I find that quite often when we say Knowledge Management, we actually mean Content Management or other aspects of explicit knowledge. That is a logical starting point for most of us, for historical reasons but also because it is the easier of the two knowledge dimensions to quantify and measure both progress and business impact.
But what about our tacit Knowledge Assets? This is the collective knowledge comprised by different personalities, experiences (past and present, personal and professional) and passions, that is the main intellectual capital for any knowledge worker organization. Are we leveraging tacit knowledge in a way that drives our business forward? And are we able to effectively combine and balance the needs and desires for tacit vs. explicit – incl. Return on Investment (ROI) and cost of creation, and harvesting and curation? Is tacit knowledge the secret sauce that can help us maximise investments made on the explicit side?
I believe that we can and should. But before designing a solution or planning the next tacit KM initiative, it may be worth spending some time thinking through your tacit knowledge needs, how existing tacit knowledge is shared, collaboration forums etc., because most likely there are several initiatives already existing (likely in pockets) that you can build on:
1. What constitutes tacit knowledge in your company and what is its value to your business?
2. How and where does tacit knowledge sharing happen today: Is it informal or formal knowledge sharing and are there ways we can standardise to drive synergies?H
3. How can you capitalise on tacit knowledge and demonstrate clear business value?
What do we mean by Tacit Knowledge?
For the sake of simplicity, I am using a broad definition of Tacit Knowledge: “any skills, experiences and expertise that exists in our people’s heads”.
For a professional services organisation like my own or any knowledge worker organisation, this is core intellectual capital. It is important to create environments where people can share experiences and have conversations about common interests, central to innovation. The key is to support the tacit knowledge exchange in a way that makes the knowledge accessible for others at a later point in time, to capitalise on it at scale, without stifling creativity.
How and where does Tacit Knowledge sharing happen in your organisation?
Most of us subscribe to the thinking that diverse teams are more creative, innovative and productive, and we strive to foster collaborative environments that can enable those teams to achieve more, by leveraging both explicit and tacit knowledge. Tacit knowledge sharing can take many forms–from experiences and expertise shared in meetings and projects, collaboration platforms (formal as well as informal ones), Communities of Practice, Expertise Location Services, to new hire buddy-systems and peer mentoring.
It’s a good idea to start by identifying any such formal and informal occurrences before making plans to extend or attempt to merge to a common platform. It is likely to find informal forums with more engagement than formal ones.
Once these tacit knowledge sharing pockets have been identified, it is worth looking at the success and user adoption of them, to understand why some are more popular or more effective than others. This is especially valuable when looking at KM solutions. It’s very easy to jump on the social collaboration bandwagon and think that a new collaboration platform will magically solve all problems and be immediately adopted. This is highly unlikely as the “Build it and they will come” approach rarely works, in KM, or elsewhere!
The main challenge then becomes how to standardise and align where collaboration, or other forms of tacit knowledge sharing happens, so that it can be harvested for re-use and/or become available for broader consumption. We need to be careful here, that the organisation’s need for reporting and measuring impact or value, does not take priority over usability and impacts adoption.
How can you measure the value of Tacit Knowledge?
We tend to assume that if we can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist, or has little value to the company. So how can we measure the monetary value of peer-to-peer interactions and capturing knowledge currently not documented? It may be valuable to consider at least these two aspects of “value” dimensions:
Activity metrics–designed to show and drive behavioural change and encourage or incentivise knowledge sharing and collaboration. Metrics can be very effective in driving behaviour, but we need to be careful to drive the right behaviour for the right reason, so that it doesn’t become a tick-box exercise.
Value metrics– with intent to monetary impact, which is always hard when trying to show $ value of intangible assets, like productivity or efficiency. It’s important to acknowledge this and consider indirect metrics (correlations) between knowledge sharing and business results.
In summary, tacit knowledge is as important, and sometimes more so, than explicit knowledge and you need to look at both when planning a KM initiative. Sharing and usage of tacit knowledge can be a differentiator for your business, as a foundation for innovation and collaboration, driving revenue, efficiencies and employee satisfaction. All of which can’t necessarily be directly translated into monetary value but are nonetheless contributing to business objectives.