Author Archives: Diana Porumboiu

About Diana Porumboiu

Diana heads marketing at Viima, the most widely used and highest rated innovation management software in the world, and has a passion for innovation, and for genuine, valuable content that creates long-lasting impact. Her combination of creativity, strategic thinking and curiosity has helped organisations grow their online presence through strategic campaigns, community management and engaging content.

What Can Leaders Do to Have More Innovative Teams?

What Can Leaders Do to Have More Innovative Teams?

GUEST POST from Diana Porumboiu

Talent is one of the main drivers of innovation and its scarcity and high value makes it a frequent cause for concern for leaders from all over the world. And for good reason. Quality talent can make a business up to 800 times more productive.

But some of the biggest managerial challenges of senior leaders are finding the right talent and encouraging innovative behavior in employees. In fact, only 23% of managers and senior leaders believe they have good methods in place to acquire and retain the best talent.

So, how do you find the right people, retain them, and get them to drive more innovation? Putting together innovative teams and making sure that you have the best talent in the organization is not just an HR responsibility. From top executives to managers and leaders, they all have a part to play in the quest for talent that can help the organization drive more innovation.

To this end, we wrote this article for people in large organizations, whether they are innovation managers, leaders, or executives, who want to build talented teams that can actually drive more innovation.

We’ll go through some important points on the characteristics of innovative employees and provide some practical tips on how to get better talent and tap into the potential of current workforce to drive more innovation.

Why organizations need more employees involved in, and trained for, innovation work

We know that at a global level there is a shortage of highly skilled employees, and that even large companies with all their resources, don’t excel at finding and retaining talent.

Even though unemployment is still a big problem in many areas of the world, the rapid pace of change in recent times have showed that there is also an increasing shortage of talent.

Before 2020, a Gallup survey revealed that 73% of respondents were thinking of leaving their job. The pandemic hit, along with a crisis for many workers, but also with a wakeup call for other employees. And the Great Resignation, where 25 million people in the US quit their jobs in the second half of 2021, is proof of these unpredictable changes.

So, maybe now more than ever organizations should make sure that they are prepared and that they have the right workforce to help them thrive in the future.

Finding top talent is difficult, it takes time and it’s expensive. There is no way around it, organizations need more people once they start growing. At the same time, inside most companies there are also huge opportunities to unlock value from the existing workforce.

  • Untapped internal innovation potential

As it’s becoming more difficult to recruit top talent who can make more innovation happen, businesses that lack the knowledge and support for future growth are on shaky grounds.

But the conversations around the war for talent are not enough to provide real solutions on how to get more people involved in innovation work. Of course, as businesses grow, the need for more people to support that growth is obvious. However, when it comes to innovation capabilities, we don’t hear that often discussions around internal scouting and training of the existing workforce who can turn into assets for innovation.

How to tap into the full potential of employees? The approaches can vary, but a good start that works for almost any company, is to include everyone in the conversation, create a sense of belonging and give them a voice. This option is always worth pursuing and for a more in-depth guide on how to do that you can also check our article on collecting ideas from frontline employees.

Include everyone in the conversation, create a sense of belonging and give them a voice.

A second approach is to actually have them implement and drive innovation, but this is more complicated and requires a very structured approach and well implemented innovation management processes.

Either way, employees would benefit from training on innovation as is understood and applied within your organization. A common understanding of what innovation is for you, as a company, and how to achieve it, can reveal more potential than you first imagined you had.

There is still some controversy around the topic, and some believe that not everyone can be an innovator. While that can be true to some extent, innovation comes in different forms and shapes and almost everyone can contribute to innovation in one way or another if the context allows for it. Which takes us to our next point.

  • Innovation can be everyone’s job

While innovation might not come natural to most people, it doesn’t mean that we can’t learn the skills and mindset required for it. Even though not everyone has the curiosity and openness to explore new opportunities and ways of improving their work, they should still be encouraged and incentivized to be more innovative. And we believe it all starts at the top.

Innovation should be approached both top-down and bottom-up, but unless it starts from the top with great leaders who set the tone and support innovation, the chances of success are slim. At the same time, the front-end of innovation is where everyone can and should contribute, while the back-end execution requires more specialized skills and knowledge.

Viima Innovation Management Funnel

The bottom line here is that you can achieve a lot more innovation if you give everyone an opportunity to contribute. Most ideas, especially those that lead to incremental innovation come from the front-line employees, as they are the ones in close contact with your customers, products, and services. Even though most of these won’t necessarily change the trajectory of your business, when you put them together, they can make a huge difference in the performance of the core business.

  • Knowledge — source of innovation and competitive advantage

Speaking of competition, intangible assets, more prominently knowledge, are one of the major competitive advantages for organizations. Even more, tacit knowledge, the know-how, wisdom and experiences of employees which is not codified or explicit, represents an important driver for innovation.

As soon as you start working on harnessing that knowledge by creating the environment that enables transparent communication and flow of information, you will have more people involved in everyday innovation activities like idea challenges.

If you promote an innovation culture

“Even if people themselves might not be innovators, they are still likely to support innovation instead of blocking it by being resistant to change.”

So, if we look at it from this perspective, everyone in the organization can contribute to innovation with the right leaders at the helm, some good skills development programs, and a sound scouting system in place. But for that, we first need to understand what makes an employee innovative and what are the traits that define innovative thinking.

What makes employees innovative?

In simple words, innovation stems from a mix of creativity and action. However, even if creativity is important, it is often overrated compared to execution, which makes change happen and gets things done. To get to execution in the corporate setting, you also need good communication and collaboration.

At a macro level, things seem simple but at the micro level, the individual’s set of skills and traits required for innovation can’t be summed up in a couple of words.

Employee Pondering

So, let’s see what makes someone innovative, what to pay attention to, and what skills innovators should learn and develop. This can help you assess whether some of your team members excel in some areas or if they need to refine other skills or behaviors.

  • Growth Mindset

The road to innovation is paved with uncertainty and risk, so innovators will always need to push into the unfamiliar. This comes natural to those with a growth mindset, who are usually inclined to be more open to change. On the other hand, those with a fixed mindset will be more reluctant to try something new or explore beyond what they are used to.

In short, a growth mindset is compatible with innovation because those who possess it, believe their abilities can be developed through hard work and dedication. Innovation work will most certainly mean that you will fail at some point, or your assumptions will prove to be false. Those with a growth mindset are resilient, curious, and eager to learn, so such failures won’t hold them back.

There is a common misconception that a fixed mindset can’t be transformed, since it is after all, fixed. The good news is that neuroscience has proved the plasticity of our brains, which means that behaviors and mindsets can be changed, even at a more mature age. But more on that, in the next section.

  • Skills

As mentioned earlier, if you want to build an innovation culture and inspire innovative thinking within your organization, it’s not enough to have the most creative people. There are certain skills that encourage the proactive “doers” to act and execute on innovation.

Some of these skills for innovation are critical thinking, which helps with problem solving, curiosity, which allows for exploration and learning, good communication which enables collaboration and teamwork, and of course the hard skills necessary to actually implement innovation.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of skills for innovation, but they can be seen as the basis on which people can build and improve their skills. The key thing to remember is that for some types of innovation, you want people that can move things forward and get them done.

  • Values

Maybe less pragmatic, but just as important in getting more people on the innovation boat, are the personal values. Values guide behavior and explain behavioral patterns. We tend to act instinctively according to our core values and according to empirical studies, certain values foster innovative behavior while others might impede it.

Our previous article on cultural differences and innovation explains more in depth the relation between people’s beliefs and innovation, so we won’t go too much into detail here.

While some theories like the Theory of Basic Human Values of Schwartz or Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory stem from cultural psychology and communication, they have been extended and applied to economics and the corporate world as well.

For example, one of the ten broad personal values identified by Schwartz, self-direction, is defined as someone being independent in thought, inclined to choose, create, and explore. On the other hand, someone that values conformity and security more, will be less inclined to accept change, or challenge the status quo.

Schwartz Theory Basic Values

Source: https://i2s.anu.edu.au/resources/schwartz-theory-basic-values

These can be measured through the Schwartz Value survey and the Portrait Values Questionnaire. Of course, this is just one practical method, and it has its limitation, as it’s not always easy to apply in a corporate context. However, these methods can still be helpful in providing some guidelines on personality traits and values that are more inclined toward innovation.

So, let’s move from theory to practices that can encourage and nurture innovative behaviors in employees.

How to nurture innovative behavior in your organization

Most leaders concerned about the future of the organization they work for have asked themselves at some point how to unlock more innovation potential and it’s not easy to find the right answer. That’s because there is no single correct answer, but rather a mix of strategy, leadership approaches, resources, and practices.

The first noteworthy element that ignites innovation behavior is as simple as having the ambition to pursue specific goals that highlight the role and value of change and innovation.

Having the right goals that provide focus and direction is essential to set the stage and make it explicit that everyone has a role to play in improving the way they, and the company at large, operate and behave.

The next steppingstone that reinforces and support the goals are the processes that can lead to change and innovation. These are essential in strengthening teams that work on those goals and make things happen. Such processes will look different for each organization. Whether it’s a specific time allocation like the 15% or 20% rule for innovation, or idea management processes, these are crucial for long-term success.

Now, there are also other methods that are essential in nurturing an innovative behavior and these are mostly related to leaders’ soft skills and their ability to create the environment where innovation can flourish.

  • Foster a growth mindset

As already mentioned, there is a myth that you either have the growth mindset or you don’t. In fact, brains keep on changing, together with the cognitive abilities, and a fixed mindset can be developed into a growth one. How to achieve this in practice?

Start by identifying the fixed mindset patterns in your employees. Is someone giving up quickly? Maybe they avoid challenges and prefer the comfort zone, or they avoid negative feedback and are always prepared with the answer “It’s not my job” or “I’m not good with words, or creative enough”. These are all signs that point to a fixed mindset.

To change this, set smart goals and offer learning opportunities that are aligned with those goals. People with a fixed mindset usually hang on to old habits because they had success with those, and they’ve been measured based on them. So, create reward systems that encourage new ways of working and challenge people to take risks.

People with a fixed mindset usually hang on to old habits because they had success with those, and they’ve been measured based on them.

For example, Tata Group worked on developing an innovation culture for many years and as part of their initiative they have a prize for the best failed idea. The purpose is not to fail for the sake of failing but to encourage innovation.

Such initiatives should come from leaders who are willing to address the root causes of their employees’ uncertainty and reluctance to novelty. However, to be able to implement similar initiatives, leaders should take a step back and consider another element, which is critical: psychological safety in the workplace.

  • Psychological safety

The concept of psychological safety dates to 1999 and it refers to the belief that one will not be punished or shamed if speaking up or coming up with ideas, questions or concerns. Studies show that when employees feel comfortable to challenge the status quo without fearing negative consequences, organizations can innovate faster and adapt well to change.

Leaders have the greatest impact on team climate, and they have the power to influence internal behaviors more than anyone. A McKinsey survey reveals how leaders should develop their skills through leadership programs that focus on specific skills. Among the skills that have the biggest influence on creating psychologically safe work environments are the open dialogue skills, sponsorship, and situational humility.

While the theory helps us understand the importance of psychological safety in the workplace, it doesn’t provide practical answers. So, let’s briefly look at some concrete examples that leaders can put in practice to inspire more trust, and safety.

A good place to start is Laura Delizonna’s framework for psychological safety, which is based on four key pillars: Care, Courage, Co-elevate, Commitment.

Laura Delizonna Psychological Safety Framework

Care

Care is about empathy and the openness to understand one another even if you don’t agree. Showing care means practicing active listening, showing interest and empathy.

For example, some organizations have team rituals like check-ins. One technique is the PIE check-in when each person in the team takes a few seconds to talk about their Physical, Intellectual and Emotional state.

Another technique you could use is the Rose Bud Thorn, where you ask each person to share a positive of the week (rose), something that emerged (the bud) and something that is challenging (the thorn).

There are other techniques and most of them work well even in remote environments. Also, something as simple as coffee chats, ask me anything sessions, sharing rituals like celebrating birthdays or holidays can all help in showing care and empathy. Leaders should constantly offer their support, assess people’s needs and burnout risk.

Courage

To inspire courage, leaders first have to show courage. They should walk the talk and be open with their vulnerabilities, mistakes, and challenges. So, while it might be difficult for some, true leaders show the way by admitting when they don’t know something, asking questions and showing interest to learn and improve their skills. Owning errors publicly and as soon as they happen has a big impact on team morale and attitude towards failure.

As a leader you can share your learning journey where you include the goal, the adversities you faced, experiments you made and failed and lessons you learned.

Co-elevate

Co-elevate is about inspiring and empowering others to bring their best, not just cooperate. Study shows that leaders think they give recognition 80% of their time, while team members feel they receive recognition 30% of the time. There is a disconnect in how we communicate.

Some best practice to co-elevate is to express appreciation that is frequent and specific. What do you appreciate in someone’s approach? How did their work influence the results and you personally? What specific behaviors can you praise?

Just as important is to solicit input and how you do that makes all the difference. Instead of leaving room at the end of a meeting for people to add something, change the approach to ask opposing views, or what someone would do in your place, etc. Remember to thank those who speak up and give an opposing argument.

As you can see, there are many nuances when communicating, providing, and asking for feedback. Once you create procedure and different pathways that allow for contribution, things will get easier.

Commitment

Commitment is what brings everything together. Leaders need to commit to experiments and to try to do something differently. Set goals for things you want to change. You can start with one experiment every day.

Psychological safety and a growth mindset are essential if you want to unleash the innovation potential of employees. However, nurturing them takes time, so you won’t see results overnight. It’s important to remember that as leaders you set the scene and lead the way. Unless you take baby steps to display the innovative behavior you expect from others, you won’t be able to move the needle in the right direction.

Conclusion

Neuroscience taught us that even as adults, our brains are malleable, so if some employees might seem resistant to change, disengaged or lack creativity, first ask yourself if there is something you can do differently. Maybe they don’t have the environment where they can flourish, or they are not led by people who allow them to shine.

Inevitably, there’s always going to be someone who resists change, who can’t be converted to a growth mindset or innovative thinking. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for improvement. Their support can contribute to incremental innovation and continuous improvements. It’s also more cost-efficient to train existing workforce than always looking for something you believe it’s missing.

When you’ll inevitably have to scout externally for new talent to support innovation work, consider a few key elements: the employer brand, innovation culture, leadership training programs, as well as the processes and mechanisms that facilitate innovation.

This article was originally published in Viima’s blog.

Image credits: Viima, Unsplash, Pexels

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Leveraging Tacit Knowledge to Drive More Innovation

Leveraging Tacit Knowledge to Drive More Innovation

GUEST POST from Diana Porumboiu

The value of intangible assets in organizations is nowadays five times greater than the one of tangible assets. In fact, 84% of value in S&P companies is currently represented by intangible assets, like intellectual property, knowledge, or brand recognition, compared to merely 16% for tangible ones.

Even so, some leaders still have difficulties in grasping the power of knowledge and how it can be leveraged and managed to drive more innovation in their organizations. One of the biggest challenges for these leaders is that the majority of knowledge that makes more innovation happen is tacit, and therefore it’s harder to tap into its full potential through the traditional methods: processes, procedures and policies available in databases and documents.

Unfortunately, companies that were not able to keep up with these changes in value distribution faced difficulties and were surpassed by those that leveraged tacit knowledge better. Now, the question that arises is how top companies tap into the full potential of tacit knowledge.

So, in today’s article we’ll explain how different types of knowledge trigger innovation, what is the true value of tacit knowledge, as well as some practical tips on how to make the most of tacit knowledge.

Tacit Brain Knowledge

Explicit, implicit, and tacit knowledge and their role in driving innovation

Before diving into the practical things, we’ll go through some theoretical aspects which can help clarify the reasoning behind some actions. There’s a lot of literature on tacit knowledge and knowledge management which you can explore more in depth if you’re interested, but for the purpose of this article we chose the essential information which can serve leaders, managers and decision-makers who want to tap into the potential of tacit knowledge.

The goal of this article is not to offer a perspective rooted in cognitive science and we are aware that there are different interpretations and a variety of opinions on the topic. That being said, let’s get to it.

Knowledge, especially tacit, is hard to quantify and measure, which makes it elusive and difficult to capture, but its role in driving innovation is undeniable. To exploit its innovation potential, it’s essential to understand the different types of knowledge, how they can be managed and how they come into play in an organization.

For this, we’ll briefly explain the three main types of knowledge and their role in making innovation happen.

First, there is explicit knowledge, which is the easiest to manage and understand. It’s the most basic type of knowledge that can be collected and transmitted throughout an organization. It comes from organizing, structuring, and processing data and it’s usually stored in databases or files like internal documentation, reports, analytics and financials, process maps, handbooks, and so on.

For example, all metrics and KPIs are forms of explicit knowledge. Explicit knowledge supports everyday improvements which primarily leads to incremental innovations.

Next is implicit knowledge, which oftentimes is put under the same umbrella with tacit knowledge. However, we prefer to separate the two because there are small differences in how you should manage them in practice.

Implicit knowledge is essentially explicit knowledge applied: how we make use of existing information and put it into practice. Each of us has different past experiences and ways of thinking. As you’ve probably seen, that means that we can draw different conclusions from the same data, and thus apply the same explicit knowledge in very different ways.

This is true especially when we think of how people communicate and transfer information. For example, when we create a report or a presentation, even if we work with the same data points and results, different people may choose to focus on different pieces of information and tell a very different story.

Last, but not least, is the focus of this article: tacit knowledge. Tacit knowledge refers to the wisdom we accumulate through experience but that is not codified or clearly expressed. These are the things we know but can’t really put into words. Think cognitive skills, mental models, intuition, and general know-how.

Different sources are citing various figures of how knowledge is distirbuted in an organization. From 80% all the way to 95%, tacit knowledge seems to be the bottom of an iceberg, hidden under water. Regardless of what the specific number really is, it’s probably safe to say, that the vast majority of information is tacit.

Tacit Knowledge Pyramid

It’s believed that turning tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge is extremely difficult because of its nature. Many times, when we think we articulate or codify tacit knowledge, we might deal with implicit knowledge instead. Why is it then so hard to capture tacit knowledge — and should we even try to make it explicit?

In practice, people often aren’t aware of the tacit knowledge they possess, and that’s a big part of what makes it so elusive. Transferring know-how and cognitive skills requires regular contact, interaction, and trust between people. When this can be turned into a conscious, systematic effort, that’s when we start to get its value and make the best of it.

The importance of tacit knowledge and how to make the most of it

In the era of information technology, it’s so easy to become obsolete, that retaining and acquiring knowledge has become a central focus for most organizations.

Today most companies recognize employees’ talent and knowledge as a major competitive advantage. We’ll explain later in the article why most innovations and breakthroughs don’t come from explicit, but from tacit knowledge.

Losing employees with the tacit knowledge that hasn’t been passed on can lead to the inability to complete projects or meet strategic targets. For example, an engineering company lost its dominant market position simply because it lost the experienced engineers that major clients were looking for. Typically, that relationship isn’t as obvious, but the same principles still apply. The most talented or experienced employees create dramatically outsized returns for the organization.

As already mentioned, explicit knowledge refers to the public information, which would be easily accessible if desired, because it can be codified and transmitted in writing. As we know, such knowledge generally contributes to incremental improvements, but breakthrough innovations require truly novel knowledge, and that usually starts at an individual level.

From a highly experienced floor worker who comes up with ideas to streamline processes to a researcher’s insights that help develop a new product, the key is to make this individual knowledge available to others. That is one of the main sources of competitive advantage in knowledge-centric companies.

How tacit knowledge impacts organizational performance

Traditionally, knowledge isn’t systematically measured against financial results, so some executives might not be aware of how knowledge loss impacts their performance. It’s understandable, given that it’s easier to measure and track the impact of tangible assets, so the focus usually goes in that direction.

However, nowadays we have plenty of research that supports the idea that losing knowledge has a significant negative impact on an organization’s performance. This helps us better understand how losing tacit knowledge affects the bottom line. At the same time, if leaders can articulate the role of tacit knowledge, they can also assess the real costs of managing it and raise awareness on the investments required to create, retain, and transmit it.

Losing knowledge capital can affect the performance of an organization in different ways.

From reduced organizational capabilities or ability to achieve strategic objectives, to disruptions, increased time to accomplish tasks, increased costs, or reduced customer satisfaction.

Let’s take the example of a company where a veteran sales executive who played a major role in dealing with important customers is leaving the organization. His strong customer relationships developed over the years could affect the firm, leading to a loss of up to $ 10 million. The business will not only lose significant revenue but its ability to acquire new ones will also diminish.

In such cases, the external social capital is useful for the organization at large. Having access to a diverse external network allows people inside the organization to tap into a wide range of information.

On the other side, when these connections are exclusively internal, politics can get in the way and affect the transparent flow of information.

To summarize, losing knowledge capital can affect the performance of an organization in different ways. From reduced organizational capabilities or ability to achieve strategic objectives, to disruptions, increased time to accomplish tasks, increased costs, or reduced customer satisfaction.

On the other hand, if you focus on developing a knowledge-creating company that encourages continuous learning, interaction, and constant dialogue you will see additional benefits, as well as positive impact on the bottom line.

By now, you’re surely thinking what all this theory means in practice, so let’s take a look at that next by going through some methods that can help reap these benefits.

How to capture tacit knowledge

As already mentioned, turning tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge requires some work and effort, but by starting with baby steps like getting people to share thoughts, issues, or ideas on a regular basis you are already one step ahead.

We believe there’s no need to overcomplicate things and the good news is that something as simple as gathering ideas will force people to turn their tacit knowledge into something more tangible. Obviously, each organization has its share of bad ideas, but even so, it’s still a great way of bringing people’s insights to the table because it can uncover new opportunities, sometimes even unrelated with the idea itself.

It might not be the first thing that comes to mind when trying to access tacit knowledge, but an idea management tool can help you turn it into a systematic, continuous practice that on the long run, can lead to more innovation.

Collaboration Unsplash or Pexels

However, at the end of the day, a tool is just a tool. It helps you organize your processes better, automate tasks, and facilitates easy communication. The complexity and nature of such methods and processes varies greatly from one organization to the next.

If you are operating in an industry with higher risks, codifying tacit knowledge becomes even more complicated. A continuous ideation process could reveal new creative ways of accessing it as well as maintain communication and a constant flow of information.

To put things in perspective, let’s take the example of a maintenance technician who retired from a plant that produced soybean oil. After he left, the produced oil quickly started to go bad. It took the company two years and it cost them millions of dollars before they realized that the maintenance worker had been changing a seal on the machines that pressed the oil every week, instead of the eight weeks that was instructed in the maintenance manual.

The first reaction would be to blame the technician for not transferring that information before leaving, but in reality, it’s the company’s responsibility to have in place processes that ensure smooth transfer of information and knowledge.

Managers and leaders should be aware of these differences in procedures and in this particular case the mistake could have been easily avoided with a better process of documenting the steps taken to produce the soybean oil.

As this example shows, different organizations need different processes at various levels of complexity. Developing those processes that support knowledge creation and retention is still up to you, so let’s have a look at three simple steps that can make a big difference.

  • Bring to the surface the knowledge losses and the risk associated with that. What knowledge supports the strategic objectives and business goals? To run a diagnosis process you could, for example, start with a series of interviews that will help you surface potential issues.
    Here’s where you want to identify the critical knowledge that might be lost and its impact, the interviewees perception of existing knowledge and the transfer processes and opportunities to leverage knowledge in case employees leave.
  • Map the employees and the roles whose knowledge is essential and play a key role in transmitting it. The previous step can also guide you in creating this map or list.
  • Create the environment and practices that encourage socialization and interaction. Since tacit knowledge is about the know-how and the skills we acquire through experience, these are best learned through emulation, imitation, and repetition.

There are many ways to go about this, and in the best practice section we go a bit deeper into these details.

Best practices for accessing tacit knowledge

These are three first steps that could be applied in any organization, regardless of their profile. They can become the foundation for a more thought-through process which you can develop in time. On a more practical level, the methods and processes you decide on, can be supported by some of these best practices:

Build a continuous improvement culture as it helps to reinforce the social capital.

It encourages contribution and collaboration between people. It enables networks of relationships that help the organization function effectively. When these connections are strong and built on trust and transparency, they facilitate the transfer of know-how and other skills that otherwise would be lost.

Encourage constant social interaction and exchange of ideas

As already mentioned, tacit knowledge is about the know-how and the skills acquired through experience. These skills are better transmitted through emulation, mentorship, and repetition. This knowledge is deeply embedded in people’s minds and human interactions are essential to facilitate the transfer of information.

Make idea generation and collection a systematic process

This won’t help you just to find answers and solutions to specific problems but also to uncover opportunities that have an impact on the entire organization.

Collecting ideas systematically enables the entire workforce to get involved and build on each other’s knowledge. Moving from a traditional “suggestion box” to a more wholistic and transparent approach with an idea management tool can dramatically help in sharing and making knowledge more accessible.

Encourage storytelling in different forms

You can create a “lessons learned” database where people can learn about successes and failures that lead people to acquire their knowledge. The best way to tell these lessons, might be through stories.

Storytelling is a powerful tool because it allows people to reflect on their learnings. Essentially, you want people to share their (true) stories that serve as metaphors which make difficult-to-grasp information easier to digest and understand. Stories are powerful because they convey meaning and knowledge, not just unconnected bits of information. For example, you can put this in practice through internal newsletters, or casebooks.

Create succession planning, retirement policies, and mentoring programs

Retirement is one of the causes of knowledge loss and some companies don’t tap into the tacit knowledge of older employees. The loss of experienced employees can threaten core capabilities that rely on complex experiential knowledge. Organizations should have mentoring programs to train less experienced employees, as well as retirement policies and plans that help maintain the balance of the workforce.

Examples of codifying tacit knowledge:

As you’ve seen so far, there are different factors that can help you either capture tacit knowledge or turn it into explicit knowledge. And as mentioned, sometimes learning new things also comes from emulation and imitation. With that in mind, let’s see what other companies are doing to address the issue of tacit knowledge and think of what you could also learn from their experiences.

Matsushita Electric

The first example is one that helped popularizing the concept of tacit knowledge as well as the idea that it supports innovation.

Kneading Bread Unsplash or Pexels

In 1985 Matsushita Electric, now Panasonic, was working on creating a better home bread-machine. However, they lacked the knowledge a baker had. So Ikuko Tanaka, a software developer at Matsushita decided to learn from the best. He trained with the master baker at The Osaka International Hotel and observed the technique he had for kneading the dough.

The know-how of the baker, his special stretching technique, was the tacit knowledge that Matshushita was lacking, and that Tanaka was able to uncover and reproduce through imitation and observation. After working with the baker, experimenting, testing and developing the product, Matsushita created a final product that led to record sales.

Rolls-Royce

Even though it’s not a recent example Rolls-Royce is still a good case to look into. Rolls-Royce turbojet engines powered Concorde, the aircraft that introduced supersonic air travel to the world. The Rolls-Royce engineers held most of the knowledge on how to maintain the sophisticated supersonic jet engines and many of them were preparing for retirement.

Before the Concorde was retired in 2003 the company identified how the big number of retirements would impact their key capabilities. This helped them prepare for uncertainties and decide on future investments.

Bessemer

Last, but not least, an example that takes us even farther back into the history is Henry Bessemer and his patent for an advanced steelmaking process. Bessemer sold his patent, but he was later sued because they couldn’t make it work. So, Bessemer set up his steel company because he knew best how to do it, even though he wasn’t able to articulate it.

As you can see from these examples, tacit knowledge spans its impact in various areas and at different levels in each organization. So, it’s important to remember that tacit knowledge plays an important role in all stages of innovation.

It can be in the early stages, where there’s a higher degree of ambiguity so more knowledge to be harnessed. Or, it can be in the later stages of innovation, where execution and implementation require you to tap into the tacit knowledge of your employees to speed up the process and get better results

Conclusion

“We can know more than we can tell”, said Polanyi, the one to whom we attribute the concept of tacit knowledge. We couldn’t agree more. We can’t possibly articulate everything we know, so we need to find other means to go about it.

As leaders, managers, or someone with decision-making powers, you have to maximize the opportunities of expressing this knowledge. You can choose to develop a culture of innovation where continuous learning, improvement and knowledge exchange are encouraged and sustained. With a strategic and systematic approach, the flow of information will become more natural and easier to manage.

This article was originally published in Viima’s blog.

Image credits: Viima, Pixabay, Unsplash, Pexels

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