Procedural Knowledge: What It Is & How It Applies to the Workplace

Nelson Joyce
April 13, 2023

What is Procedural Knowledge?

Procedural knowledge is the type of knowledge that you gain through doing something. 

For motor tasks, you probably know it as “muscle memory.”

The classic procedural knowledge example is riding a bicycle. You can sit someone down, explain the concept, and even show off your best skills, yet we all struggle to fully grasp it until we’ve actually done it. 

Any organization striving to improve the collective productivity of their workforce needs to look at how they utilize this procedural knowledge.

Developing the best methods can enhance employee training, improve task competency, and ultimately speed up the internal processes that are crucial to overall profitability.

A few laps around the block reinforce this procedural knowledge until it soon becomes second nature. Now you don’t even have to think how to do it – it’s implicit.

This kind of procedural knowledge takes many forms, from tying a shoelace and swimming to playing an instrument or developing computer skills. 

The very act of performing the task teaches you how to do it, but as you continue to do it, you discover better ways of doing it.  

Compare procedural knowledge with other types of knowledge, such as declarative knowledge and conceptual knowledge. 

  • Declarative knowledge is stated or declared, usually in the form of facts or statements. Examples:The capital of France is Paris. The atomic number of carbon is 6.
  • Conceptual knowledge is a type of knowledge that ties together different pieces of information, understanding and relationships. It is the understanding of the ways different pieces of information are related to one another.
  • Examples: Understanding the relationships between atoms and chemical bonds, or understanding the relationships between different animals and their habitats.

Procedural knowledge differs from declarative knowledge, which is thought of as ‘knowledge about’ or the answers to the what, where, when, or who types of questions, rather than the ‘how.’ 

Declarative knowledge is also usually explicit knowledge, meaning that you are consciously aware that you understand the information. For example, you know for a fact that 10/22/1987 is your birthday because you were born on the 22nd day of October in the year 1987.

Procedural Knowledge in the Workplace

As individuals or groups work on tasks and projects, they accumulate procedural knowledge about how those actions are done, as well as how they could or should be done. Wisdom and insight gained through experience are stored in our heads as implicit (tacit) knowledge, which is usually a little difficult to fully express.

Within an organization, you’ll find procedural knowledge in literally countless internal processes. Here are just some examples:

  • Production: An operator understands their machinery through experience until they reach a point where they can work controls, adjust settings, and troubleshoot issues without much conscious thought. This also includes instinctively following safety protocols to prevent accidents or injuries.
  • Marketing: In marketing roles, employees use procedural knowledge for their market research techniques, developing strategies, creating materials, and measuring the effectiveness of campaigns. Like the team at SmartBug.
  • Customer Service: Employees in customer-service roles have procedural knowledge for handling complaints, which includes active listening, empathetic communication, and knowing which solutions are most appropriate for the issue. Like the team at Geckoboard.
  • Software: in the large majority of work environments, employees are required to use procedural knowledge of software on a daily basis. This could be something as simple as navigating a user interface, or an intricate task within a specialized design application. Like the team at Everyday Speech.

Through the natural socialization of teams and departments, procedural knowledge is shared through conversation, meetings and events. It can also be expressed in written forms such as emails, minutes, and reports. 

The collective procedural knowledge of an organization essentially represents their unique approach to work. It indicates the efficiency of internal operation, whilst also representing the larger corporate philosophy.

The main issue is that procedural knowledge in the workplace is specific to a certain task or responsibility. This means it’s often held by a small group or sole individual, where it can be easily lost when employees change position or role.A company wiki is the ideal solution for this problem because they allow groups to pool their knowledge, sort information into sensible concepts, and edit posts at any time.  Organizations can gain a sustainable competitive advantage by tapping into the expertise of employees with substantial procedural knowledge.

When Is Procedural Knowledge Important?

It’s quite possible to score 100% in your driving theory test, yet still not be able to actually drive a car. You can know what every road sign means, what every icon on your dash indicates, and even how an internal combustion engine actually works but still not know how to parallel park, or simply shift gears.

In such cases, declarative (factual) knowledge is useless because you lack the practical know-how needed to put the theory into practice. 

You can only rely on procedural knowledge, which is crucial for successfully performing the task. This of course applies to all kinds of employee processes within an organization.

Let’s take a look at how procedural knowledge can be applied across two different, but emerging industries:

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

When AI applications leverage procedural knowledge, this opens up more opportunities than a purely declarative knowledge-based application. We’re seeing this on full display with the recent advances in GPT-3 and GPT-4.

A Procedural Reasoning System (PRS) is a “framework for constructing real-time reasoning systems that can perform complex tasks in dynamic environments.”

An example of a PRS in practice would be an intelligent agent navigating a building or room that it has plotted, rather than simply mapping out the building and room. Rather than understanding what size the building is, for example, the agent could figure out how to navigate it.

Intellectual Property

In intellectual property (IP) terms, procedural knowledge is a component of IP rights on its own merits. That said, the procedural information will usually accompany the license to the “right-of-use” of patents or trademarks.

For example, although an IP license might contain information about what an item is, where it’s made, or when it can be used, it is potentially useless information unless the knowledge of how to actually use it is also included (think back to our car driving scenario).

How to Capture Procedural Knowledge

So how can a company leverage knowledge that is only acquired through doing? By its very nature, procedural knowledge is notoriously hard to describe, and just as tricky to document for inclusion in a knowledge management strategy. It’s one thing having employees who can complete tasks using procedural knowledge, but it’s another thing altogether getting them to pass that on for others to use.

Here are a few options for organizations that want to improve their knowledge capture and management process:

1. Pinpoint Confusing Processes

Even at smaller companies, there are likely to be certain tasks that new employees struggle with. Although perfectly normal, it’s still not ideal! A simple solution is to get onboarding feedback so that you can pinpoint which areas of the onboarding process prove most challenging. 

Once you identify the hands-on processes that slow new hires down, you can allocate more time to them. This might include an experienced team member physically demonstrating the work, or simply giving the new employee longer to practice the task.

2. Create or Review Training Procedures

For any difficult procedural processes you flag, it’s important to have the proper training procedures in place. We can all agree that it’s generally good for companies to offer training programs that give employees the relevant knowledge to succeed at their job.

Team leaders should periodically review the effectiveness of their programs. Just because we’re dealing with procedural knowledge, it doesn’t mean that the only option is on-the-job training. You can also take the wisdom gained from senior employees to show the most efficient ways of doing something in a classroom or e-learning setting.

3. Create a Space for “How”

If there are commonly occurring questions over how best a task is completed, a company can save a lot of time by having a clear answer on the matter. It’s common for employees to simply ask a colleague who is a subject matter expert (SME), but this isn’t the best form of knowledge management. 

When a new employee directly messages an SME, the resulting information is not instantly accessible to others. 

This causes repetitive questions which ultimately irritate your experts and make employees nervous to ask questions about anything. This is no good because communication shuts down and people waste time repeatedly closing knowledge gaps. 

The solution is to create a centralized knowledge base that allows specific answers, step-by-step guides, and any accompanying resources like checklists and flowcharts to be posted in a shared space. 

Using software to store commonly required information not only saves the SME time, but also empowers employees to find their own answers. The rate of knowledge transfer is sped up and tightened. 

4. Foster a Culture of Knowledge Sharing

Companies should always encourage knowledgeable employees to share their experiences and insights. It has a huge influence on efficiency, but quickly branches out into other areas like cross-departmental collaboration, employee retention and even customer satisfaction.

5. Create a Bias to Action

The most productive companies often display a bias to action, where employees are encouraged to take initiative. This approach allows them to improve their collective procedural knowledge over time. It’s important that companies give employees to take charge in the knowledge sharing process through feedback, team meetings, and digital collaboration tools like a company wiki.

Organizations that invest in a proper knowledge management framework quickly recognize the immense benefits of that decision. When you find appropriate means to record, store, and distribute your procedural knowledge, you gain a serious advantage over competitors who are mindlessly throwing their information around.

How Tettra Helps with Your Procedural Knowledge

As an internal knowledge base, Tettra provides a place for your team to store and share their processes with other team members (and future team members, too.) You’ll be able to end the repetitive questions and onboard employees faster.

Tettra offers a full suite of tools for sharing knowledge. With Tettra, you’ll get:

  • Q&A workflow to capture questions
  • Knowledge base to document answers
  • Knowledge management features to keep content up to date.
  • Integrations with chat tools to make sure your team actually uses Tettra

It’s simple to get started and works for the whole team.