Organic Knowledge Transfer vs. Forced Sharing

How to encourage knowledge sharing without making it mandatory.

“Don’t force it.” One of the best lessons you can learn – in life, love and, of course, in knowledge management. Knowledge management, the practice of aggregating and sharing knowledge across an organization, is one of the most beneficial initiatives a company can take to help optimize their processes, but it is also something that is best accomplished organically. The question is, why does natural knowledge sharing trump forced transfer? And how can you encourage knowledge sharing without making it mandatory?

First, let’s talk a bit about the idea of natural knowledge-sharing and why it is preferable to a more forced process. For starters, organic knowledge management honors the “power of the question.” When an organization is attempting to build a culture of knowledge sharing, the “why” is just as important as the “how.” If an organization attempts to force knowledge sharing by making it a requirement or setting a quota, then they are inadvertently rewarding only the creation of knowledge. In that sense, there is never a tangible benefit for asking the right questions. Eventually, the people asking the questions (those in charge of tracking the quotas or forcing the transfer) will run out of questions – or, frankly, not know the right questions to ask. When that happens, the knowledge transfer stream will dry up.

However, by honoring the power of the question – encouraging not only the creation of knowledge but rewarding those who ask the right questions– you create a cycle of organizational learning and sharing that will be self-sustaining. When someone knows it’s not only ok to ask a question but encouraged and rewarded, the increase in questions will be exponential. Knowledge management is a two-way street where answers can only exist when the right questions are asked.

Organic knowledge sharing is also more valuable because it naturally appeals to those who have the most beneficial knowledge to share. When someone is voluntarily offering to share what they have learned, it’s often because it’s the knowledge they are most proud of. That means, to put it simply, that it’s the good stuff. When knowledge transfer is organic, and people share because they want to, they will share information of high value. When you force knowledge transfer, you change it from a situation where people in your organization share only what they really want to, to sharing because it’s a requirement. How many times have you done something really well because it was a task you were forced to complete? Probably not that often. But how often have you done something really well because it was something you believed in and/or were very proud of? You get the idea.

So now that you have an idea of why organic knowledge management is so important, how can you go about implementing it into your company without making it a requirement? We have written in the past about how you can create a culture of learning at your organization, so we won’t rehash every single detail. But to summarize the basic tenets of creating a natural organizational tendency towards sharing knowledge, remember these three basic ideas:

  • Reward the question and the answer. As we talked about above, the question is important. Encourage folks to ask the questions they need to be answered, and let the answers flow — then document it. When it becomes natural for people in your organization to ask and answer questions and to access your knowledge repository when they need to find an answer, you’ll be well on your way.
  • Make knowledge transfer fun. It might seem obvious, but many people have an inherently negative view of learning. Years of restrictive structured knowledge transfer has made learning burdensome. So make it fun! Gamify your knowledge management by hosting contests or get creative in how you store your information. When you can make learning enjoyable, people will be much more likely to participate organically.
  • Start from the top down. When the executives in your organization are willing to ask questions and provide answers, it will have a trickle-down effect. If the leaders in your organization can lead by example when it comes to organizational learning, it can have a real impact on growing your organic knowledge transfer culture.

If you keep these three hints in mind and encourage a culture of organic knowledge transfer, your organization can really start to reap the benefits of knowledge management. Give it a try and see how organic knowledge transfer can help elevate your business to the next level.