Bringing tacit knowledge back from the brink

The way we work has changed dramatically over the past year, but it had been evolving long before the coronavirus pandemic, just at a slower pace, says Steve Dineen, founder and president of Fuse

Rewind one generation and it wasn’t uncommon for people to spend their entire career with the same company. That’s almost unheard of today and, depending on the industry, the average tenure can be as little as two or three years.

One of the biggest questions raised by these evolving societal trends – increased job-hopping, an ageing workforce and the shift to remote work – relates to tacit knowledge. Why? Because this implicit kind of expertise, rooted in context and experience, is notoriously difficult to transfer to other people.

What is certain is that organisations need to act now before their tacit knowledge falls off a cliff, never to be accessed again.

Here’s three ways to bring tacit knowledge back from the brink:

1 Enable meaningful connections

To share tacit knowledge, we need to create meaningful human connections. All too often though, companies make a fundamental mistake as they bypass these connections and skip straight to content.

Here’s the thing: it is meaningful human connections, not content alone, that spark people to actively engage in learning and tap into tacit knowledge for the benefit of work.

A learner engages with an expert they trust because of the perceived value it will deliver. We know this because data consistently tells us that learners are more likely to engage with content if it has been created by someone they know or a known expert and ideally that person is one and the same.

But how do we facilitate this in today’s globally disparate and remote or hybrid working world?
Learning technology is certainly a key enabler, but not just any technology. Learners must be able to connect with experts and trusted sources in a completely frictionless, consumer-like way. We’re talking about facilitating conversations and questions in the flow of work, on the fly and at the point of need. This is how we extract, store, access and share experiential knowledge for the benefit of people and business performance.

2 Encourage experts to share their knowledge

When we refer to engagement in learning, 90 per cent of the time we’re talking about the learner. There’s no denying this is key to learning success, but what about engaging the organisation’s subject matter experts (SMEs)? Where’s the sense in building an army of engaged learners if there’s no expert tacit knowledge for them to tap into?

Learning culture and leadership support are essential for two reasons: SMEs whose organisations demonstrate a value for learning are far more likely to invest in sharing their knowledge and by seeing other leaders lead by example, the process not only becomes normalised, but actively encouraged.

There’s another factor to consider, too: character. Some experts will relish the opportunity to share their knowledge. Others will be more reticent. Empowering, training, and coaching the SME to “bottle” and share their tacit knowledge in a way that works for them and their audience, whether that be a video or a lunch and learn, is therefore essential to ongoing success.

3 Future-proof with a self-feeding cycle

To really future-proof tacit knowledge though, we need to create a tech-enabled learning engine, a self-feeding cycle whereby learners who regularly consume valuable content can gradually develop their own knowledge and expertise to a point where they themselves become a contributing SME.

It’s a cycle that, when fully optimised, can also support employee engagement and an intrinsic motivation for continuous learning. This means improved employee retention and, by association, the retention of tacit knowledge.

That’s a very powerful engine and it provides the ultimate means of solving the tacit knowledge conundrum.

To discuss future-proofing your organisation’s expert tacit knowledge please contact the Fuse team at

Promoted by Fuse