How to motivate employees and overcome objections in a culture of knowledge sharing

This blog is part 2 of a 3-part series of posts that are focused on how to create a culture of knowledge sharing at your organization. Sometimes you organization seems to have all of the tools (including software and highly skilled employees), but you simply cannot get knowledge management right. The answer is because of a lack of ingrained culture related to knowledge sharing. That’s why you can’t just buy a wiki and expect your knowledge management problem to be solved. In this series, we’ll address how to make knowledge sharing a part of your company culture.

What does it mean to create a knowledge-sharing culture?

Creating a knowledge-sharing culture is ultimately about making knowledge-sharing the norm in your organization. Cultural norms are part of the company paradigm and this is often a subconscious viewpoint or worldview that is not necessarily communicated vocally in the organization. With respect to the company’s paradigm, it might help to take a step back and observe your team’s individual values and embrace those that exemplify the collective’s most powerful and productive aspects.

Things that you need to create and foster a knowledge-sharing culture

There are a few things that make establishing and cultivating a knowledge-sharing culture easier. They are:

  • Encourage people to work together more effectively.
  • Encourage broad collaboration and sharing.
  • Make organizational knowledge more productive.

Things to consider:

  • We are talking about both knowledge and information – not just information.
  • Share knowledge to help your organization meet its business objectives.
  • Making knowledge more productive is as important if not more important than sharing knowledge
  • Changing culture is tough – it means seeing the world in a different way.

How to motivate knowledge sharing

There is a cliche that exists that says “knowledge is power.” As poetic as it sounds, we would like to improve on that by expanding it to “sharing knowledge is power.” This encapsulates the engine that drives empowerment. Sharing also does not have to be explicit – it can be enabled through creating better access to knowledge with deeper integrations with common workflows. Your goal should be that you want employees to recognize that sharing knowledge is not only good for the company, but it is best for their own personal interests (career progression, bonuses, more interesting projects, etc.). It makes their day better, leading to higher satisfaction and eventually higher productivity.

Utilizing gamification and swag-giveaways as incentives are nice and sometimes enjoyable sources of motivation, but they lack the lasting effect of personal incentives.

Reasons to share knowledge

There are a number of reasons to share knowledge, but here are some of the top considerations.

  • Knowledge is perishable – unused knowledge loses value.
  • If you do not make your knowledge productive, then someone else with that knowledge will.
  • Sharing knowledge is a synergistic process – you get more out than you put in.
  • Most tasks require a collaborative effort – sharing helps achieve objectives.

At the surface, some of these items seem obvious, but when you take a step back you might realize that this is how top-tier teams innovate and move fast – they share information liberally so that they can collaborate better. With better communication and collaboration, it’s easier to get buy-in from stakeholders. The team’s ideas are effectively being open-sourced, which allows for more effective iteration and pushes the collective work across the organization towards the goal line.

Overcoming objections to knowledge sharing

Some people object to sharing knowledge as they feel that others will steal their ideas, reap the rewards of their work, and take their rightfully deserved recognition. This is a fallacy. But sometimes people need to be reminded that a rising tide lifts all ships. Here are some key reminders related to common objections:

  • Knowledge sharing isn’t about blindly sharing everything – exercise judgement.
  • Knowledge sharing isn’t just about sharing great ideas, it’s about improving the way that things get done by sharing the little things.
  • Lots of knowledge is of little use to you – share it with others who can make use of it and in return, they will share relevant knowledge with you.

How to make knowledge sharing happen

Knowledge sharing starts with the individual. Practicing within your sphere of influence encourages others to do the same. The effect is compounding and contagious. This is an opportunity for people to lead by example. This process might begin within a small department in an organization, but once people realize the success, they will be more inclined to follow the path.

You can also tie this into a formalized process by embedding it into Objectives and Key Results, which many organizations use to track the success of individuals and teams. Here are some strategies for how to make knowledge sharing happen:

  • Solicit feedback
  • Ask questions
  • Tell people what you plan to do before you do it
  • More importantly, tell people why you’re doing it
  • Ask other people for help
  • Ask someone to work with you in some way – however small
  • Ask people what they think – get their advice
  • Ask people what they would do differently
  • Share not only information but know-how and know-why

The theme of the points above is that people love to be heard and involved in the goings-on, so endeavor to make as much of the process as open as possible. By democratizing access to knowledge you are enabling radical transparency of every piece of internal information for the better. Feedback allows for iteration to improve the sharing process. Fundamentally, sharing is about being more open in your way of work and in your relationships with other people.

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