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4 minute read

Is Knowledge ‘Hoarding’ or ‘Hiding’ Holding Your Company Back?

Withholding of information and skills by employees can prevent your organisation from having a competitive edge and growing.

Whether your organisation is a multinational corporation or a small business, ‘knowledge hoarding’ and ‘knowledge hiding’ by employees happens more often than you think. This unhealthy practice is disruptive and prevents the flow of knowledge that could help colleagues and in return benefit your company.

This knowledge can take the form of personal experience and insights employees bring to their jobs or informal learnings they acquire through their roles. For instance, a worker may have found a solution for handling difficult customers. This knowledge when shared can be invaluable to other employees and benefit the company. However, this might not be the case due to ‘knowledge hoarding’ or ‘knowledge hiding’.

“The natural inclination of employees at every level in almost every organisation is to hoard knowledge, especially knowledge that is deemed valuable,” said Ms. Elif Bilginoglua in a research paper on the subject.

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But before you could take any meaningful action to change this behaviour, it is important to distinguish between ‘knowledge hoarding’ and ‘knowledge hiding’. The former involves staff accumulating knowledge that may or may not be shared later due to reasons beyond their control, while the latter is the intentional withholding of information by an employee despite being requested to do so by a colleague.

Why do employees do this?

One of the main reasons that employees don’t like to share their knowledge is that they are afraid of colleagues stealing their ideas and taking all the credit in today’s competitive workplaces. They also believe by not sharing their wealth of knowledge they will be more secure in their jobs and make themselves indispensable.  The many other reasons could include the fear of being wrong, receiving negative feedback, or simply not having enough time.

What happens when knowledge is not shared?

Knowledge is the most important resource in your company. When it is hoarded or hidden by employees, others in the organisation are deprived of that information and their work does not benefit from it. This could lead to loss of productivity and waste of valuable resources as they try to find the specific information that they need. And if the employee leaves, your company loses that knowledge for good because it has not been shared.

What are the advantages of knowledge sharing?

By promoting knowledge sharing in your firm, you and all your employees get to tap into a wealth of expertise, skills, and information that could give your company a competitive edge. According to this study, 80% of corporate leaders believe knowledge sharing is the most important factor for their companies’ success.

By enabling the unhindered flow of information between your employees, your company benefits by creating collective knowledge, new business solutions, better ways of working, and best of all, team bonding through increased collaboration.

Speaking about the huge advantages of knowledge sharing, former CEO of Hewlett Packard Lew Platt famously said: “If only HP knew what HP knows, we would be three times more productive.”

How can you create a knowledge-sharing culture?

Your employees will need to feel safe and empowered to exchange notes. A good place to start would be to reduce individual competition by publicly comparing staff as winners or losers. Instead, your company could recognise and reward employees for sharing valuable learnings.

“We have made much progress by forming what you might call peer communities,” said Mr. John Browne, the former CEO of oil giant BP. “They have a lot to learn from each other. They share technical stuff. And they are equals,” he said while adding there are no bosses or hierarchies in these groups that could hamper the free flow of knowledge.

It can be a regular company-wide lunch-and-learn session or a chat over coffee with a small team. Employees will feel comfortable and motivated to share their learning by facilitating semi-formal or informal catch-ups. You could also feature guest speakers from outside the organisation or subject-matter experts from within at these forums.

“On-the-job education can make training less intensive and time-consuming. It doesn’t always require formal seminars and workshops,” said Aytekin Tank, founder of online form builder JotForm, who brings in specialised consultants to work with his teams and then asks the employees to share their learnings.

No matter the size of your company, technology is an essential and effective tool to drive knowledge sharing. The gold standard for disseminating knowledge among staff is the e-newsletter. You could also set up an intranet or online hub to feature white papers, knowledge library, personal experiences, task-led tips and hacks, learning videos, and messaging boards and forums. And there’s help at hand with an array of online tools such as Google Drive, SharePoint, and Freshdesk to help you start a knowledge-sharing culture in your company.

For example, HR management organisation Insperity has employees across the United States. The company used Bloomfire as a hub for them to share expertise, ask and answer questions, quickly retrieve information and more.

Knowledge-sharing is power

The best way to start the knowledge-sharing transformation of your company is with you. As an employer, you could lead the way by sharing your knowledge with your employees and recognising their contributions in return. By introducing the necessary knowledge sharing education, training, and technology, you and your staff will be able to change the old paradigm of ‘knowledge is power’ into ‘knowledge sharing is power’.

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