Monday, January 24, 2000
Turning tacit into explicit information
Newcomers to the Baldrige award (or to any other process that requires them to explain what they do) struggle most with the need to turn tacit into explicit information. Lots of things get done because 'that's what happens around here.' No-one's though to write down the process, or even to ask, 'why?' The key information about what the organisation does is tacit it's understood, but not explained.
Answering Baldrige questions involves making tacit knowledge and information explicit. Turning the stories about how your organisation works into written-down processes that can be tested, measured, improved ¾ and explained in your Baldrige application.
According to FORTUNE magazine, here's how IBM Global Services makes tacit knowledge explicit 'One of IBM's most complicated tasks is selling global accounts. Big deals, multiyear, multimillion dollar contracts across multiple lines of business. Each deal is different, and each teaches valuable lessons. To get at that tacit knowledge, IBM reassembles the deal teams and videotapes their verbal reconstructions of what happened. Lifted from the tapes and published, the collective narratives are shared as [explicit] corporate best practice.'
A productive way to get what you do onto paper may be to assemble focus groups of key people and 'walk' them through their processes (fancy term process mapping. You can buy software). Every time the descriptions reveal data (records, measurement, better ways of doing things, year-on-year improvements) record them.
In an interesting and often instructive recent book on knowledge management, Verna Allee (The Knowledge Evolution, ISBN 0-7506-9842-X) says that one of the goals of knowledge management is to make knowledge more visible.
This corresponds to an important distinction between tacit knowledge and explicit knowledge, she writes, Tacit knowledge is personal context-specific knowledge that resides in an individual [it] relies on experience, hunches, and insights [on] mental models concepts, beliefs, viewpoints, value sets, and guiding principles that help people define their world. Tacit knowledge also includes a technical element that includes skills and expertise the hands-on experience that comes from practice.
Explicit knowledge, on the other hand, is more formal 'codified' knowledge conveyed from one person to another in systematic ways. Explicit knowledge is conveyed through documents, images, and other deliberate communication processes.
For some help turning tacit into explicit information, click on 'writing a Baldrige application,' on the Baldrigeplus welcome page.
Five minute master class
Public responsibility and citizenship
Baldrige category 1.2 (Describe how your organization addresses its responsibilities to the public and practices good citizenship), asks in 1.2a(1) for details about impacts on society. If this is a subject you're contemplating (for whatever reason) take a look at pp 15 and 16 of the Jan-Feb 2000 issue of the Harvard Business Review, where a sidebar on Green Reporting outlines how Bristol-Myers Squibb and Royal Dutch/Shell (along with 35% of the world's 250 largest corporations) now issue environmental reports.
Author Ans Kolk explains that voluntary green reporting is becoming more common because it makes good business sense, promotes discipline, reduces risk, and creates positive PR. Green reporting is a plus in the battle for talent, is popular with customers and investors, and helps identify cost savings and new business opportunities. But it's likely to be a novelty, and hard to get under way. Help is available from The Global Reporting Initiative (ask Ans Kolk at firstname.lastname@example.org for more detail, or go to the GRI site for 'structured but flexible guidelines.'
Bristol-Myers Squibb has adopted the GRI guidelines and posts a frequently updated report on its corporate web site with environmental policies and systems, a discussion of stakeholder issues, performance reviews and 'an overview of the environmental sustainability of its business. That's an approach that would score good category 1.2 points in any Baldrige assessment.
Royal Dutch/Shell goes a step further, using external auditors and an assertive approach for squeaky-clean green reporting that has turned an environmental pariah into a green trendsetter. Is this best practice ? On a scale of one to ten (where Shell might be an eight), how does your organisation score?
Your newsletter editor is promoting a new awards scheme in his district. Almost all potential applicants will be small (less than ten people), with no previous experience. Brings the issue of 'barriers to entry' into sharp focus why don't more organisations apply for their local, city, state or national awards?
Here's the two-page summary of the Baldrige-derived criteria that this local scheme will use. Will this work, is it useful, have you tried something similar?