Ever had an incredible idea you forgot to write down? You probably don’t remember because you didn’t have a way of documenting and reminding yourself of it. With information, you use it or lose it.
But if you can find a way to document and remind yourself of these brilliant ideas, you’ll avoid the forgetting curve — information fading over time if you’re not thinking of it again and strengthening your brain’s connection to the info.
That’s why explicit knowledge is so valuable — it’s knowledge that’s documented and shared with yourself or across an organization.
This type of information management is crucial to avoid misunderstandings between team members remembering things differently or great, innovative ideas getting lost in the shuffle.
What’s explicit knowledge?
Explicit (or expressive) knowledge is information you can easily document and share. It’s the kind of info that can be applied to knowledge management systems, or the structure of recording info.
Onboarding policies are an example of knowledge that can be documented, and a company wiki is an example of a knowledge management style for this info.
Efficient knowledge sharing also increases employee productivity by 20% and company-wide sales by 37%.
Some explicit knowledge distribution methods include:
And here are a few examples of how to apply explicit knowledge documentation:
Step-by-step guide to fixing a leaky faucet
Research report projecting quarterly trends
Chart outlining annual earnings
Textbook explaining the history of human evolution
Standard operating procedure outlining an organization’s best practice
Patent outlining how to build a product
Explicit versus tacit knowledge
Tacit (or implicit) knowledge is information gained through highly personal experiences and self-directed learning. This form of knowledge is difficult to articulate — you typically acquire it through repeated observation and trial and error, often without realizing you’re learning.
Examples include telling jokes, learning a new language during travel, or following your intuition.
People commonly pair explicit knowledge with tacit knowledge. A programmer that studies several coding languages in textbooks, how-to videos, and standard operating procedures is a good example.
They gain explicit knowledge via studying and tacit knowledge through hands-on experience during their career.
Why’s explicit knowledge important for businesses?
Organizations with strong knowledge management tools and policies to document and share explicit knowledge enjoy the following benefits:
1. Aligned efforts
Instead of siloing information to one team or department, collective knowledge empowers an organization because everyone’s on the same page, resulting in fewer workplace disagreements and misunderstandings.
Example: An accounting department outlines quarterly and annual profit margins to analyze successes and failures and set goals for the coming year. When the department shares this information with sales, marketing, and product development, all departments work together to build, market, and sell products that contribute to the organization’s growth.
2. Saved time
American workers waste 5.3 hours weekly searching for or recreating existing information. Companies that make pertinent information widely available in easy-to-read documents empower employees to work more autonomously.
Workers acting independently saves time for everyone — those searching for info and those answering others’ questions.
Example: A sales team equipped with a best-practices handbook bookmarked to the top of their shared company wiki effectively and consistently responds to customer queries.
When the sales manager doesn’t provide that information, different team members might respond to complaints or questions with contradictory or incorrect information, compromising the customer experience and company image.
3. Stronger communication
Streamlined communication means everyone’s on the same page, knows where to find relevant information, and can work more effectively without waiting for an answer the responder isn’t even sure of since there’s no standardized information library.
Example: A human resources department creates best-practice handbooks to instruct employees on how to correctly invoice, preferred communication channels for different situations, and how to respond appropriately to customers.
When this information isn’t readily available, staff communicate in a frustrated and scattered manner because they can’t find the information they need or don’t know whom to contact in what circumstance.
4. Better information storage and preservation
Properly storing information avoids losing intellectual capital. Well-organized information, like if your knowledge management system has a table of contents and can be keyword-searched, is also easier to update and makes onboarding new hires more efficient.
Example: A marketing manager has documented everything as they’ve become an expert on a company’s target market. When they’re replaced, the new hire contributes meaningful work right away because they can easily access and understand this explicit knowledge.
5. Increased morale and retention
According to a report by Panopto, 81% of employees feel frustrated when they can’t find information. The same study found that in companies with low talent retention, employees are 65% more likely to agree that information is difficult to find.
Effective communication also plays a key role in keeping workers engaged and happy, and efficient knowledge-sharing practices increase this efficiency. Employees who feel included in workplace communication are more productive, 4.5 times more likely to stay in a job, and 3.5 times more likely to outperform the competition.
Example: A distributed workforce collaborates on a marketing strategy. Remote workers and on-site employees collaborate on a strategy-focused template that contains notes for best use by previous marketing strategists.
Everyone on the team understands how to use this template and can focus on collaboration instead of question-asking, so they feel more productive and purposeful.
How to build a knowledge management system
To document and share explicit knowledge, start by building a knowledge management system in five steps:
1. Choose software
As a company’s knowledge grows, so does the software needed to organize information. But a survey of 2500 human resource workers found that 37% think the abundance of digital tools is disruptive to their work, so remember: software should simplify, not overcomplicate.
For example, sending documents through email attachments, Google Drive, and physical formats makes it difficult to keep everything organized. Choose systems that centralize content, make necessary information accessible to everyone, and simplify collaboration.
2. Create guidelines
A style guide outlines how to document new information. Consistently formatted records are more readable and save time searching for content. Businesses might consider organizational training during the onboarding process to teach best practices and set expectations for employees to be consistent in their documenting efforts.
Likewise, you could build templates to share with staff or choose knowledge management software with customizable docs.
3. Audit your knowledge base regularly
Organizations generate an abundance of documents. It’s easy to get lost under a digital mountain of paperwork and create an archive that’s outdated, redundant, and hard to navigate. Revisit documents and make sure everything’s relevant, accurate, and up-to-date.
And consider scheduling regular updates for important documents or creating new best practices to set expectations and build healthier documenting habits. Assigning different team members to manage sections helps divide the upkeep more evenly across teams.
4. Identify knowledge gaps
Once you’ve compiled current documents, analyze existing information. Look for holes in processes or policies where information is lacking. Information doesn’t live in a bubble, so consider inviting everyone to participate in this improvement process.
They’ll provide fresh perspectives, finding knowledge gaps relevant to their role, and providing ideas to make your knowledge management system more accessible.
5. Incentivize employees
Company culture determines how people share information. It’s critical that management openly prioritize a culture of peer learning, intellectual curiosity, and free-flowing information in their knowledge management strategy.
And reward systems increase knowledge-sharing behaviors, so consider offering incentives to promote strong organizational skills and accurate, updated documentation.
Knowledge is power
While you can’t easily document and share your personal experiences, you can share explicit knowledge to update your team and encourage effective communication and collaboration.
Creating a system to record and protect information is a large undertaking, but ultimately, it will empower employees to work more autonomously, and you’ll reap rewards like increased retention and productivity.