Knowledge Management

The Different Types of Knowledge in the Workplace

Companies and employees rely on different types of knowledge. Learn how mastering each can empower your workforce.

Introduction

We have officially entered the knowledge economy, where employees are your company’s biggest asset and their knowledge, its intellectual capital.

Think about it:

  • Your employees use knowledge to create and improve your product line
  • Your managers’ understanding of business and operational best practices drives internal processes
  • Your knowledge of customers’ requirements affects reflects your ability to serve their interests

Everything that happens within your organization is based on data and knowledge. If you didn’t have this knowledge, your business will cease to exist.

It’s why knowledge management can be a game-changer for your business. But to create a robust knowledge base, you have to understand the different knowledge types. 

There are two broad types of knowledge: explicit knowledge and tacit knowledge. This post will take a deeper look at these terms to help you identify the knowledge gaps in your company.

What Is Explicit Knowledge?

Explicit knowledge is any concrete and accessible information that’s easy to document, store, and share. When communicated effectively, it enables business operations to run faster with fewer roadblocks (lack of information, limited knowledge about systems). 

This knowledge exists in tangible material formats, like databases, procedure manuals, how-to manuals, video tutorials, and employee handbooks. In the workplace, explicit knowledge is arguably the most critical element of knowledge management since it’s commonly used to onboard new employees. 

So—if you have any data that can be processed, organized, stored, and explained to outsiders, you‘ve got explicit knowledge. 

How Explicit Knowledge Is Documented and Shared

Outdoor recreation gear and clothing seller MEC created a Procedures section within their intranet to cultivate a more collaborative, two-way internal communication style. 

The company started to add new procedures as and when they were created, building a centralized place to capture new explicit procedure-related knowledge. For example, a new hire responsible for inventory could find detailed instructions explaining how to execute inventory count under the ‘Annual Inventory Count‘ section. 

Similar to MEC, you can also capture and share your organization’s explicit information to your advantage. Here are a few tips:

Do a Documentation Audit

Determine which areas of your organization’s documentation need updating. This will help you identify the gaps in your organization’s explicit knowledge. You can then assign knowledge-documenting tasks to relevant staff.

For starters, go through your documents and apprise them for relevance and accuracy. Remove any outdated or invalidated documents you don’t need anymore. You also want to simplify documents that are difficult for outsiders to understand.

Alternatively, you can ask your employees where they think knowledge gaps lie and review customer feedback and comments to see where they may benefit from additional knowledge. 

Create Content Creation Guidelines

Your company’s explicit knowledge is a dynamic resource that should evolve as different employees influence its structure and development. 

As your company’s knowledge grows, you should develop a robust content creation framework to consistency. Without predetermined rules, different employees will use different formats and styles to store knowledge, leaving you with confusing and borderline incomprehensible material that will be of no use.

Create set guidelines to help your staff stay consistent when adding to your explicit knowledge. You can also use knowledge management systems that give you complete control over formatting, authoring, and structure to maintain documentation uniformity.

Simplify Your Onboarding

Every company has a unique employee onboarding process, but you can use a knowledge management system (KMS) to enhance it further.

Your KMS probably already houses a vast amount of company knowledge collected from years of experience. Create a dedicated space within the KMS to communicate your company’s valuable explicit knowledge to new hires without spending additional money on new software.

This also allows new hires to self-onboard, which will free up your time to focus on other productive tasks.

Segment and Organize Your Knowledge

As your company grows, you may face the problem of disjointed documentation that will make it near impossible to find the documents you’re looking for with ease. 

This will mean that employees or customers won’t get the right information at the right time. And when the right information isn't on hand when needed, it’s useless. 

That’s why proper segmentation is needed from Day 1. Use your KMS to organize your explicit knowledge based on different categories, projects, and teams and make your explicit knowledge easier to access. Remember, the easier you make your knowledge to access, the more people will leverage it for better results.

Examples of Explicit Knowledge

Here are a few explicit knowledge examples in the workplace:

  • Step-by-step user guides and manuals that walk someone through how to use a product or service
  • Documentation that explains your business’s ideal customer profiles to communicate explicit knowledge with sales executives 
  • Formal customer suggestions and complaints that lets you rectify processes to improve customer experiences

What Is Tacit Knowledge?

Tacit knowledge is the skills, abilities, and expertise that an individual learns through experience, which is difficult to communicate or document. It doesn’t mean sharing tacit knowledge is impossible—it’s just more nuanced.

Let us explain—imagine yourself driving a car on the highway. Think about how you apply just the right pressure to the breaks so that the car doesn’t stop too short (to hit the car behind you) or too late (to hit a car in front of you). 

You may have read the manual to learn how to use the brakes (explicit knowledge), but your ability to understand how to use the brakes properly comes from experience (tacit knowledge).

Pretty amazing, right?

How Tacit Knowledge Is Documented and Shared

Eye care services company FYidoctors has a unique business model catering to a diverse clientele, ranging from optometrists to sales reps to engineers. It combines an eyeglass store and optometry services into a single retail experience.

The company created a forum on the intranet to capture tacit information inside the minds of subject matter experts and manage existing knowledge. In this forum, opticians could ask questions, including non-medical questions like how to deal with challenging patients, filing tax returns, and so on.

The simple move helped FYidoctors streamline efficiencies and collect vital information, as well as decrease mass emails and increase productivity.

Wondering how you can capture and share your organization‘s tacit knowledge? Here are a few tips:

Encourage Social Networking and Online Collaboration

Online collaboration provides an excellent framework for transferring tacit knowledge, where people can learn by participating in various communities. 

How? Collaborative communities provide tons of learning opportunities and exposure to new ideas through shared conversations and discourses among participants. 

Similarly, social networks also help transfer tacit knowledge. Every individual becomes a node in a network spreading knowledge, increasing their capacity to transmit information to others.

Provide Employee Training

Employee training is pivotal in knowledge sharing and management in the workforce. This includes on-the-job training, simulations, and demonstrations—basically, anything that can help employees see how to do their jobs and do it themselves to learn.

Workshops, conferences, events, and meetings also help employees understand how to approach a concept with different, improved perspectives.

Leverage the Art of Storytelling 

Using employee stories is a great way to document and share tacit knowledge.

Stories provide more context for the shared information which, in turn, improves knowledge reach. Another reason why stories work is that tacit knowledge is best learned through experiences, and what better way to share experiences than storytelling—or immersive content? 

Record Q&A-type interviews with your employees. This will help you get more insight into their thoughts and how they achieve specific results on the job. You can save these interviews to make them a part of your organization’s knowledge base.

This will allow other team members to visualize themselves doing the same when listening to these interviews.

Development Mentorship Programs

Have senior employees train new hires and juniors and share tips to make the latter better at their jobs.

Assign a mentor for every new employee, and ask them to talk about concepts and share their real-life experiences. The mentors will be responsible to guide the new recruit on handling work, aligning themselves with organizational goals? and delivering work as per company expectations.

Examples of Tacit Knowledge 

Here are a few tacit knowledge examples in the workplace:

  • Leadership skills that your employees learn throughout their career path but cannot transfer to others
  • Emotional intelligence allows managers to effectively communicate with people, making them feel welcome 
  • Understanding the right words to use within your copy to engage your customers

Implicit Knowledge in the Workplace 

Many people use tacit knowledge and implicit knowledge interchangeably—but that’s actually inaccurate.

Implicit knowledge refers to the know-how or learned skills that haven’t been documented yet. It’s a more complex concept and is gained through real-life experiences like tacit knowledge, but that’s where the similarities end.

Tacit knowledge is all about intuition and, therefore, cannot be easily transferred. It’s the knowledge that you don’t even know you have because it’s stored in your brain as an intuitive gut reaction.

On the other hand, implicit knowledge is concerned with the ‘how.‘ It refers to how one employee hones their talents to write better emails despite receiving the same level of training as everyone else. This also means implicit knowledge is shareable as the employee can document the processes that helped them become a better writer.

Knowledge Management Exists as a Continuum

When defining knowledge as explicit or tacit, don’t take an “either/all“ approach. Every piece of knowledge your organization owns is a small piece of the puzzle that makes up the big picture.

Suppose your sales team has a documented process to pitch your product to customers. While the document lays out clear steps to achieve the end goal (explicit knowledge), each step will have a certain degree of “know-how“ that your sales team will understand because of their sales experience—something that may not be as obvious to non-salespeople. 

Therefore, your priority should be to leverage both—explicit and tacit knowledge (and implicit knowledge)—in your knowledge management system and add more value to an already invaluable resource.

Want to make simplify explicit, tacit, and implicit knowledge sharing? Sign up with Scribe for free to document your organizational knowledge faster and more effectively and start saving your team 20+ hours a month.