When I first got heavily into workplace knowledge sharing 7 years ago, I thought it was just my organization that had some challenges. Then, when I stepped out into the industry to share my experience on the topic, I started to realize it was EVERYONE.
Fast forward to today, and I’m still hearing the same objections over and over when people ask for help with their knowledge sharing strategies. The overall conversation has definitely evolved during this period, as I’m seeing more practical attempts to get things started, especially within L&D. However, it seems like many of us are still trying to overcome the same institutional barriers that I have faced throughout my career.
Here are 7 common stakeholder objections regarding employee shared knowledge along with my typical response for each.
Information must be approved before it can be shared internally.
It is certainly true that some information should be reviewed and approved before being shared within the organization. But that’s definitely not the case for EVERYTHING your people need to know. And, while such processes may be in place, employees are already sharing information in a variety of informal ways. This includes break room discussions, meetings, email, and bulletin boards. In a large organization, it is difficult-to-impossible to keep track of this “backchannel” knowledge. Regardless of stakeholder visibility, people are using this information to make workplace decisions, and the organization is therefore accountable for the result despite the lack of formal approval process.
Using an employee-focused, single-source approach to knowledge sharing will dramatically increase your visibility to your workplace backchannel and enable you to proactively engage when necessary. It will also allow the full employee population to weigh in and suggest improvements and corrections. With the right technology, you can establish standards for information that truly requires approval while appreciating and leveraging employee knowledge and experience on a variety of other topics. Most importantly, this will help your people find and share knowledge at the speed of business.
Employees may share so much information that it becomes difficult to manage at scale.
Honestly, this is a great problem to have. The best information in any organization lives in the minds of top performers, and this knowledge too often walks out the door with them. You may need to have some additional people hands-on when you begin your knowledge sharing program. You should also explore curation activities and consider dedicating a person in this role in an ongoing capacity to really drive shared knowledge across your organization. However, the only way to truly scale knowledge sharing is through the strength of your workplace community. Employees love to share suggestions and point out problems in their workplace. You can use these natural behaviors to manage an enterprise knowledge collection rather than restrict your resources based on your available headcount.
Leveraging your employee community to drive shared knowledge will also help lessen the workload on your subject matter experts. While there may be specific owners for your products and processes, your employees have a heightened level of expertise in these areas based on their daily work. Rather than rely on the same people for answers all the time, you can leverage the crowd and provide more timely knowledge support. You can also enable SMEs to engage directly and share their knowledge on their own instead of acting as a middleman between those who have information and those who need it.
Employees are too busy doing their jobs to share.
Knowledge sharing should not represent a burden on employees who already have plenty to do. While there may be a lot of work upfront to get started, this should not be something that requires constant effort from a large number of employees. Rather, the right processes, motivators and technology should be introduced to make sharing a natural extension of the role for the right people. For example, rather than sending email messages with critical updates to distribution lists, you can repurpose this existing communication flow to a centralized knowledge repository and use notification messages to keep people updated on changes. Employees who make the effort to share and whose contributions are deemed valuable by the community should be formally recognized to motivate continued engagement. Knowledge sharing should also be built into the roles of highly-knowledgeable and experienced employees, especially those who typically act as subject matter experts as well as support teams like L&D, Marketing, and Communications.
Employees may share inappropriate information.
What would you consider to be “inappropriate?” If this relates to offensive content that shouldn’t be shared in the workplace at all, creating a system of individual accountability should eliminate this concern. First, you must establish guidelines for knowledge sharing just like you do for other workplace behaviors. Then, you must leverage technology that holds users accountable. When an employee knows their name and picture will appear next to anything they share, it is VERY unlikely that they will do something inappropriate. As an additional safe guard, select technology that allows users to flag content for moderation as needed.
Employees may share inaccurate or outdated information.
This is another example of something that is already happening in your organization. You simply can’t see it. If employees are left to rely on their nearby teammates for information because they cannot find trusted resources, they will consistently run into slightly altered versions of the answer, many of which will turn out to be wrong. By providing a central spot for people to share and ask questions, you bring transparency to these interactions. This will allow you – as well as the rest of your workplace community – to step in and offer suggestions and corrections as needed. Also, if a question is asked/answered via shared knowledge, the question should not have to be asked again thanks to the availability of this knowledge in an open, searchable environment.
Employees aren’t in roles that require the skills needed to share knowledge.
This can be true. Many employees do not have experience writing articles or creating videos to share their knowledge and experience. However, a small selection of your employees likely do have this experience. It just doesn’t relate to their current roles. This provides an opportunity to leverage these hidden skills for the betterment of your workplace community. In addition, knowledge sharing behaviors such as online search, texting, blogging, video, and question/answer forums are increasingly common in everyday life and therefore probably quite familiar to a large percentage of your employees.
Employees don’t know what information other employees really need.
Do you? This sounds harsh, but the reality is that the only person who knows what an employee needs to do their job is the employee. The role of a support team is to identify employee needs and provide the best possible tools, but we can only go so far given our limited resources and separation from the day-to-day work. Enabling our employees to share their knowledge and experience will ensure that relevant, timely information is available to all employees, including for those unpredictable situations that we could not have prepared for behind-the-scenes.
What about you? Have you heard similar objections when attempting to enable shared knowledge in your workplace? How do you typically respond?
PS – This is officially my 100th blog post on LearnGeek … Thanks to everyone who has read, shared and contributed to my rants over the past few years!!!
JD Dillon is one of the most prolific authors and speakers in workplace learning today. He has spent 20 years designing learning and performance strategies for respected global organizations, including The Walt Disney Company, Kaplan, Brambles, and AMC Theatres. JD is the founder of LearnGeek and Chief Learning Architect with Axonify.