If your knowledge sharing process is ineffective, unused, or non-existent, you’re not alone.
Organizations of all sizes in all kinds of industries struggle with employees who don’t – or won’t – share information. Losing fundamental knowledge when people retire or move on is also common. These knowledge sharing problems have far-reaching negative effects on the bottom line.
You’ve likely heard a lot about the benefits of strong knowledge sharing techniques, from increased collaboration and social interaction to an improved ability to retain expertise. Sharing is integral to knowledge management, alongside capturing and storing information. Without this crucial step, the wealth of knowledge across your company will stay trapped in siloes and employees’ heads – instead of fulfilling its potential to become the currency that drives innovation and productivity.
Before we lay out some simple ways to kickstart knowledge sharing in your organization, let’s look at some of the factors that can get in the way of success.
Top barriers to knowledge sharing
There are several things that can make it difficult or undesirable for employees to share information. By understanding these obstacles and how they operate in your company, you’re in a better position to remove them.
Employees quickly adopt the norms of your organizational culture, and these ways of doing things influence how knowledge is or isn’t shared. Highly competitive, individualistic environments, for example, naturally discourage openness and collaboration.
In cultures where instability and uncertainty reign, people also tend to guard what they know for self-preservation. These types of cultures tend to produce information siloes where teams and departments keep their knowledge to themselves.
Knowledge sharing tools play a pivotal role in supporting the sharing of knowledge at work. But these tools can discourage employees from sharing information if they’re not user-friendly, have high learning curves, don’t integrate with existing systems, and/or obstruct workflows.
People often present the biggest impediment to knowledge sharing. They’re called “knowledge hoarders,” and you’ve probably encountered a few in your career. Harvard research on retirees who refuse to pass on their “deep smarts” – experience-based, business-critical knowledge – found that these individuals are motivated by personal ego, discontent with the organization, and the prospect of being hired back as a consultant.
Other reasons for knowledge hoarding include:
- Identity and standing – Employees fear losing their standing as the subject matter expert and go-to person.
- Job security – Employees view knowledge as power and believe they won’t be fired if no one else can do their job.
- Time constraints – Employees think they’re too busy to share information, and/or it will take too much time away from their essential tasks.
- Lack of trust – Employees worry that others will misuse or take credit for the knowledge they share.
The high cost of poor knowledge sharing
Regardless of what’s hindering knowledge sharing, the results are detrimental to the whole organization. Communication and collaboration suffer, resulting in wasted time and money. Employees must constantly reinvent the wheel, make the same mistakes, and spend time searching for vital information.
When employees hoard knowledge, they create a cycle of distrust and reciprocal hoarding, according to a study in the Academy of Management Journal. The research also found that knowledge hiding stifles creativity.
Unshared knowledge decreases productivity by making it hard for employees to access what they need to get work done. In a survey of 1,000 U.S. employees, 60% reported some level of difficulty in getting information and 81% said this results in frustration.
It also results in lost time. Workers spend nearly 20% of the workweek looking for internal information or tracking down colleagues who can help with specific tasks, according to McKinsey.
Without a robust knowledge sharing process in place, organizations may lose some institutional wisdom entirely when employees retire or move on. This loss is expensive in several ways. There’s always the cost of rebuilding a body of expertise and onboarding new people.
But there could also be a significant outlay for hiring former employees back as consultants at double their salary. According to the previously mentioned Harvard study, 42% of companies opt for this pricey method of retaining knowledge.
Security and knowledge sharing
Weak or non-existent knowledge sharing is damaging to organizations, but so is knowledge sharing without the right security in place. The global average cost of a data breach is up 6.4% to $3.86 million, according to the Ponemon Institute’s latest study. In a climate of rising cybersecurity threats, security should never be an afterthought.
Employee education is vital when introducing any knowledge sharing technique. Everyone must be aware of company policy on what can and cannot be shared internally and externally. Yet human error is inevitable, so it’s wise to choose a knowledge management platform with built-in identity and access management to protect your valuable intellectual assets.
4 best practices for knowledge sharing
1. Create a sharing environment
Flatten existing hierarchies to build an open, trusting, transparent culture where everyone has a voice. Give employees opportunities to spread the wealth of their experience and expertise through various types of knowledge sharing (face-to-face collaboration sessions, social gatherings, content contribution, and more).
Foster dialogue and cut down the monologues from above. Get senior leaders to ask employees for feedback and advice. Management buy-in is key to optimizing the larger knowledge management process.
2. Make sharing easy and immediate
A knowledge sharing platform that meets your organization’s unique needs enables employees to share information effortlessly and efficiently. It improves daily workflows to save time and money. By creating an internal knowledge base, you can centralize and secure all your company knowledge while eliminating the wasted hours employees spend searching for information.
Taking the extra step of ensuring your knowledge base has high-quality content gives employees instant access to informative, accurate, timely information. The result: less frustration and more work getting done.
3. Use knowledge sharing champions
Instead of resisting knowledge hoarders, influence them with peer pressure. From day one of onboarding, emphasize that sharing information is part of your organizational culture. Identify leading knowledge sharers, then point to them as examples and encourage them to express the benefits of open collaboration.
4. Recognize and reward knowledge sharing
Pay attention to when people take the initiative to share valuable information with their fellow employees. Highlight their efforts across the organization and institute a rewards system. Make it clear that employees can gain status and power by sharing, not hoarding, their expertise.
Discover knowledge management solutions for your digital workplace
As the old adage goes, knowledge is power. And in today’s business climate, knowledge is capital. With a digital workplace platform that centralizes company information and offers interactive features for easy knowledge sharing, organizations can harness and protect the information they’ve spent so many years and dollars to attain.