What is "tribal knowledge"?
Tribal knowledge in the workplace is also known as "silent knowledge".
It points to the fact that critical operational knowledge often floats from person to person via word of mouth, without any formal documentation.
How to capture tribal knowledge.
Making tribal knowledge explicit is a key challenge for most companies.
Especially in an era where a lot of skilled, knowledgeable workers are about to retire, and employee turnover is high, it is time to start capturing knowledge and making it accessible for the people who need it.
→ But how should you go about and capture that silent knowledge floating around your organization?
Let's explore 5 concrete tips.
Tip 1: Take a bottom-up approach.
Most initiatives to capture knowledge are approached top down. In many of these cases, the ownership of the whole thing is on a management level.
However, you want the ownership to be on the shop floor since capturing knowledge into standards is not a one-time exercise.
→ Knowledge is not static.
Therefore, you need ownership of the content and process close to the action. It should be with the people that encounter the flaws and opportunity for improvement on a day-to-day basis.
Tip 2: Easy-to-use tooling.
When you have people on the shop floor creating and updating work instructions, you need smooth easy-to-use tools.
→ Digital tools that are made for the frontline.
If you want to motivate people on the shop floor to store tribal knowledge, it should be as easy as possible to capture, edit, and access on the go.
Tip 3: Create a community and offer recognition.
When you have shop floor involvement and easy tooling, you can do more to ‘light the fire’ of the capturing and continuous improvement process.
→ Motivation starts with a sense of ownership and low barriers.
By creating a community you can make the capturing of tribal knowledge a group effort. You can create a sense of togetherness. Your workers really become connected workers.
When setting up a community that spurs continuous improvement, you can also recognize and reward great initiatives. Put the spotlight on great achievements in capturing tribal knowledge. Offering this recognition is a motivating factor for workers to get more involved in the movement.
Tip 4: Availability on the shop floor.
Why do all the effort of capturing tribal knowledge in digital work instructions if they are not used?
Of course it is good to have them for auditors, but in that case, they are only a hygiene factor.
→ Make knowledge accessible.
They will be sitting there in their database waiting for the next auditing round to stress the quality department into a quick update round. What you really want is to put the SOPs and instructions in the hands of people on the shop floor.
Mobile and wearable tools lower the barriers. Combined with QR codes on the work stations, frontline team get the opportunity to access, use, give feedback, and improve the work process.
Tip 5: It's not a one-time effort.
Capturing knowledge is not a one-time effort.
Products, machines, and procedures change and evolve, as companies strive for continuous improvement. By the time you have stored your last procedure, the first ones will already need updating. That is why you should consider the process of capturing knowledge as a continuous one.
→ Keeping knowledge up-to-date is crucial.
Have workflows in place for the updating and verifying of knowledge. Without a process, involvement and availability on the shop floor your efforts have no chance to succeed.
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