.
However, things get a little bit more complicated when you want to make sure implicit knowledge is passed on. There are sets of complex algorithms going on in our brains voting for one option or another, especially when we only hold part of the data. Each individual is unique and has a unique way of dealing with a situation, according to their own expertise and know-how. It’s a skill. And skills can’t just be assimilated overnight. But they can be demonstrated in specific scenarios and replicated when possible.
Solutions? You bet!
Books advise you to find long-term strategies and programs to mentor young employees, but a fair amount of implicit knowledge transfer doesn’t happen there, it happens at the watercooler. So social interaction is at the core of this process. Except that for virtual or across-time-zones teams for instance, the watercooler time is not an option. Furthermore, the knowledge exchange happening at the watercooler is limited to the people having that conversation, thus limiting the real and extended benefits of knowledge sharing.
Both implicit and explicit knowledge transfer can be easily managed with the help of social software platforms that are information exchange oriented, making the know-what and the know-how documentation and communication available within organizations, no matter time zones, geography dispersion or set of skills.
The cost that derives from knowledge loss will continue to increase, as we’re more and more leading to an information society. Learning which implicit knowledge skills are valuable and taking measures to preserve them will give you a competitive advantage.
When preserving your organization’s culture, keep in mind to also store both implicit and explicit information. Put everything in one place. Promote a collaborative environment and…
Happy Knowledge Sharing!