The much-desired corporate capability of knowledge management is now over 20 years old—it made great business sense at the end of the 20th Century and it does even more so in 2019. However, many organizations, including their IT departments, still struggle with knowledge sharing – with a common question being, “Why are employees reluctant to share knowledge?”
It’s an unfortunate situation, given that knowledge management continues to grow in importance for IT departments—from its origins in providing knowledge bases to uplift IT service and support staff capabilities, to the provision of effective employee self-help capabilities. This also includes the more recent requirement for data, information, and knowledge to support the corporate investments in artificial intelligence (AI)-based capabilities for IT.
This blog looks at some of the common reasons for the struggle with knowledge management before offering up seven knowledge sharing tips to encourage better communication within your organization.
Why Employees Are Reluctant to Share Knowledge
In a corporate knowledge management success context, there has traditionally been an “easy” excuse for the lack of knowledge sharing—this is because employees who support the “knowledge is power” statement are reluctant to share what they know with others (and to thus devalue their own importance.)
There’s, of course, some merit in this despite the rapid growth in “oversharing” and the “wanting likes” mentality we’ve seen with the rise in social media use. But many of the real barriers to knowledge sharing sit with organizational issues rather than our personal fear of status reduction.
Creating a Knowledge Sharing Culture: The Barriers
There are many people-based barriers to knowledge sharing. For instance, when new knowledge management capabilities are introduced within an IT organization, it’s often done from a technology-implementation perspective rather than a people-change perspective.
In such instances, the fact that the desired change is a change to the traditional way of working is unfortunately overlooked. As are many of the tools and techniques offered by organizational change management (OCM)—starting with employees first understanding the “What’s in it for me?” as well as the business-level benefits of knowledge sharing.
This and other barriers—reflected in the tips below—mean that knowledge sharing isn’t easy. Or at least isn’t easy unless a well-informed approach is taken to knowledge management’s introduction.
So, what can your IT department do to encourage greater employee knowledge sharing?
7 Knowledge Sharing Tips
The key here is to build your knowledge sharing capabilities around your employees, rather than the available knowledge management technology.
It’s not that the technology isn’t important—it is (or at least the right technology is). Those driving knowledge sharing initiatives need to fully understand the need for people-based change as both a prelude to, and after, the implementation of any knowledge management capabilities.
This is reflected in the seven knowledge sharing success tips below:
- Understand what knowledge management (and sharing) means for your organization. This starts with understanding “the art of the knowledge management possible,” then an agreement on the scope (what will and won’t be done), plus the required organizational changes to successfully move toward a knowledge sharing culture.
- Employ OCM tools and techniques to facilitate what’s ultimately a people-related change. As already called out, this involves explaining the “What’s in it for me?” to help gain buy-in and to minimize any resistance to change. This can be achieved by providing frequent and consistent communications in respect of what’s happening (and will be happening) and providing the required level of education and training (repeating this as needed).
- Train employees on more than “the mechanics” of knowledge sharing. Knowledge sharing is much more than the use of an additional tool—training should also provide guidance to employees on what’s expected of them. It’s helpful if this is also incorporated into the onboarding process for new staff such that they start with a common understanding of what knowledge management involves and what success looks like. It’s also a great opportunity for new hires to input to the collective knowledge as early as possible.
- Change how people are assessed, recognized, and rewarded. Assess how existing employee management policies either help or hinder knowledge sharing. Then make tweaks or larger changes—from the performance metrics employed to incentives/reward systems. Such that employees are recognized, or not, based—at least in part—on their level of knowledge sharing (and their successful transition to the new way of working).
- Don’t just rely on text-based knowledge article creation. Knowledge capture doesn’t need to be a singleton pursuit. Create knowledge sharing spaces that provide the right environment/atmosphere to give employees the confidence to share what they know. Having meetings with peers and trusted subject matter experts can motivate employees to share information. It also reflects that knowledge sharing needs to include being able to identify the right person to ask, not just the right knowledge article to read (or watch).
- Embed knowledge management capabilities into BAU (business as usual) practices. As per tip #4, knowledge sharing is a change to the traditional way of working—with it highly likely that making knowledge management simply a bolt-on activity (either for knowledge capture or use) will mean that it never truly takes root in BAU operations.
- Empower knowledge sharing employees with the right knowledge management tools. While the traditional IT service management (ITSM) view of knowledge management has very much revolved around the creation of a knowledge base and encouraging its use. It’s important that the employed knowledge management technology not only helps with knowledge capture, curation, and ongoing management – it also needs to serve the needs of the knowledge seeker well. In particular, through the ease of access and use, no matter the channel used.
So, that’s my seven knowledge sharing tips for encouraging better communication within your organization. If you can leverage all seven, then you’ll significantly increase your organization’s chances of both knowledge management and ITSM success.