5 reasons your employees aren’t sharing their knowledge

Empty Swings

I rarely hear someone say …

WOW! We have so many people sharing on [insert name of enterprise platform]! Everyone’s problems are getting solved so quickly nowadays!

Instead, I hear plenty of …

We have [insert name of enterprise platform] at work, but no one really uses it …

What’s going on? It’s 2016! People like sharing online, right? I mean, look what happens in an internet minute nowadays …

  • 347,222 tweets are sent.
  • 293,000 Facebook statuses are updated.
  • 527,760 Snapchat photos are shared.
  • 2,780,000 YouTube videos are viewed.

If sharing as enabled by social technology has become a standard component of everyday life, why can’t organizations take advantage of these behaviors and scale knowledge sharing in the workplace? For me, it comes down to a simple answer: its not the same. The technology may look familiar, and the desired behaviors may be similar. But, there are a few key considerations that most organizations ignore when attempting to generate shared organizational knowledge. It’s by no means impossible … It’s just a lot more difficult than most people think.

Here are 5 reasons your employees aren’t sharing their workplace knowledge … and a few things you can do about it …

#1 – Sharing tech isn’t work tech …

When and where are you asking employees to share their knowledge?

By WHEN, I’m referring to the expectation that sharing is actually part of the job – not an extra, nice-to-have task. Few organizations hold employees accountable for sharing their knowledge as a core responsibility and are therefore left with only the information from designated subject matter experts, communications teams and a few “go-getters” who derive personal value from such sharing.

By WHERE, I’m referring to the technology component, often embodied by an intranet or enterprise social network (ESN). Yes, knowledge sharing is more about organizational culture than it is about technology, but right-fit technology must be applied to enable sharing at the speed and scale needed in the modern workplace.

So, what tools do your employees need to use to do their jobs every day? Email? POS? CRM? Are your intranet or ESN ever part of that list? Employees may go to your SharePoint or Google Drive now and then to download a file, but these tools typically aren’t getting their eyes every day like email and your SRM. Therefore, employees will be less inclined to contribute given minimal traffic time and value-add as part of their regular tasks.

#2 – Networks require scale …

I’m admittedly not a Facebook fan. I’m more of a Twitter guy. So why am I still on Facebook? Well, that’s where the crowd is. I have a feeling there are plenty of Facebook users with that same predicament. I’ve tried plenty of other social networks with similar capabilities, but I keep coming back to Facebook because that’s where the people with whom I want to engage are sharing.

The same is true at work. ESNs and intranets require a flow of constant user activity to deliver value to a single user. Would you stay on Facebook if your newsfeed was empty for a month? A week? A day? People share and consume content where they can engage with the desired audience at the moment of need. To solve problems quickly by leveraging the community, the community has to be there – all the time. Enterprise knowledge sharing rarely hits this necessary level of scale and utility and therefore cannot sustain value.

#3 – Most sharing tech is transient …

What was that thing that person said on Facebook the other day? What group did they upload that file to? If you can’t remember who said it or when they shared it, good luck finding it on a traditional social network. Newsfeed-oriented tools aren’t built for long-term knowledge retention. They’re inherently transient, showing users what’s going on NOW within the network.

This translates into the workplace with popular tools like Yammer. It’s also the reason I’m not super-enthused by Facebook at Work. Most organizations introduce separate tools like SharePoint for long-term documentation. This establishes a disconnected knowledge experience for employees. They can share what they know over HERE, but the info they need on the job is over THERE.

This model puts employees at a sharing disadvantage, as they are usually required to pass new knowledge through hierarchical channels to get it added to a formal document repository for long-term use. Too often, this privilege is limited to designated SMEs or senior managers – who are several steps removed from the employee/customer experience. Shared knowledge can’t attain the scale and longevity necessary to become valuable to the community, and formal documentation processes cannot keep up with the pace of the modern workplace.

#4 – Knowledge sharing requires just enough structure …

Have you tried to search your organization’s intranet? Can you actually find what you need – quickly? Or are you stuck with PDFs and PowerPoint presentations from 7 years ago?

The internet doesn’t just organize itself. We have the teams from Google, YouTube and Wikipedia to thank for making the world’s shared knowledge searchable. Unfortunately, most organizations don’t apply a similar structured approach to internal knowledge sharing. Either people have no ability to share, or the gates are flung open and everyone can pile on however they’d like. This is why your SharePoint instance has become a jumbled mess of locked-down team sites and confusing file directories.

Employees shouldn’t just be expected to know how to effectively contribute their knowledge to the larger community. Every team shouldn’t be granted permission to organize their small corner of shared knowledge however they see fit. Regardless of title or desire, most people just don’t understand how to best structure knowledge sharing at an enterprise scale to meet the needs of individual employees. Therefore, they do what they know and install hierarchical folder structures organized by department and supported by rigid process with a dose of overarching ownership mentality.

#5 – Why should they …?

It all comes down to motivation and culture. Frankly, if they aren’t held accountable to it as part of their roles, why should employees share their knowledge? If the sharing experience isn’t super simple – like it is in the real world – why should they dedicate the time? If they aren’t likely to get any value back from other employees’ sharing, why should they make the effort? If no one is going to recognize their contribution, why contribute? And if they aren’t TRUSTED to do the right thing, why would they broadcast their work for everyone to pick apart?

“If you build it, he will come” worked out pretty well for Kevin Costner, but it has never proven to be a solid strategy for knowledge sharing in the workplace.

Difficult – but not impossible. Over the past few years, I’ve witnessed organizations get around these challenges and begin to realize true value from shared knowledge. Not just business value thanks to the improved ability to solve problems via the community but also cultural value derived from increased employee engagement.

Remember – SMEs and formal documentation are a great start, but most of your organization’s HOWs – the way the work really gets done every day – are locked in the minds of your employees. You NEED them to share so you can keep up with your competition and maximize your company’s long-term potential.

How have companies overcome these issues and helped their employees share their knowledge? Here are a few practical tips.

  • Start with trust. As I already mentioned, knowledge sharing is more about culture than technology. Before getting started with strategy, assess the role trust plays in your organization and take steps to address any related issues.
  • Move knowledge sharing closer to the workflow. Help employees talk about the work ON the work. Select technology and enable processes that merge sharing with on-the-job information reference in a single seamless experience.
  • Select right-fit technology. Search is the killer app when it comes to shared knowledge. Leverage technology that looks and feels like Wikipedia, YouTube and other prevalent real-world sharing tools.
  • Provide just enough support. Don’t just install technology and a process and expect it to work. Find the people in your organization who understand enterprise knowledge sharing – regardless of formal role or past experience – and give them the keys (and the accountability).
  • Make it about their peers. I have come to realize that employees are almost always more willing to share when the act is positioned as a way to help their coworkers, not just the organization or customers – who also benefit anyway.
  • Recognize contribution. Not only should sharing be a core component of their roles, but employees should also be continuously recognized for the value they are contributing through shared knowledge. This could be as simple as mentioning key contributors during group meetings or take on a more strategic form with the use of integrated game mechanic, such as leaderboards, badges, and redeemable points.
  • Get the managers to do it too. This isn’t just about frontline employees sharing what they know. Managers, including the executive team, must leverage the same behaviors for consuming and sharing knowledge for their own benefit and to reinforce those desired behaviors for their teams.

Are you seeing similar challenges in your organization? Have you found ways to motivate your employees to share their knowledge? What technology have you found most helpful when trying to generate and organize shared knowledge?

5 reasons your employees aren’t sharing their knowledge

by JD Dillon time to read: 6 min