People often really struggle with how to articulate what they know. Their knowledge is implicit, or even tacit, so by definition it is generally not something they have ever had to spell out for others. And if they have, often not successfully. How often have we gone to experts within our organizations for help only to come away more confused that before? What can sometimes be perceived as a reluctance to share or ‘knowledge hoarding’ is often simply a function of the barrier posed by the articulation itself. As the knowledge seeker, you feel like you’ve run up against a brick wall. All your expert can muster is “It’s just the way it’s done” or “It really depends” or “I just know”.
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What to Ask Them
I’ve found that asking the following 5 questions is a great way to start peeling back the layers of your expert’s insights for specific tasks they undertake.
1. List the steps required to complete the task
2. What resources or tools do you use and how are they accessed?
These first two are pretty obvious. Resources could be templates. They could also be phone numbers of key contacts, or any other number of tools people use to be great at their jobs.
3. Has it always been done this way? If no, how has it been changed and why?
By focusing in on changes that have been made over time, you are able to hone in on pitfalls that have been identified over time and evolutions that processes have undergone.
4. When making decisions relating to this task, what factors do you consider?
By asking about decision making factors, you are guiding the individual to access their decision making process that they might generally be unaware of. A probe here might be to discuss what weight they give to each of the factors.
5. What is your ideal outcome when doing this task?
Finally, by focusing on the ideal outcome you acquire insight into their underlying objective. Sometimes it may be obvious, but at other times this answer will unlock the task for future/replacement staff.
Think this would be useful for your organization?
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