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How to convert tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge within your company


Explicit and tacit knowledge are part of an organisation's intellectual capital. But to fully exploit its potential it is necessary to document them and make them accessible to employees and stakeholders, to create value
To understand how to do this, we first need to know what is tacit knowledge and why it is important.

Tacit knowledge definition

How can we define tacit knowledge? In every company and organization, each employee has a wealth of information that is often difficult to share: this is the definition of tacit knowledge, or implicit knowledge, which consists of decision-making processes, insights, initiatives, and time-tested best practices peculiar to each staff member. 

It is worth remembering tacit and explicit knowledge are two different forms of corporate knowledge. As already pointed out, tacit knowledge deals with the know-how and learning embedded within the minds of people, whereas explicit knowledge definition concerns the knowledge codified and digitized in books, documents, reports, memos, etc. and is easily identified and shared.

We are talking about all those elements linked to experience, precisely those most difficult to make explicit and to pass on to others, which can nonetheless be a significant competitive advantage for the company. 

Were this intellectual capital retained by each employee codified, made easily accessible and shareable among the various departments, each staff member would be able to take advantage of the information made available to do his or her job better.

However, employees are not always aware of their possession of such valuable resources, thus it is necessary for the company to integrate tools and working methods that can help "capture" tacit skills in the knowledge management processes. 

What is best practice transfer and why is it important

Internal best practices are particularly performing knowledge, as they consist of information inserted in the context of real people and experiences. By measuring the results, we can identify the methodology or approach to a certain task that delivers better outcomes.

The transfer of best practices is a typical approach of Knowledge Management which aims to spread across the organization all those actions and processes related to the best results.

However, it is easy to encounter obstacles or resistance to its implementation, primarily in the "silo mentality", that is, the reluctance of employees to share information and knowledge with other divisions and departments.

Therefore it is important not only to carefully define strategy,  objectives, and analyze all variables, but above all to clearly communicate motivations and benefits (the business drivers) to employees and managers. 

Among them, some of the most common may be the standardization of processes in different markets, the maintenance or improvement of quality, the enhancement of customer services, the adoption of innovative technologies, and so on. 


How to help employees make tacit knowledge explicit

First and foremost, it is essential for the company to have knowledge management tools at its disposal, so that employees have easy access to information and can update and share it just as easily.

Once the technological infrastructure has been built -  which ensures access to and the sharing of corporate knowledge -  it is necessary to foster processes which will encourage and help employees make tacit knowledge explicit.

  • Analyze processes and actions to share insights

Many employees become aware of their experiences by asking themselves questions. Indeed, during and after the performance of tasks and projects, it is essential to recall the activities and experiences that have been put into practice and carefully analyze all of them, whether they led to the actual achievement of a goal or not. 

Asking the employee critical questions about how to carry out processes, customer preferences, and implemented actions helps to explicate insights and best practices that can be useful to other employees and in future projects.

  • Facilitate onboarding of new employees

Onboarding aims at acclimating new employees to become productive members of the company, not only by merely training them, but also by providing them with all the means to access the information they need to succeed in their future roles within the company. Adopting knowledge management platforms is the perfect solution to this. Thanks to a knowledge management platform, information, guidelines, documents, and content, but also tips and best practices based on the experiences of each specific role are indeed easily shared.

  • Organize mentorship and brainstorming sessions

Collaboration and discussion are two very powerful means of stimulating the sharing of personal experiences that each employee may have in the workplace. When people with different backgrounds and skills come together to address specific topics, innovative ideas can emerge. In addition, it is fundamental to leverage key figures to both train employees on the use of business tools and pass on to the staff members their experiences enriched by personal perspectives and insights, which are the main components of tacit knowledge.

  • Documenting delivery steps

Similarly to onboarding, during the offboarding of exiting employees, one has to make sure that knowledge is not lost. Therefore, the process of handover is crucial as it deals with asking the exiting employee to document information and knowledge about customer management, the processes followed, the best practices, and the tips for using specific tools. All these pieces of information constitute a valuable starting point for those who will later join the team for the first time.


Read also:

The risks of knowledge divide and knowledge gaps in the company

Information hoarders: is there a knowledge hoarding problem in your company?


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