Approaching the topic of Knowledge Management is very daunting. Many may say it is nothing more than managing information; others have created numerous academic journals and books on the subject.
I am going to keep it simple:
Your employees are your assets and they have knowledge. This knowledge can be created or gathered (new knowledge), transferred through systems, culture, organizational learning or knowledge sharing.
Organizational knowledge can be used to create strategies, improve product development and increase the bench-strength of your workforce. This in turn can lead to a competitive advantage.
Each of us has knowledge, our ‘personal capital’ (Ashok Jashapara, 2011).
I think it’s fair to say we are know our own worth and being labeled the same as another employee or manager probably wouldn’t make us feel valued. We may do the same job on paper as others, but we have knowledge that makes us unique.
Personal capital can be split down into 2 areas of knowledge; explicit and tacit:
Explicit – Written down or verbalized information
Tacit – Cannot always be verbalized; it’s our abilities, our skills and our ‘know how’
I want to focus on tacit knowledge, as that’s the kind of knowledge that’s difficult to nurture. This is also crucially important to our organization’s competitive advantage, as when that employee leaves, this kind of knowledge goes with them.
Firstly, that person’s skills are very valuable. As an organisation there must be ways to keep that knowledge within the business. This could be linked to their leadership style, the way they approach problems or even a skill like speaking a language.
Organizations are getting smarter at this and are creating top talent programs. They know this is knowledge capital they cannot afford to lose, especially in this fast paced business world where small knowledge advantages can turn into very big competitive advantages.
Secondly, we may want others to exhibit their skills, but how do we do that when these are largely behaviour based?
We need to have a process in place for the top performers to be shadowed or to teach the others. This method of showing the other person what a good job looks like also shows the learner something that cannot be verbalized – that individual’s skill, their ‘know how’.
Shadowing a top performer has many advantages including:
- Benefit from innovation – Everyone has a different style, learn from the top talents why they do things the way they do.
- Help understanding the ‘big picture’ – These individual’s know how the work they does fits into the wider organizational strategy, they can answer questions like, ‘what benefit does the work we do have on the end customer’ or ‘why do we spend so long on X process and not on Y’.
- Highlighting pitfalls – We often talk about ‘trial by fire’ or learning through making mistakes. This is all part of learning within a role, but shadowing a top performer will help the learner understand the potential pitfalls and hopefully lessen the risk of something going wrong.
- Relationships and getting the most from others – Not only will shadowing build a network for the learner, but it will also allow them insights into other people that they would not find out about immediately. Perhaps they will be working with is generally slow at responding to requests and so the top performer always picks up the phone rather than emails. Or, that the person likes extra information provided on certain tasks and that produces a better quality of output and less time spent asking questions that could have been addressed upfront.These may not be written down, but you are hearing about the top performers experience and how they have got the most from the team around them.
It’s so important that any learning isn’t just reading a manual of process steps. It also isn’t enough to put a learner with an average achiever. If you want individuals to gain both the skills that can be verbalized and those that cannot you need to get them to shadow your top performers.
Don’t let that tacit knowledge go to waste – if you don’t use it, someone else will.