Tribal Knowledge in a Digital World

DHI Magazine - July 2016
This article was printed in DHIs July issue of Doors + Hardware

What exactly is tribal knowledge? It means clannish information, which is information known within a group of people who share similar knowledge; it is the sum of that knowledge. Those of us in the door and hardware industry are well aware of tribal knowledge—facts, tips and tricks that we have learned from our teachers, leaders and co-workers in the industry.

Having many rewards, tribal knowledge also has its battles. The younger workforce has had the benefit of the digital world most, if not, all of their lives. Being the last of the “boomers,” how do we teach our successors the information rooted in tribal knowledge? Most of our generation’s knowledge was attainable only by watching, listening and doing—from mentors, peers and teachers with lifelong experiences, not from information found on the internet. Experience is a proven teacher. We, as the leaders of the new workforce, need to be willing to share our knowledge and experiences in ways that can be understood and embraced. We also need to put some of our attitudes away and allow these future leaders to teach us.

This younger workforce has much to offer if we allow them. Each new employee has talents and skills using current technology, which was non-existent when we were entering the workforce. They can find needed information in minutes, even seconds using these skills. This new workforce, in general, is much better at time management than we will ever be because time management has been an integral part of their lives. They are superior in the work/life balance resulting from their work to live attitude as opposed to our live to work attitude.

Though some of these differences in perspective are difficult for every generation to understand, these differences must be accepted by all generations. After all, it is the responsibility of those leaving the workforce to ensure the new workforce can get the job done. The question remains, how do we do this?

  • The first step is, of course, acceptance. Accept the new workforce as they are and allow them to accept us. At this point, we can begin to teach and learn from them.
  • Recognize that every company has knowledge that is stored only in individuals’ brains. Understand that this information is valuable and worth sharing. Acknowledge the people who have the experience and expertise and give them the tools and time to share it. The people with this knowledge will eventually (for whatever reason) stop working, and the information will be lost through interpretation if not written down, managed and easily obtained.
  • Excite your employees with this new way of thinking and encourage the mentors you have in-house—you know who they are. Spread the knowledge by creating a mentoring program. Make it fun, rewarding, and team oriented. Not everyone needs to have all the knowledge, but everyone needs to contribute their portion of it, and all need to be involved. Whether they are mentoring someone, gathering information or cataloging the information gathered, everyone in your company can contribute. Remember to also encourage this new workforce to share their knowledge by creating a reverse mentoring program as well.
There will be hurdles to overcome; most of us do not like change. You can accomplish this goal by combining and respecting the talents and skills of your entire workforce. This is when your company will have the opportunity to embrace an enlightened and successful future.