Tag Archives: Tribal Knowledge

For many industries, the skills gap is a troubling issue. Every year, more and more experienced workers retire, taking valuable expertise with them. Fortunately, there are things you can do to reduce the harmful effects of high turnover at your organization.

The Continuous Improvement philosophy is especially beneficial in this area. Using this philosophy, you will work on continually improving your operations and as such, you will have to document all of your processes and train new staff. Through these activities, you will be able to transfer the knowledge of your skilled workers to the next generation helping to close the skills gap. It is important to remember that continuous improvement is not just a concept – it represents a willingness to question what you know and work on becoming better. Accordingly, here are five ways you can use continuous improvement to lessen the impact of the skills gap at your organization.

  1. Map processes and identify areas that are not well-documented
    The first thing you should do when working on a continuous improvement project is use process maps to get an accurate view of what your processes really are. You may find that some of your processes rely greatly on the knowledge and expertise of a few individuals. Those are the processes that are accomplished through tribal knowledge and require documentation and transference. Once you thoroughly map out all of your processes, you can begin to facilitate the necessary knowledge transfer, which is done with education and training. MindTools pointed out that continuous improvement requires an ongoing effort to look at processes and solutions from new perspectives. The way a certain activity has always been done may not be the right way going forward.

“To close the skills gap time should be spent developing new procedures and plan for training.”

  1. Turn tribal knowledge into actionable items
    Once you have identified what your processes ought to be, you also need to identify who your organizational influencers will be. These are the people you will spend time with developing new procedures and implementing training. The best way to do this is to make the experts a part of the initiative. In that way, no information or business activity will be overlooked. Your teams can then begin scheduling changes and educational sessions.
  2. Conduct regular training sessions
    At this point, you know what your new processes are and who you can rely on to carry the changes. Regular training programs can help to bypass the skills gap by ensuring that all your employees are given the tools and knowledge to do their jobs well in the future. If you want to make continuous improvement a part of your culture, training has to become an ongoing activity at your organization. Because your experts will be heavily involved in the training, the sessions are sure to be more effective than just having outsiders bombard staff with new information. According to MindTools, teamwork is essential for solving problems and strengthening operations.
  3. Eliminate unnecessary activities
    Continuous improvement is meant to help you improve your operations As such, the philosophy involves eliminating overproduction, improving quality, operating more efficiently, reducing idle time, and getting rid of unnecessary activities. As your operations become leaner, you will see the benefits in the form of cost savings and increased profitably. It is relevant to point out that money can always be reinvested in the business for expansion purposes, whether to take on new product lines or investment in more training and technology.
  1. Use software to streamline your processes and unite systems
    With new processes and regular training sessions taking place, the last piece of the puzzle is having a sophisticated and comprehensive management operating system. Using an MOS will allow you to keep track of KPIs, monitor the effectiveness of your processes, and maintain visibility on the plant floor. Additionally, all the improvements you do will be reflected in the system, as it will be the link between all your various IT assets and production lines. Having one centralized system allows you to manage your plant in a more streamlined and holistic way. All the efforts of your continuous improvement program will feed into your MOS and be accessible throughout your organization. The idea here is that what used to be tribal knowledge, localized to a few senior workers, is now documented, stored, and reflected in the technology that comprises your operational backbone. Passing it on to newer workers will help close the skills gap.

Skills Gap
Don’t let the skills gap affect your organization.

Make learning and growing a priority
It goes without saying that a big part of making continuous improvements has to do with learning. In reference to the skills gap issue, IndustryWeek pointed out that in an increasingly technology-reliant industry, the rate at which employees learn new skills and become technically proficient is advancing rapidly. Edward Hess, professor at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, explained that organizational leaders need to account for what they don’t know and continue learning in this sophisticated environment.

“Cognitively we all are naturally fast, lazy, reflexive thinkers who seek to confirm what we know,” said Hess, according to the news source. “It is important to learn how and when to make your thinking more intentional and deliberate. You must actively seek to develop your critical thinking and innovative thinking skills.”

The lesson that Hess points out is at the core of continuous improvement – education is key. Manufacturers that demonstrate an eagerness to improve their own skill sets will be able to circumvent many problems related to the skills gap. You can employ this approach and ensure that, not only will tribal knowledge be preserved in your organization, but you can build upon it as well.

Tribal knowledge is ascertained through years of hard work and experience. Most plants and manufacturing sites tend to have seasoned workers that have worked on most facility assets and have seen it all. You may think that their skill and experience is an advantage to you, but tribal knowledge can be a dubious thing. If you do not formally preserve their knowledge, it is possible that senior workers will retire without ever passing that information on to others. Additionally, it is important to keep in mind that tribal knowledge is not meant to be guarded and kept hidden, nor is it something to rely on independent of process documents. It is important to record all tips and techniques learned over years of experience into management system procedures, so that tribal knowledge can benefit the organization at large.

“11 million manufacturing workers employed in the U.S. are 55 years of age or older”

 Consult with your gurus and soak up the knowledge
Manufacturing Business and Technology explained that since most organizations employ field service people who have worked on all assets of their plant, these individuals tend to have valuable insight with regard to things like best practices, maintenance schedules, and production idiosyncrasies. Manufacturers should always talk with these information gurus and learn what they have to say. Leveraging their tribal knowledge, you can witness considerable improvements in operations and raise efficiency at your plant. Digabit mentioned that when management employs a bottom-up approach and listens to the ones on the frontlines, they are able to incorporate better and more effective processes into standard operational guidelines.

Tribal Knowledge

Proper documentation can preserve tribal knowledge
According to Digabit, one of the best ways to make tribal knowledge work for you is to document everything and compile valuable information into management operating systems. Maintaining one central repository of information takes tribal knowledge out of the hands of a select few and makes it available across an organization. After consulting these industry veterans, the information learned should be reflected in process documents, training materials, and safety manuals. By doing this, a facility will increase opportunities for talent sharing and guarantee knowledge is transferred, whether there is high employee turnover or not.

Continually train staff to avoid organizational ‘brain drain’
Manufacturing Business and Technology pointed out that, according to some experts, 25% of the 11 million manufacturing workers employed in the U.S. are 55 years of age or older. For most organizations this means that regardless of high turnover, at some point, if they do not preserve the knowledge of senior workers, they are likely to experience a significant ‘brain drain’ when these people retire. Digabit advised manufacturers to make training of new hires a serious and dedicated commitment. By incorporating regular training sessions into plant schedules, organizations can insure themselves against losing tribal knowledge. Keeping tribal knowledge alive in an organization contributes to innovation and fosters competitiveness. Even the most seemingly insignificant details can pay off in the future and raise efficiency at your plant.

Ultimately, tribal knowledge alone does not make a good plant. However, leveraging the skill and experience of seasoned workers at your plant, management will be able to encourage a culture of learning, improve production processes, and make sure that new hires are always trained with the best practices. The best knowledge is the type that is tested and tried at your facility.