This post was originally published on October 22, 2018, in Modern Australian.
The workplace of today is made up of people belonging to up to five generations. Each and every one of them knows things that can keep their organizations moving forward and considering the rise of the knowledge economy and how things might evolve in the future, a knowledge sharing organizational culture is an important (even though still invisible) ingredient of company success.
Seasoned employees — from the Veterans to Baby Boomers to Generation X — generally know a lot of how teams function and how things are to be done around a company to ensure profit. Younger employees — from Generation X again to Millennials and Generation Z — are generally considered more tech-savvy and technology is known to improve processes and develop new solutions to old problems in business.
But generational generalizations are just that: generalizations. Seasoned employees can be great with tech while younger ones can generate profit faster than ever. This means every employee has a thing or two to teach others, no matter how old anyone is.
In organizations that are not startups or did not know success in the last few years, having information freely flow between all employees is not the general rule though.
Work has changed (a lot more things are mobile, wireless or with blurred edges than they used to be), but how we support work has not kept up. People no longer work in a centralized manner, but knowledge remains trapped in organizational structures.
So what are some things that companies can do to break down barriers and encourage employees to share their knowledge so that everyone benefits from it?
4 Steps to build a knowledge-sharing culture
There may be no one size fits all approach to build a smooth avenue for everyone to share everything they know overnight, but the following steps are definitely a start:
Make it a value
You can start by adding “knowledge sharing” in the list of official organizational values — those that are usually stated right after the company mission and that are never memorized by the average employee. So you need to push this through the invisible mechanisms that make employees embrace this value at work without even thinking about it.
Managers play a defining role in transforming knowledge sharing from a blank company value to a real one. Since people follow the leader, that leader should set an example. If managers encourage communication between team members and between departments and if they encourage constructive feedback on every step of the way, more employees will adopt these habits. And they’ll be more confident in sharing their knowledge.
Tech things up
A company value can remain in an all talk and no action phase is the company doesn’t also provide the necessary support for implementing it. Oftentimes, technology is the base of this support.
Chatting tools that allow attachments are one great example. Whether we’re talking about Skype or Slack or a chat belonging to a company-owned program, it’s important that employees communicate easily with one another and share what they know. Considering that more and more teams work across continents and time zones, this is more important than ever.
A central repository of knowledge — a platform where everyone can add and access all sorts of resources for work — is another great example. A CRM, an LMS or even a Drive or a Dropbox folder can do the trick. The most important thing is all employees to know its location and easily contribute to it.
Get them involved
Continuous learning opportunities are very important for employees. If they are to get involved in the development of these opportunities and L&D processes they get the message they are important to their organization too.
Remember that everyone has a thing or two to teach others, no matter their age. So when an employee gets acknowledged as a Subject Matter Expert and involved in the creation of training materials, they’ll be more willing to share their knowledge.
Read more: Harnessing the power of SMEs for successful workplace training
It’s enough to record once what one employee or another knows best so that everyone else can learn it when they need to.
Give it time
Remember the carrot and the stick approach? Forget all about that. Just don’t punish employees who fly the flag of knowledge sharing in your organization. If they rock everything about Point 3 above, they will take time away from one task or another.
Tasks do have deadlines and can affect company success, but company knowledge that can disappear when an employee retires or simply moves on to a different organization also affects company success. So don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish and reward the knowledge sharers by understanding their efforts will definitely pay off in the future.
Building a knowledge sharing organizational culture takes time. And sustained effort. Follow the above four steps — make it a value, support it with technology, involve everyone and be aware that everything takes time — adapt and repeat.