What is “knowledge sharing” anyway? An explanation for business executives.


What is knowledge sharing, and why is it important for executives to encourage it?

This is an explanation that every executive in charge of delivering results should read.

At its core, knowledge is an understanding of cause and effect. Having knowledge about something allows us to describe it, affect it, and better predict situations. Without knowledge, even the best intentions can lead us to the wrong path; in business, “the wrong path” can cost millions.

How your employees acquire knowledge?

We don’t acquire knowledge about something all at once, we acquire it in fragments, a piece here and there, it is up to us to translate the fragments into the cause and effect to then form the “whole picture”. But we must be aware of an important truth: we won’t ever be able to get to the “whole picture” in our own. We are limited by our experience, and the way we interpret the data or how we process ideas. The fragments we pick up are unique to each of us.

This is the reason why as it relates to knowledge sharing and many other areas of a business, the whole is greater than the simple sum of its parts.

Why knowledge sharing inside organizations

Encouraging knowledge sharing inside the organization is effectively helping to produce a greater business outcome, far greater than the ‘knowledge exchanges’ themselves, no matter how small we consider them to be.

We are simply smarter together. The problem is that many organizations don’t even look at knowledge as something of value. Knowledge sharing is seen as a concept that is intangible, difficult to measure, and therefore difficult to address at a business operations level. Executives usually just get to see the symptoms of lack of knowledge sharing: low production, unsafe work environment, increased expenses, loss of customers, loss of expert workers, you get the idea.

Knowledge sharing and collaboration are usually seen as the same thing. Knowledge sharing is part of a way a team collaborates, it’s people working smarter together. Many collaboration tools center around project management, content management, and communication; most fail to provide the right platform for valuable knowledge sharing to occur.  These tools bury knowledge with noise, opinions, ideas — the real expertise gets lost.

Knowledge sharing is collaboration with a purpose: finding answers and solving problems, better use of applications and tools at your disposal, better collaboration without disruption, less risk and mistakes, and better alignment across departments.

The barriers to growth.

There are two barriers to implementing knowledge sharing in a company: the most important one is a human barrier, and the other one is technological.

The human barrier is difficult to overcome because it requires a cultural change in the workplace. In the current business landscape, companies that are able to adapt to this change will prevail.

Why organizations don’t share knowledge

The main barrier to knowledge sharing it’s not so much that is a difficult concept to grasp (you probably got the essence of it already), the main barrier is recognizing our own ignorance. This happens at every level, and every department.

The word ignorance carries a bad connotation, but per definition ignorance is simply: “lack of knowledge or information.” We must recognize that we don’t have all of the answers and be ready to reach out to those who may have them.  This knowledge exchange is something every executive should encourage, and the best way to bring alignment to the organization.

The main barrier to knowledge is to recognize our own ignorance, and to recognize there are “unknown unknowns” at every level, but especially inside businesses.

Why business leaders need to encourage knowledge sharing

Any executive in charge of increasing business efficiency would like to eliminate the “unknown unknowns” to avoid costly mistakes, move faster, and produce the best business outcomes. The only path to those results is knowledge — and the only way to acquire business specific knowledge is to share it across the organization.

Becoming cognizant of the “unknown unknowns” is a basic function of an operations executive, the only way to maintain control of the organization. Employees come and go at every level, projects are being developed at every level, and the only way to maintain control is to ensure people are working together intelligently, and using the tools correctly to increase efficiency and productivity to drive revenue.

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Chelsea Levengood

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