Institutional Knowledge is Killing your Business

Institutional Knowledge (sometimes referred to as “Tribal Knowledge”) is, in essence, all the information about the business that the leaders and owners who start those businesses keep locked away in their heads.

Michael Gerber, the author of “The E-myth (Revisited)” puts it plainly. The principal or owner continues “doing it, doing it, doing it” because they created the process. They know how to do it best (and even faster.) They take on all the jobs and wear all the hats because they’re either not strong delegators, or they don’t trust others on their team to carry the torch.

As the business grows, this knowledge stays with the leader. The problem is that the leader can no longer be the one doing all the things. But what happens in this attempt to transfer the knowledge?

We fall victim to the thinking that this manual transfer of knowledge is A), a good use of our time, and B) an effective way to train a new hire (for example.) Not only are our individual learning styles very different, but our way of doing things might not be as easy to understand as we think it be.

We fool ourselves into putting energy into well-planned out onboarding and orientation sessions for new hires, when really if we had done it right, that knowledge would have been transferred as it happened and passed onto the team through an alternative learning method (Video, Internal Wiki, slide deck, etc.)

In order for growth to take place, you need an effective way to transfer this knowledge to your team and successors. This is so important, especially today! With teams displaced across different time-zones and departments, you should be thinking about ways to store and document everything that you know about your job, the leadership role you play, and how the little pieces of the business move.

Until you’re able to do this effectively, you will continue to be the source of this knowledge and are essentially giving permission to your team to constantly seek you out for answers when they hit a roadblock.

Am I the only one who knows this information?” and “Would others also benefit from this information?

Creating an internal (and searchable knowledge base) for your team is a great way to get started in documenting and housing your company’s processes. Tools like Notion, Asana, Confluence, and sometimes Google Drive, allow you to document your processes in a collaborative environment that is visible to your entire team. Doing this allows you to finally remove the silos in your business that happen throughout teams and most importantly, removes you as the bottleneck impeding your own organizations’ growth. At Ditto, we house our knowledge base in Asana.

And listen, don’t overcomplicate it. I hear so often that “busy execs” don’t have the time to document their processes. Start small, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Open up a Google Doc and start with simply documenting your day. What do you do each Monday? How does that change on Tuesday? What’s that big recurring task that you probably should pass off to a team member? What does that look like and why is it important to the company? The goal is that over time, the documenting of these processes will become second nature to yourself as well as the members of your team. Not convinced processes matter to your team? Read this.

I’ll leave you with this. If you’re unsure of what Institutional Knowledge you may be keeping a secret from your team, ask yourself these two questions; “Am I the only one who knows this information?” and “Would others also benefit from this information?”

The answer will most likely always be a resounding “YES.”

Do yourself a favor and document those daily steps. That’s really how it starts. Get the processes out of your head and into a place where everyone on your team can grow.

Not sure what that should look like?

Send me a DM and let’s connect!

Hi, I’m Marquis, the Founder of Ditto, where we create clarity around the work done inside of organizations through creating SOPs and work management solutions.