To change an organization’s culture from one of knowledge hoarding to one of knowledge sharing, it’s important to understand why people may not be sharing their knowledge with one another.
In my career as a knowledge manager, I identified 16 common reasons why people don’t share what they know. Here they are, along with recommended solutions for each one.
1. They don’t have time. They think they have no time for knowledge sharing.
Solution: Embed knowledge-sharing into the basic work and processes of your organization so that it is not viewed as a separate task which can be avoided.
2. They don’t trust others. They are worried that sharing their knowledge will allow other people to be rewarded without giving credit or something in return, or result in the misuse of that knowledge.
Solution: Reward people on team goals, and nurture communities within the organization to create an environment of trust.
3. They think that knowledge is power. They hoard their knowledge waiting for someone to beg them for it, treat them like a guru, or give them something in return.
Solution: Recognize, reward, and promote those who share their knowledge, while denying promotions to those who fail to do so.
4. They don’t know why they should do it. Leadership has not made a strong case for knowledge sharing.
Solution: Have the leader of the organization communicate regularly on knowledge sharing expectations, goals, and rewards.
5. They don’t know how to do it. They have not received training and communications on how to share knowledge.
Solution: Regularly communicate and conduct training, webinars, and knowledge fairs. Web-based training and webinar recordings should be available for all tools.
6. They don’t know what they are supposed to do. Leadership has not established and communicated clear goals for knowledge sharing, and has not modeled the desired behaviors.
Solution: Establish and communicate clear knowledge-sharing goals, and have leaders regularly demonstrate knowledge sharing so others can follow their example.
7. They think the recommended way will not work. They have received training and communications but don’t believe what they are being asked to do will work.
Solution: The KM leaders, knowledge assistants, and other members of the KM team have to convince people in small groups or one-on-one by showing them that it does work.
8. They think their way is better. They are used to working on their own or collaborating only with a small group of trusted colleagues and believe this is the best way.
Solution: Regularly share stories of how others are benefiting from sharing knowledge using the recommended ways. This should help sway those stuck in their current ways to consider using better ways.
9. They think something else is more important. They believe that there are higher-priority tasks than knowledge sharing.
Solution: Get all first-level managers to model knowledge-sharing behavior for their employees, and to inspect compliance to knowledge-sharing goals with the same fervor as they inspect other goals.
10. There is no positive consequence to them for doing it. They receive no rewards, recognition, promotions, or other benefits for sharing knowledge.
Solution: Implement rewards and recognition programs for those who share their knowledge. For example, award points to those who share knowledge, and then give desirable rewards to those with the top point totals.
11. They think they are doing it. They are sharing knowledge differently than the recommended ways (e.g., sending email to trusted colleagues or distribution lists).
Solution: Assign people to work with each community and organization to show them how to use the recommended ways and how they work better than other ways. Providing a new tool or process which is viewed as a killer app — it quickly and widely catches on — is the best way for the old ways to be replaced with new ways.
12. They are rewarded for not doing it. They hoard their knowledge and thus get people to beg for their help, or they receive rewards, recognition, or promotions based on doing other tasks.
Solution: Work with all managers in the organization to encourage them to reinforce the desired behaviors and stop rewarding the wrong behaviors.
13. They are punished for doing it. As a result of spending time on knowledge sharing, they don’t achieve other goals that are more important to the organization or are chastised for wasting time.
Solution: Align knowledge-sharing processes and goals with other critical processes and performance goals, and regularly communicate that time spent sharing knowledge is time well spent.
14. They anticipate a negative consequence for doing it. They are afraid that if they share knowledge, they will lose their status as a guru (no one will have to come begging to them at the time of need), that people they don’t trust will misuse it or use it without attribution, or that they will not achieve other more important goals, They are afraid of asking or answering a question in public because it may expose their ignorance, make them appear incompetent, or subject them to criticism, blame, or embarrassment for sharing something improper or incorrect.
Solution: Position knowledge sharing as being a critical success factor for the organization. Facilitate ways for people to establish trusting relationships through enterprise social networks and face-to-face meetings. Recognize those who ask, answer, and share in public, and provide ways to ask questions on behalf of others.
15. There is no negative consequence to them for not doing it. Knowledge sharing is not one of their performance goals, or it is a goal which is not enforced.
Solution: Work with all first-level managers to get them to implement, inspect, and enforce knowledge-sharing goals. This needs to come from the top — if the leader of the organization insists on it and checks up on compliance, it will happen.
16. There are obstacles beyond their control. They are not allowed to spend time sharing knowledge, they don’t have access to systems for knowledge sharing, or they don’t have strong English language skills for sharing with those outside of their country.
Solution: Embed knowledge sharing into normal business processes. Provide ways to collaborate when not connected (e.g., using email for threaded discussions). Encourage those with weak English skills to share within their countries in their native languages.