Procurement leaders should be fully committed to hiring the best of the best, but without the ability to pass on their team’s tribal knowledge these efforts are all but redundant. A new recruit with the right experience, top qualifications, and exemplary attitude won’t be able to deliver their best work without it.
What is tribal knowledge?
Throughout history, our ancestors regaled their families and friends with stories, myths, and legends, which were handed down through the generations and are still recounted today. A similar process of knowledge transfer happens within organisations.
Tribal knowledge is important, but undocumented, information within an organisation that is most commonly passed down anecdotally from long-serving employees to newer hires. It is sometimes described as the organisation’s “collective wisdom” and can encompass people, processes, and products.
To provide a basic example. A new hire most probably knows how to use a printer or operate a water fountain. But they won’t know that the printer on the third floor is faulty and needs to be reset and hit twice on its right side before every use. They also couldn’t possibly be aware that the nozzle on the water fountain will leak without being twisted an extra half-turn. Anyone who’s worked in the office for any length of time would know these things, which is essentially the difference between general knowledge and tribal knowledge.
Informed with tribal knowledge, junior team members are better prepared to do their job, collaborate effectively with their colleagues, innovate, respond and adapt to challenges, work efficiently, and reach their maximum productivity levels.
The problem is, this knowledge only exists within employees’ heads, which means there’s no guarantee it will be retained in the long-term. In taking an informal approach to managing tribal knowledge, crucial information is all too easily lost or the employees who could benefit from it the most never receive it.
How can you retain your team’s tribal knowledge?
The process of extracting extensive knowledge from an entire workforce might sound arduous, but it’s really as simple as shifting the organization’s attitude to knowledge and knowledge sharing.
1. Identify the key carriers of tribal knowledge
It would be wonderful if an organisation’s most loyal and most experienced employees were to stick around forever, but sadly that’s never going to be the case. When one such person does depart, their wealth of knowledge leaves with them, which could result in a significant reduction in a team’s productivity.
Identify these so-called knowledge champions and task them, along with appropriate incentives, with recording their knowledge
2. Implement a robust strategy for managing tribal knowledge
To effectively manage tribal knowledge, an organisation must develop and implement a formalised strategy, which will help establish an intrinsic culture of knowledge-sharing.
Documentation must occur regularly and be comprehensive, thorough, and easily accessible by the entire workforce. New tribal knowledge is created all the time, which is why it is so important to establish an ongoing process. Continually reviewing and collating the information that is recorded will provide better clarity on an organisation’s assets and highlight the areas where there are knowledge gaps.
3. Implement appropriate software
Knowledge management software provides employees with the necessary support to log and access information, as well as enabling the organisation to implement their tribal knowledge strategy.
These platforms are easy to use, make it easier to organise and distribute information, keep content up to date, and can be integrated with an organisation’s existing systems and communication platforms.