a tech training another tech using a diagram on a TV screen
Written By:
Evans Knowles
Category:
Date:
08/25/2020

Is Your Company Reliant on Tribal Knowledge?

In field service, the core of any service company is the strength and tribal knowledge of its service technicians. 

At XOi, we understand that your techs are your greatest asset, as it’s their skills and expertise that deliver value to your customers. You invest in your talent, providing training, support, and educational opportunities to expand and grow the skill set of each member of your team, but what happens to that investment when a technician leaves or retires? 

Without a tool to capture and retain the often decades worth of tribal knowledge a technician acquires throughout their career, you could be losing a lot more than just a talented team member when a tech approaches retirement. 

What is Tribal Knowledge?

Tribal Knowledge is a business process term coined by Bill Smith, who worked for Motorola back in 1986. Tribal knowledge is all about processes, products, and customers that are typically known by a select few of your most experienced or longest held employees. This knowledge is not usually written down and it exists mainly in the minds of a few.

Say, you have a skilled technician approaching retirement age. Throughout his career he has accumulated a treasure trove of experience and techniques, which he kept to himself, never wrote down, and only passed down to help favored members of his “tribe.”

As that senior technician gathered his group of followers, he created a group of kindred minds, and possibly a clique predisposed more towards hoarding information for job security than to the welfare of the organization. Likewise, tribal knowledge might also be a barrier to formal documentation and automation—and to the company’s growth.

Then there is the added problem when tribal knowledge resides in just one experienced person. Maybe through trial and error one technician has mastered some difficult repair jobs that rookie technicians cannot handle without help. You’ve asked this technician to train a crew, but maybe training and educating isn’t this tech’s best talent. 

So, when that technician finally leaves, all of that knowledge may be lost as well. If this tech is among those quarter-million Americans turning 65 every month, think about all the expertise that will go up in smoke as they head out the door. Also, keep in mind the growing shortage of skilled technicians. You will need to plug the shortage gap with more comprehensive training material.

Capturing Tribal Knowledge

You probably already have an apprentice training program where new technicians learn their basic job functions. If you have taken the trouble to print an employee handbook, you are ahead of the power curve and have the foundation you need to capture tribal knowledge. Here’s what else you should do:

Identify and ask your most qualified and experienced employees to share their knowledge, documenting all tribal knowledge worth keeping.

Many of those experienced employees have a wealth of untapped knowledge and would be flattered if asked to share. The sharing could be via recorded interviews, anecdotes, training videos, or written questionnaires. The important thing is to get the information while it is there.

Confront and close the knowledge gap.

You began the project because you recognized that the knowledge gap had to be closed. You close that gap through documenting and including that knowledge into an ongoing training program that will help your new employees to hit the ground running and work confidently in the field.

Reallocate your most skilled senior technicians.

Field work is both physically and mentally demanding. It can take years (sometimes decades) for new and greener techs to gain the knowledge and expertise of more seasoned technicians, which can be tolling on the body and often leads to retirement. Instead of letting your most skilled techs retire, often taking mountains of tribal knowledge with them, you can utilize technology to reallocate their skills and expertise. Remote video calling, AR, and support capabilities allow senior technicians to virtually “go on site” for training, troubleshooting, and remote diagnostics (all of which can be recorded and saved to the XOi Knowledge Base for future reference). 

Is your company relying on tribal knowledge? XOi can help..

If you discover your company is over reliant on the skills and tribal knowledge of a select few members of your team, XOi can help you surface that knowledge and create a valuable knowledge repository that can help all of your current and future employees. 


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