Imagine your friend comes to your home and tries to open the door but the door doesn’t open so they call you. You tell them to pull in the doorknob towards them a bit and twist it slightly. The door opens. They already knew how a door opens and went with the known method but somehow still didn’t manage to open it. The pull and twist method is something that only you knew. This method that you knew is what tacit knowledge is all about.
Tacit knowledge is very specific and only a few people possess this knowledge about something. On the other hand, based on their implicit knowledge your friend tried to open the door in a regular way. Implicit learning is the type of learning that occurs without awareness that it is occurring for example learning how to walk.
In this article, you will learn the meaning of tacit knowledge in an organization and the way how to share it to prevent knowledge loss. Along with that, you will learn the difference between implicit and explicit knowledge.
What is Tacit Knowledge?
Let’s begin with the meaning of tacit. Tacit means something that is understood without being stated or spoken about. Tacit knowledge, also known as tribal knowledge or experiential knowledge is intuitive knowledge based on someone’s wisdom, experience, skills, or practices.
Knowledge is a valuable asset at any organization. Whenever an employee leaves the organization, they take their knowledge with them. Tacit knowledge is hard to explain to others and is hardly ever shared. In other words, tacit knowledge is hard to document or put into words. Often, managers may never even know tacit knowledge is in play till the employee leaves the organization and this loss is felt acutely.
Some people that may possess tacit business knowledge are often unaware of how this knowledge can truly benefit the company. This is because it resides in the mind of that particular employee and since it is hard to document, it isn’t shared with others easily. Tacit knowledge can be someone’s habit, know-how, or simply a behavior that others can not adopt that easily.
Tacit vs Explicit Knowledge
Although the terms tacit and explicit knowledge are used interchangeably, they aren’t the same. Explicit knowledge is the type of knowledge that is easily documented, shared with others, and is easy to communicate. The third type of knowledge is Implicit knowledge which is the application of explicit knowledge. In other words, implicit knowledge is actually explicit knowledge that hasn’t been documented.
For example, an instruction manual on how to fly a plane is a good example of explicit knowledge. If pilots receive the manual, it means it is already documented and is now therefore part of implicit knowledge. Now, not everyone who reads the manual is able to fly a plane of course. This is where tacit knowledge comes. It is the know-how of flying the plane based on skills and experience.
Some differences between the three are as follows:
Tacit knowledge is not easily shared while explicit or implicit knowledge is transferable easily in the form of written documents.
Tacit knowledge is intrinsic in nature and is context-specific. While implicit or explicit knowledge is intrinsically incomplete and requires context.
Tacit learning is gained through experiences, insight, skills, and wisdom. Explicit or implicit knowledge is gained through information and theoretical knowledge.
Some ways to share tacit skills, experience and knowledge include practice, apprenticeship, or converting some of the knowledge into explicit knowledge. On the other hand, explicit or implicit knowledge is easily shared by codification or written training material.
The Importance of Tacit Knowledge Within the Organization
Tacit knowledge is highly valuable within an organization and plays many roles. The more knowledge your employees have about your company and its services, the better your organization is likely to perform. Some advantages of tacit knowledge in an organization are given below:
Tacit knowledge is inexpensive because unlike in explicit knowledge it doesn’t require specific training resources. Tacit knowledge is based on a person’s personal wisdom, hence training such employees is rarely needed.
Tacit knowledge is internalized. There is no chance that a piece of important information gets leaked after an employee leaves your organization. It is therefore considered an important advantage over your competitors.
Over the years, the tacit knowledge grows in the employee with more experience and practice and isn’t easily transferable to others.
Implicit knowledge gives you specific instructions about how to do something. It doesn’t mean that an employee will be able to follow them as they are. However, with tacit, this isn’t the case. The efficiency to do a particular task comes from within the person naturally. In this way, it clarifies the uncertainties that arise from the written instructions. Such employees are valuable assets for the organization.
It Goes Beyond What To Do
Explicit knowledge tells you what to do but tacit knowledge shows you how to do it. It allows people to dig deeper into details of a process to cement their understanding. For example, a manual of driving a car is explicit knowledge but a video of a person demonstrating to others how to drive is a tacit skill.
An employee with tacit skills is more trusted within the organization and in the eyes of a customer as well. Think of it in this way, a person who shows you how to drive a car is considered more open and trustworthy as compared to someone who simply gives instructions on how to drive a car. When customers get exactly what they want from you, they begin trusting the organization more.
Out of the box Thinking
Tacit knowledge is different from explicit knowledge because it is more inclined towards greater creativity, intelligence, and out-of-the-box thinking. The exchange of tacit knowledge allows more creativity and productivity within employees. Tacit knowledge is all about having eureka moments in the organization as compared to other knowledge types.
How to Capture Tacit Knowledge?
Now that we’ve established a good understanding of what tacit learning is, let’s see some of the ways in which you can capture and share tacit knowledge:
Create the Environment
Actual learning happens in the right environment. A knowledge-sharing culture is important if you want to share tacit knowledge with your employees. An environment that paves ways for opportunities in learning skills, practices is a good way to capture tacit knowledge.
When you encourage social interaction in your organization, your employees learn a lot. A sure way to enhance tacit skills and knowledge in your organization is to encourage your employees to observe others when they are doing a particle task. Observational training leads to tacit learning.
Visualize the Process
Since most of our learning occurs through observation, visualizing a process is important to adapt to the tacit culture. For example, encourage your employees to collaborate on specific projects with skilled and experienced employees. Another way is to capture the process on video and then demonstrate it to other employees.
Capture tacit skills by taking notes. Whenever a skilled employee talks about a process or is actually doing it, it’s a good practice for other employees to take notes. Note down how they begin a process, how they solve a problem, and how they finish the task. Another way is to conduct interviews and learn the ways they achieve particular tasks. As an employer, you can keep all the information safe and share it with new employees.
Storytelling is one of the best ways to share tacit expertise. The stories here mean employee stories of course. Telling a process in the form of a story is helpful because it has context. Employee stories involve all the experiences that an employee may have. Storytelling converts employees’ tacit knowledge into an immersion for the new ones. To conduct storytelling sessions you will need to interview your employees and record their entire process to do things.
Tacit Knowledge Examples
Tacit knowledge is a form of knowledge that exists in skills, wisdom, and personal ability to achieve things. In simpler words, tacit knowledge is just another way to say a person is good at something naturally. Some examples of it are given below:
A good example of tacit knowledge is having hands-on skills. These include being good at doing professional makeup or repairing automobiles. In an organization, it can be being good at dealing with customers and selling them a product or service without actually selling it.
Speaking a Language
Speaking or writing a language other than your mother tongue is another example. A language is learned at a very early developmental stage. This is the reason learning a second language can be hard and requires a lot of practice.
Not everyone is a born leader. People can not learn to be a leader because that requires natural ability to lead others. Similarly, there is no course or training to make you a leader from scratch. Leadership extends from experience.
Good Taste in Things
Having a knack for selecting the best thing is a gift. This can either be having a great aesthetic sense or the art of persuading people through the right choice of words. These are other examples of tacit knowledge and can be hard to transfer within the organization.
Nonverbal skills or body language are hard to teach or share with others. Not everyone can read the body language of another person and not everyone possesses the ability to decipher the non-verbal signals another person sends.
Humor is a tacit trait. Being witty and being able to keep the other person engaged are a few characteristics that not every employee has. You will not find everyone funny and it can be hard to teach another person to be humorous. In a workplace, humor can be helpful in blog posts where the writer engages the reader through humor and wit. In general, humor and wit are great ice breakers with all stakeholders. Be it clients, colleagues, or management.
Being Good at Sales
Being a prolific salesperson isn’t every employee’s cup of tea. This is something that isn’t transferable to other employees because of its social nature.
At any organization, not every employee has the ability to handle difficult situations. Whenever a challenge arises, employees seek help from other employees who have the experience and wisdom to overcome it. Therefore, overcoming challenges is a skill that not everyone can learn.
Tips and Tricks
Tips and tricks to do a thing in a particular way in order to achieve the best results is also tacit knowledge. For example, only certain employees know how to turn a customer into a client using tactics only they know.
Writing Good Copy
Being a good writer is rare and being a good copywriter is rarer. You’ll see that many of your employees can write but they can’t write well enough to persuade people to take action. This is tacit knowledge and not every employee has this ability. Using the right words with the right tone is important if you want a person to buy your product or download your app.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to read emotions and take suitable actions based on them. Perceiving emotions, understanding them, or using them are some traits that are not possible for everyone to have. Therefore, emotional intelligence is hard to teach or learn.
Both tacit and explicit knowledge is important for your organization to thrive. But tacit knowledge is something that every organization considers an asset because of its intangible nature. Employees who possess this knowledge are important and HR needs to learn how to recognize such employees. By doing so, they can focus on retaining them and prevent headhunting by competition.