We live in a knowledge economy. Now more than ever, it’s important to cultivate a culture of knowledge sharing at your wealth management firm.
To do so, you must consider:
- The symptoms of knowledge hoarding
- The types of knowledge hoarding
- Structural and cultural changes required to support knowledge sharing
Knowledge hoarding personified
When working at a defense firm in the Washington, D.C. area years ago, my clearance came with strict rules on how to handle classified data.
- Only cleared persons could be in the room
- Blinds must be drawn (to stop people from snapping high-definition images of sensitive data from windows in nearby tall buildings)
- Interior doors must be locked
- A sign was required to hang outside the door: “Classified Processing in Progress.”
One colleague - let’s call him “Davies” - was a year from retirement... a seasoned old hand who, as the saying goes, knew “where the bodies were buried.” He understood how the organization really worked, and he accumulated the right answers to the (very important) right questions. He was indispensable – and he knew it.
One day, some Navy personnel came by on business to talk about a project, and they passed Davies’s door. It was shut: “Classified Processing in Progress.” They couldn’t resist. Would the door be locked, or would they catch some inexcusable security breaches in progress? Putting hand to knob, ominously, the door opened easily – and there was Davies, sacked out at his desk, contentedly snoring his way to retirement behind his shield of “classified knowledge.”
Davies did not get fired, but he did get written up. Soon thereafter, he coasted into retirement to spend more time in his prize-winning garden. It’s been years since the event, but I can’t help thinking of his story as a metaphor for a serious challenge faced today by knowledge-based organizations – a figurative “classified knowledge” taboo.
Knowledge hoarding explained
We all know there are commercial secrets or company-specific knowledge that has to stay privileged or confidential but, whether deliberate or not, well-intentioned or not, knowledge hoarding can seriously damage an organization’s efficiency, morale, or forward momentum. The symptoms aren’t hard to spot:
- There is one person who everyone has to go to for the same vital information
- Certain processes or data have to be reinvented again and again by different people
- One particular person’s vacation or parental leave is dreaded because the place or the project will grind to a screeching halt
There are three primary vectors of knowledge hoarding:
One possibility is that it's a deliberate choice. People want to stay ‘indispensable’, or don’t see a partner worthy, or trustworthy, enough to be shared with. Some are simply unaware they are doing it.
Team rivalries and company policies don’t encourage knowledge-sharing, or even actively discourage it - often in the name of information security.
Each and every organization has its own distinct culture. We’ve all been in a workplace where enthusiasm, energy and fulfillment set a positive tone. Conversely, we’ve all been in one where mutual confidence has been sapped by inattentive leadership, weak morale and a tough business environment. These environments tend to be like a chain with a weak link. Under pressure, the system breaks and fails. Our goal is to shore up the weak knowledge-sharing link.
The opposite of knowledge hoarding is knowledge propagation, and its benefits include:
- Handling a crisis or an unexpected departure well
- Completing projects quickly and smoothly
- Deepening team cohesion, commitment and fulfillment by combining trust with ongoing growth
- Earning a positive personal reputation in an organization by sharing know-how and mentoring
- Enhancing long-term career prospects and helping people add extra skills to their resumes
Building a culture of knowledge sharing
Establishing structural change
Sometimes the answer to structural barriers to knowledge sharing is structural change. Change can be unsettling unless stakeholders are fully educated on the need for it, participate in implementing it and are committed to making change work. People affected should be involved in the process in order to develop their own rules and attitudes.
Encourage teamwork and cross-training. Set up round table ‘lunch-and-learn' sessions on different topics. Knowledge-sharing tools create a culture of idea-sharing and innovation by giving teams the power to create, share, and manage content, all in one place. Advanced security tools can help alleviate the anxiety of the chief data security officer. Use them.
Establishing cultural change
Team rules and structures are one thing, but cultural change is another. In place of a chain with a weak link, what is needed instead is chain mail, where multiple links interlock so that any individual weak link is less damaging and supported by those around it.
The key to cultural change is leadership that fosters mutual confidence and commitment to knowledge propagation. If they believe that knowledge-propagation is good then they make sure others know they believe it - and it will start to seep into the bones of the organization. This takes time, but it’s worth it.
The hardest thing to change is the behavior of an individual. Getting someone to change from guarding her lunch to being confident enough to train someone who in theory could someday succeed her isn’t easy. But experiences show people respond better to carrots than sticks.
Remind content experts that coming back from vacation or parental leave to a workplace that is not in a state of pandemonium due to their absence is actually rather pleasant. Suggest to a knowledge hoarder that having a deputy by their side, to delegate to decreases stress and increases the speed with which the team accomplishes its goals. Positive encouragement is key to helping people open up.
By fostering a culture of openness and mentoring - removing structural barriers to transparency and affirmatively encouraging people to cross-train with their peers - you empower the prosperity and momentum of your entire enterprise.
Not only will projects get done faster and better, but it also gives people more time, less stress, and greater potential for future growth. And who does not want that? I encourage you to subscribe here to receive future articles directly to your inbox.
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