The old adage that “Knowledge is Power” needs to become “Sharing is Power.” When employees openly share their knowledge, the entire organization becomes more powerful.
Sharing takes many forms, from verbal or digital conversation, to explicitly sending information, to simply providing access to information created by others. As a result of sharing, more information and knowledge will be created and much more will be reused; this leads to better and more informed decisions, better business agility, and radically greater value creation.
Creating a sharing culture, however, requires giving up some control and embracing crowd-sourcing in some areas, which can be a scary proposition for knowledge management teams steeped in the tradition of knowledge curation. The strategy of enabling access only to curated content cannot foster a sharing culture. Used alone, it leads to the reuse of only a portion of an organization’s knowledge and information and creates “knowledge hoarding” behaviors. People become so thirsty for information and knowledge that once they create it or find it, they keep it to themselves in a special spot they think they will remember.Each employee tries to control his or her own access to knowledge.
That’s not to say that curated content isn’t important. It is and will remain an important part of the knowledge management toolkit. However, it is necessary to move beyond that to create and reuse more of your valuable knowledge and information.
Here are five steps organizations can take to change a “Knowledge is Power” culture to one in which sharing is the key attribute:
- Foster a mindset that sharing is power.Reward employees for sharing their knowledge. This can take many different forms, from simply enabling peers to give a thumbs-up on shared content, which provides reputational reward, to gamification that includes a monetary reward for sharing. Different groups within your organization will value rewards differently. Generally, scientists and engineers want to be recognized for their expertise, while business development teams may be more motivated by financial reward.
- Identify levels of content curation. Technology makes it fairly simple to identify the source and level of curation of each piece of information, either by explicit user endorsements or through symbols that identify whether the information has been curated or is in progress. Often, knowledge management practitioners focus on tagging and cleansing data before sharing it, which can take months, if not years, and requires significant resources. Such manual processes can be automated with technologies that extract and associate tags and metadata, and even generate taxonomies. This allows a faster kick-off and faster success, leading to more interest and resources allocated to knowledge management. Once people realize that their information is valued by others, they end up creating more of it.
- Encourage crowd curation. Communicating the reasons for employee and community contributions to curation increases participation. Users are more likely to participate when they know that they also benefit from the efforts of others. You can employ tools here to understand the behavior of employees, identify content that should be officially curated due to popularity, and learn what information is missing based on employee feedback. If you are concerned about the accuracy of crowd curation, keep in mind that Wikipedia has 23 million articles, and its accuracy and references are on a par with Encyclopedia Britannica as well as the leading encyclopedias in two other countries, in their native languages, according to research conducted by Oxford University and Epic Consultancy. The crowd curated Wikipedia articles both successfully and at scale.
- Trust employees to think. People rarely take information at face value if they understand the consequences of using the wrong information, are unaware of the information source, or know that information has not been vetted. Plus, peers trust peers and will value their content. Bottom-up messaging, created by peers, is often perceived as more valuable than top-down. Don’t worry if there is a self-declared but unskilled pundit among your employees. Peers recognize that, too.
- Ensure relevance. Sharing knowledge from throughout your organization might feel like you are about to unleash the wild, wild west of information – and without handling relevance, that’s exactly what you would be doing. Your initiative would be hanged at high noon, never to be trusted again. However, just as Amazon sifts through millions of titles and presents you with ones that actually interest you, technology can now enable recommendations of knowledge and information – even experts – from throughout your knowledge ecosystem. Suddenly, employees know who and what will help them assist a customer, build a great product, or close a big deal. This was information they didn’t know existed.
Sharing is arguably the most powerful attribute for knowledge management. With these culture-changing steps in place, companies can unlock the tremendous value in their knowledge and information, regardless of where it is stored. Through a culture of knowledge sharing and the addition of certain technologies, the long tail of enterprise knowledge – which is often hidden away among multiple systems and which may be highly specific, rare, and generally difficult to access and use – becomes available to all employees, and organizations become able to reuse 98 percent of their knowledge and information rather than the 20 percent that is generally curated and packaged for employees to use. Otherwise, knowledge simply sits there and no return can be gained from it. Worse, employees recreate it over and over again or simply make decisions without the right information – certainly a risky proposal.
As Chief Knowledge Evangelist for Coveo, Diane Berry leads the organization’s thought leadership and research programs centered on Search-powered Knowledge Management. Previously, Diane served as SVP of Marketing and Communication at Coveo, where she worked extensively with Coveo customers. Diane was previously SVP, Global Marketing and Communication with Taleo Corporation, an international provider of on-demand Internet software for talent and human capital management. Diane has also served as Chief Marketing Officer of SelectMinds, a corporate social media solutions provider.