Building a Culture of Learning

How to reward organic knowledge management and foster participation.

One of the most frequently cited obstacles in building a system of organizational knowledge sharing and knowledge management is establishing the practice at a grassroots level. Often, folks at the executive level are onboard with knowledge management but don’t know how to rally the troops around making knowledge sharing an intrinsic part of the organization. In this blog post, we’re going to talk briefly about the idea of how you can reward organic knowledge management in a way that will help attract participation from your entire organization.

To many people, the idea of knowledge management sounds – frankly – like a lot of work. The idea of learning and sharing knowledge can sound like a negative experience. We’ve had years of schooling that may have taken some of the fun out of the pursuit of knowledge. To combat this, one strategy is to go the opposite direction. Just like you may have had a history teacher who dressed up as Abraham Lincoln when it was time to learn about the Gettysburg Address, making knowledge management fun can help it transform from another required task to a fundamental (and enjoyable) part of your organization’s culture.

One way to accomplish this is through gamification. Form teams that are working towards contributing to a knowledge repository goal. Put tangible prizes at specific milestones and reward people for contributing. By appealing to your employee’s competitive nature while making the process of knowledge management fun, you will be rewarding organic knowledge sharing and helping to ingrain learning into your cultural composition – and truly, organic knowledge sharing is always better than forced sharing. If you burden your staff with a “knowledge sharing quota,” they will almost certainly reach that quota, but never move beyond it. But when you reward people for sharing knowledge (and not make it a requirement), people will start to subconsciously equate knowledge sharing with something positive.

It’s not enough, however, to just reward those that contribute answers to the knowledge management process. The people asking the questions are just as (if not more!) important that the ones giving the answers. After all, an answer cannot exist in a vacuum, and the people in your organization who ask the “right” questions that provide meaningful value for your organization are worth their weight in gold. When it comes to establishing organizational knowledge sharing, it is a fact that “success breeds success.” Knowledge management is truly a two-way street, with a bi-directional lifecycle that requires both the generation and consumption of information. As you reward folks for contributing to your organization’s knowledge repository, both in the form of providing information as well as asking relevant questions, you will find the knowledge management cycle taking on a life of its own. As employees realize they are incentivized and rewarded not only for providing answers but for asking questions, you can really start to establish an organic cycle of knowledge sharing. This is an idea that flies directly in the face of what most people are taught in traditional educational environments, where having a lot of questions is seen as a sign of weakness.

To bring this all full circle, it is important to understand that the process of knowledge discovery, and its value not only to individuals but to the entire organization, should be fostered and celebrated as means of attracting participation – not demanding it. Like so many things in life, you can’t make people change – they have to want change for themselves. This is a cliché that certainly holds true to implementing a culture of knowledge sharing and learning within your organization. You cannot simply demand that your organization become pros at knowledge sharing, but by rewarding those who participate and making the process enjoyable, you can help foster a culture of learning that will build upon its previous successes and help your organization thrive.