Knowledge Sharing: Case For and Against L&D Ownership

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Knowledge Sharing: Case For and Against L&D Ownership

In this article, Sydney Savion, Chief of Education Strategy, Dell EMC Education Services, explores knowledge sharing, and the associated ownership. This is an interactive article, and we want your feedback! We’ve embedded a survey below to allow you to give your feedback and we’ll share in a future piece.

It is widely known that knowledge is a linchpin in a company’s survival and those that successfully harness it tend to be well-equipped to fuel innovation, forge and sustain a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

If knowledge is known as the linchpin in a company’s success, what role should learning and development (L&D) organizations play in influencing knowledge sharing? Given the volume and speed with which knowledge is incubated and consumed combined with employee attitudes about sharing, there is a case “for” and “against” L&D ownership.

Knowledge and Knowledge Sharing Backstory

We have evolved into a “knowledge society” over the past 50-plus years. Knowledge sharing is widely heralded as vital to a company’s ability to innovate and achieve a sustainable competitive edge. In fact some would say a company’s knowledge assets have equal weight to its financials. Hence knowledge sharing continues to steadily rise and resonate as a topic of importance. The internet is replete with scholarly research and real-world perspectives about its evolution. Though you may not have to look very far. Is your company faced with knowledge sharing challenges?

Knowledge can be defined as information and skills learned by a person as a result of personal experience and/or education. It’s the sum total of all of your thoughts and creations. Knowledge sharing involves the exchange of information, experiences, and skills throughout the company. It occurs at the individual and organizational levels.

Individual knowledge sharing can be chalked up to employees communicating openly and sharing their ideas and insights to get the job done expeditiously. Organizational knowledge sharing is the process of collecting, curating, transferring, exporting and capitalizing knowledge and experiences for the good of the company.

Given the dismal stats signifying nearly 50% of new businesses fail in four years, companies have long realized that knowledge hence knowledge sharing is a linchpin in a company’s survival and those that successfully harness it tend to be well-equipped to fuel innovation, forge and sustain a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Its clear knowledge sharing is a matter of a company’s survival.

So, it would seem that knowledge sharing is a natural progression. However, employees and by extension the corporate culture can become resistant to change if the mechanisms are not in place to promote and espouse the value of sharing insights an ideas. According to Thomas Davenport, Babson College Professor of Information Technology and Management, most noted for his work on knowledge management:

Sharing knowledge is often unnatural. Employees will not share their knowledge as they think their knowledge is valuable and important. Hoarding knowledge and looking suspiciously upon knowledge from others are the natural tendency.

It’s no secret that knowledge sharing is a major challenge for many companies. The reasons may vary but they typically fall into three categories:

  1. individual (employee),
  2. organizational (culture), and,
  3. technological.

All of which can be quite thorny to solve depending on the size, maturity, and complexity of the company. Given this, there is a case for and against L&D ownership.

Case “For” Ownership
  1. Employee Centered: Establish an approach to knowledge sharing that each employee from the rank and file to the C-Suite is expected to espouse. Deliver capabilities to the business and equip employees with skills that are required, when and where they required to move the business ahead
  2. Start-up Culture: Start-ups are in a unique position to create a culture that supports sharing knowledge. Formulate core values and set in motion the foundation for the way employees behave, what is expected of each other and how they will be held accountable to ensure their behaviors are in step with the company’s stated mission and core values.
  3. Best Technology: Knowledge sharing activities are maximized when supported by “best-fit” knowledge management systems. Help the company think through the knowledge-sharing outcomes of their technology-based decisions and investments.
Case “Against” Ownership
  1. Employee Trust: Research has shown that benevolence-based trust and competence-based trust are instrumental in knowledge sharing. With nationally and international dispersed companies, it can be difficult to find employees who are knowledgeable about a particular subject and genuinely interested in helping one another solve problems that matter to the business.
  2. Existing Culture Resistance to Change: Sandy Piderit Santa Clara University renowned Professor of Management, asserts in her work on resistance to change, that resistance to change is a normal cognitive, emotional and behavioral response to change by individuals. Resistance to change is often triggered by the expectation or action of moving from a known to an unknown situation. This reaction impedes knowledge sharing and erects barriers that challenge any changes to established norms.
  3. Incompatible Technology: Often times given the maturity and evolution of a company the technology decisions may not support knowledge the assets and inhibit rather than foster the flow of key knowledge required to innovate and solve problems. Therefore the infrastructure, application and support are not scalable and may not meet the business needs and/or processes required to foster and sustain knowledge sharing.
Cues From The Business Guide Decisions

The demand for knowledge sharing has increased given the technological advancements and how employees consume and share information and experiences. Add to that the tensions of globalization, the societal and political dynamics constantly at play. But make no mistake about it, employees not organizations are the “prime movers” of knowledge. Unlike Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, knowledge sharing is not a tangible human need to optimally exist in the workplace. However, it is an intangible asset for a company to maximize its ability to achieve and sustain a competitive edge in the market place. The capability to link sharing knowledge with solving practical business problems and aligning to core values is imperative for L&D to capitalize on creating solutions that deliver business growth. Along with the other determinants L&D should take cues from the business to guide and judiciously weigh its decision “for or “against” owning knowledge sharing.

What’s your vote? Are you “for” or “against” L&D owning knowledge sharing? Take the quick survey below and we’ll share the results in the next article!

What Do You Think?