Tribal Knowledge is often treated like a nemesis within most organizations that pursuit a journey of excellence that can be predictable and consistent with their delivery of goods and services … but those businesses that stand out also tend to operate with a heavy dose of tribal knowledge … which other view as a vulnerability that can provide inconsistency … but ???
You have selected to promote engage or be employed within a specific industrial sector. In many instances you chose to enter that arena because you had some sort of insights, passion or vague understanding within that particular sector … even if your knowledge was gained through casual conversation with others (even a recruiter) because you were able to visualize and comprehend the process.
Industry sectors blossom because they have identified a niche requirement and then added the necessary requirements … 1) Technology … which ultimately is just a battle of the cheque-books, access and understanding of availability … which ultimately forms a portion of the barrier to entry for others. … 2) Your face to the customer, what do you want to be and how will you be perceived and will your conveyance be viewed as a value-add that consumers are willing to pay for and then finally … 3) your delivery process … which ultimately is the same for all business transactions, a) accept an order, b) integrate some sort of value add or creation and ultimately c) invoice at a value greater than the cost of your acquired goods and services …
During the delivery process is where we see tribal knowledge creep into our organization and ultimately this becomes very important … whether it is your trust in your auto mechanic who is extremely good at problem solving or diagnostics or the golfer whose odds at hitting excellent shots out-weighs his inaccuracies. So why do we try to eradicate or eliminate Tribal knowledge when we should be promoting it !!
Tribal knowledge is any unwritten information that is not commonly known by others within a company. This term is used most when referencing information that may need to be known by others in order to produce quality products or services.
Tribal knowledge is gained through job skill and experience over the years and is passed down or across by peer-to-peer conversations and discussions or in a more formal setting of trades by putting people through some sort of apprenticeship program or that individuals can become certified to perform a specific specialty … like teaching a lumber that water really does naturally run down-hill.
But Tribal knowledge goes much further typically mastered through muscle memory … that they have either performed the task before or through repetition by practicing and practicing a specific process.
The biggest challenge against Tribal Knowledge is not the trait of the individual that possesses that knowledge but their unwillingness to share and educate others. This is not necessarily and individual’s intention but rather that as a skill is slowly acquired and perfected it just seems normal to them. Of course other realize their talent and use this to increase there perceived value to the organization by failing in wanting to share or
Hence the desire by organizations to minimize the use of Tribal knowledge.
So to eliminate a business infrastructure that is dominated by the use of Tribal Knowledge many initiate counter-defenses.
If you were Henry Ford you eliminated Tribal knowledge by looking at the process of assembling a motor vehicle and breaking down the processes for example into Chassis, Drive-train, and body and then continue your process and work-breakdown to the most simpliest of process steps where performance could only be completed in a digital format … it either worked and fit or it did not …
But still … an over-arching observer was required that know how all of the processes had to knit together to deliver the desired final result … mostly based on job skill and experience and the ability to rapidly problem solve. Of course over time the processed were further refined with the advent of adding error-proofing and standard work. Hence why we promote the higher degree of standard work be applied the closer you are to the actual value creation attributes of your process.
Bu what about other areas ??
Indeed as our employee’s gain tenure their Tribal knowledge gradually grows and goes when they decide to depart voluntarily as a retire or unexpected which does create organizational vulnerability.
A friend of ours counters that vulnerability by starting the exit process of a retiree 5 years in advance of the retirement target date by reducing their work-week by 1 day each year. In the first-year others will wait until the Tribal knowledge leader returns to either answer or execute the challenge, but as the transition continues others are less willing to wait and ill invoke the solution themselves (transfer of Tribal Knowledge) or only leave the most challenging and most likely the most infrequent challenges for the most knowledgeable one.
Others will document process and they become procedures or work instruction but nearly all are based on some sort of nucleus of Tribal Knowledge either directly tied to the process but in many cases how to manage data or have the organizational back-bone software system comply to their desires.
Others like to develop a knowledge repository with the cahallenge of asking people to deposit knowledge and then invoking others that are facing a challenge to seek an answer without thinking that they may be the first to encounter the situation in front of them … in Japan this methodology of retaining Tribal knowledge is done in the format of Yoketan.
In essence … best practice sharing
Yokoten is a Japanese word that roughly translates to “best practice sharing”. ... Toyota calls this yokoten since it's more precise than “copy” or “horizontal deployment” or “sideways expansion”.
An this why Tribal knowledge gradually build your competitive edge and differenator.