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How to use NLP to identify and share Tribal Knowledge within your Organization

3 months ago

New Employee: “So… is there anything else I should know?”

Tenured Employee: “Yes, we take punctuality seriously here and always give the CEO the bad news first. Also, Friday demos are fun but be prepared to present something each week, you will be called on.”

New Employee: “Wow, ok great to know. Thanks!”

It happens all the time, from the first team meeting to the welcome lunch, where veteran employees initiate the inaugural passage of “how things really work at the office” to their newly minted co-workers. This information sharing starts at day one but usually lasts far longer than the initial onboarding process that so many organizations have relied upon to get new employees up to speed. 

Beyond the scope of traditional training manuals and official materials, much of the knowledge needed for an employee to succeed in their new environment is casually and informally conveyed, usually through unstructured conversations. Learning that your supervisor always wants the bad news first and is a stickler for punctuality or that the firm’s biggest customer starts every negotiation with a laughably outrageous first offer never comes from the HR handbook.

These bitesize organizational details, more commonly known as tribal knowledge, consist of information about products, processes, and customers known exclusively by one person or a small group. In many ways these trade secrets are the glue that keep the organization functioning outside of the more formal policies and guidelines set forth by those in charge. Tribal knowledge can include lessons from mistakes, insights on customers histories and preferences, or techniques learned over the years to save money. The only consistency within this knowledge set is the medium for exchange, it is almost exclusively conveyed through osmosis. When employees leave their jobs, organizations will likely never again benefit from their institutional knowledge and are destined to repeat critical mistakes. 

Unless the organization can capture this knowledge in training programs and disseminate it easily, new employees are limited to cookie-cutter curriculums that don’t change with the times and miss a dynamic market’s nuances. This leaves them to fill in the gap with informal training from senior colleagues who have been around long enough to know how to get things done. In addition to the annoyance of conveying the same information for each new hire, the cost in time for a high value employee compounds at an alarming rate.

HR organizations can collect these insights by interviewing senior employees or looking at how different organizations transfer their tribal knowledge. Software developers, for example, might pair more experienced employees with new hires. Product development teams might gather insights over a virtual whiteboard. And sales teams might require less experienced workers to co-pilot deals with experienced representatives. Internal Wiki’s are great.  However, they can’t record what’s inside someone’s head unless entire teams are interviewed, which can take months to complete and are out-of-date the moment they are published.  

In order to prevent a loss of tribal knowledge, you first have to identify it and then convert it to global knowledge. In the past it was seemingly impossible to catch every tip or casual mention of tribal knowledge… or even understand when it was actually being delivered. Luckily for us, as organizations move more and more online, we have an unprecedented opportunity to identify and catalog this data in real time as it’s shared over internal communications. And in this regard, artificial intelligence and natural language processing can play a crucial role.  

When employees ask others over email or chat how to resolve an issue or conduct a task, that information can be captured and analyzed based on the words and phrases they use. Emails provide insight into larger problems, whereas an internal chat can identify consistent issues through informal conversations. 

Responses to phrases like “how do I” or “what do you do when” can be detected as potential topics.  From there, companies can collect several data points and offer resources in real-time. This data can include new or frequently discussed topics, parts of a large organization that might need more training, and insight into who answers these questions.  

Frequently asked questions can be captured to update training programs. And the senior-level employee with all the answers might be your best source to share tribal knowledge. Questions and answers can help you gauge larger issues that have gone unnoticed and mentors who have quietly provided guidance for years. 

Tribal information captured from AI techniques can be cataloged and stored in a database for years to come. And during periods like the pandemic when more experienced and less experienced employees are separated and working from home, the cataloged information can be used as automated responses to questions over multiple platforms.  

Training sessions become dynamic to respond to changes in the market, management, new products, or long-term issues that have gone unnoticed for years. Onboarding materials can be expanded to share insights that were once known by only a few employees.

AI and NLP can create a path of continued learning, capturing new information daily from the smartest and most senior in your company. With this knowledge, HR training and onboarding become more focused on your company’s most critical issues. Employees have access to the most vital details of their jobs without having to learn from their mistakes or spending months hoping to soak in knowledge from their peers. 

Some of the best insights come from people who are the least likely to talk or share with others. Whether they’re shy or being uncomfortable at taking risks, AI and NLP can pick up their knowledge without demanding special reports or presentations in front of large groups. 

AI and NLP can help you identify where tribal knowledge reigns supreme across an organization, with whom the information resides, and how to break it out of the tribal cycle and convert it to global knowledge.

To learn more about how AI and NLP can capture your tribal knowledge and convert it to global knowledge, schedule a demo.