How can L&D support the sharing of tacit knowledge? – LT Exchange 2019

by | Mar 12, 2019 | Articles, Featured, General, Interviews, Resources

Knowing what gets done is not the same as knowing how to get things done.  Jane Bozarth shares her views and experience around tacit knowledge, and why it is important to organisational success.  She explores L&D’s role in providing systems and platforms that encourage individuals to share their tactic knowledge and the importance of creating learning communities where individuals are comfortable in sharing the knowledge they have learned that makes them successful. 

Ian Mond reports on the key challenges and opportunities that surfaced during the exchange with Jane Bozarth from day two at Learning Technologies 2019“When you take up a new role, have you ever wished that your predecessor had captured for you their insights on how they got the job done, rather than be presented with piles of policies and procure documents for your role?”  What do people find more useful? 

The following practical answers to the question, “How can L&D support the sharing of tacit knowledge?”, were identified by discussions in the group.

Practical idea 1: Beginning the process of sharing tacit knowledge

Sharing tactic knowledge is not something you can enforce.  “Don’t say to employees You have to go and share your knowledge now!’”, Jane advised.

Recognise that, in some cases, middle managers are often the cause of lost or hidden information.  They are all fighting for the same resources and don’t want information that may be giving them an advantage flowing elsewhere in the organisation.

Jane explained, that in her experience, sharing tacit knowledge is often most effective when the existing systems are used differently, for example, at meetings change the focus from detailing activities to asking questions such as: “What’s the biggest problem you encountered? What’s the best thing you saw in the last month?”

These types of questions shift the focus onto what people are learning about how they overcome difficulties and learn from others. 

Practical idea 2: How successful employees get things done 

People get things done through their relationships, rather than their company policies.  It is about the interactions that occur when you are perched on the edge of someone’s desk and talking to them. Finding out the interest of the person who is responsible for paying invoices, or show an interest in their family, remembering details such as when their teenager is sitting exams etc.  These are the relationships that enable people to circumnavigate aspects of bureaucracy within their organisation.  If a client needs an urgent shipment from your company, well-developed, and authentic relationship, can often be the factor in getting that signature or authorisation quicker than the timescale detailed in a policy. 

If we want a person to share how they build their tacit knowledge around relationships, they are never going to write that down  however they might put it into a video. 

Practical idea 3: Ways in which to capture tacit knowledge 

New comfort with social sharing, combined with the proliferation of new social tools, offer easy, useful means of sharing not just what we do but how we get things done.  In her book, Show Your Work (2014), Jane gathers examples of how to demonstrate showing your work.  “It’s about giving people means to capture things they are doing – cameras etc. and somewhere to put it”.

Encourage individuals to make a video, screen shot, and ask them questions about their role. “What’s the hardest thing about getting a signature/authorisation?” “What is the one thing you wish people understood about what you do?” “What’s the hardest part of your day?”

It doesn’t have to be talking to a camera, showing your work can be done through a mind map/diagram/share an outline.  New tools such as Vyond, mean that for individuals who don’t like talking to a camera – simply record their voice describing how they get things done and turn it into an animated video. 

Personal smart phones provide the perfect tool for capturing video.  The quality of video doesn’t have to be perfect.  Look at the proliferation of video’s on YouTube, where people share their tacit knowledge, whether it is about baking a lemon cake, learning to play the guitar or wallpapering a room.  Today, people are comfortable with video that isn’t perfectly edited and professional looking.  Attention should, however, be made to sound quality. 

Practical idea 4: Building a tacit knowledge culture

Building the culture isn’t about creating a policy for tacit knowledge and you don’t have to provide financial rewards to encourage people to contribute.  In most cases, people are happy to get the recognition for sharing. 

Jane’s advice to the L&D practitioners was to, “Appeal to being the best. Could you do a webinar session for your colleagues?”.  Curate knowledge from the experts from within the organisation, for example, HR are often required to drive change in an organisation, yet often within the organisation there are people better equipped and more successful at leading change. Encourage them to share their experiences.  

Think about how many people in your organisation do presentations each year. Why don’t you capture them all and put them in a central space?  Provide a reward at the end of the year for the most professional looking, best design, funniest, most hits etc. Ask people who view them to rate them, vote on which is their favourite, most useful etc. 

It’s not about making a big announcement – start small and build up!  

Practical idea 5: Managing Governance around tacit learning 

Clearly there has to be some kind of governance around this way of sharing knowledge to ensure incorrect or inappropriate content is not presented.  One practitioner cited her line manager making a video whilst driving in their car – with a child seat visible in the back – he worked in child services!  However, Jane cautioned the approach, “As soon as someone put some governance around it, people stop contributing”.

Jane discussed the importance of the ‘Community Manager’ role, someone who is responsible for just checking on the type of content being produced and making sure that what is being said is neither blatantly wrong or inappropriate.  Also set up alerts for each piece of shared knowledge and ask the people who produced it to go back and have a look at their videos and check it is still okay.

Jane’s advice for the L&D profession in capturing tacit learning

Get people to ask the question, “What about the person who is going to be in my job next?”  

Jane asked, “Did you step into a job from a predecessor who perhaps, for all the right reasons, left a pile of information (manuals, reports, policies etc.) for you, about how to do your new job? We are good at documenting activities which may describe what the role is and what is expected of us, but don’t actually explain how we do our job.”

Before people leave, or move onto a new role, ask them if they will capture the things that made them successful in their job, and create a video, webinar, diagram etc. that would really inform and enable the next person to understand what they have to do to get things done.

You can follow Jane’s thoughts around tacit learning at bozarthzone.blogspot.com or follow her on Twitter @JaneBozarth

Watch out for more highlights from our LT Exchange programme 2019 over the coming weeks!

Interested in hearing more? Why not speak to one of our analysts! Contact us on [email protected]

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