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Motivating Knowledge Sharing

Do project performers and managers withhold knowledge and inhibit learning from experience?

I recently led a project management course for experienced managers in a large global technical services firm.

As we discussed lessons learned and knowledge management, the group raised the issue that many people do not share their knowledge because they fear that if they do they will lose their value to the company and possibly their jobs. The logic was that their knowledge is what makes them valuable.

My response was that withholding knowledge or not won’t matter. Based on collective experience in that firm and in many others, there was little correlation between the knowledge a person held and their being laid off. Lay-offs are mostly driven by the desire to reduce costs and in many, if not most organizations, a common attitude of decision makers is that the survivors will “make do.”  They’ll work harder and learn what they need to learn. There are even instances in outsourcing situations of organizations saving money by laying-off knowledge holders before their knowledge has been adequately passed on. 

In more enlightened organizations there is long term succession planning and systematic knowledge management. There is also a valuing of something beyond the annual cost of an employee or the short term savings of premature termination.

But how to motivate sharing? 

Not sharing is probably not going to preserve jobs and may even be seen as negative behavior when it comes to performance reviews.

How do we promote sharing?  First we must acknowledge that knowledge is power. It is a valuable commodity that represents an asset in and of itself.  Knowledge is one factor in the value of an employee, others include flexibility, the ability to learn and adapt to changing circumstances, the ability to communicate and collaborate, among others.  In fact, it can be said that the ability and willingness to share knowledge is a valuable asset in an individual.  It is through knowledge sharing that one’s knowledge can be validated and made useful across an organization.

Knowledge management experts recommend making knowledge sharing an integral part of every job description and of every business process.  In this way it becomes standard operating procedure. It is a job requirement as opposed to something voluntary and discretionary. As an example, coaching and mentoring can be made part of the job description of a manager or senior technical person.

In the project management realm, making project reviews with lessons learned identification and documentation part of the work plan and not an afterthought is another way to promote sharing.  It is hard enough to get people to take part in candid lessons learned and performance reviews without making it an extra that is viewed as non-billable or non-productive time.

In addition, reward and recognition helps to motivate both knowledge sharing and the use of shared knowledge. Collecting KM system usage data (knowledge contribution and access) and reporting it as part of a recognition process is effective. Publishing lessons learned and attributing them to teams and individuals helps as well. Of course there are some lessons learned that are based on negative experiences.  Let’s acknowledge that everyone makes mistakes and that those who can own up to them, changer behavior and share their experience should be rewarded.

Add to that controlled social computing and other forums to enable communities of practice and common interest to share.

Overall, it is desirable to cultivate an attitude that views knowledge sharing as a service to one’s organization and peers.  The motivation to be of service by passing on one’s knowledge and, perhaps, wisdom makes other motivators unnecessary.

George Pitagorsky

George Pitagorsky, integrates core disciplines and applies people centric systems and process thinking to achieve sustainable optimal performance. He is a coach, teacher and consultant. George authored The Zen Approach to Project Management, Managing Conflict and Managing Expectations and IIL’s PM Fundamentals™. He taught meditation at NY Insight Meditation Center for twenty-plus years and created the Conscious Living/Conscious Working and Wisdom in Relationships courses. Until recently, he worked as a CIO at the NYC Department of Education.

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