by Martha Heller

Finding Ways to Get Employees to Share Knowledge

Nov 01, 2000 2 mins
Enterprise Applications

Bob, in Information Services, works late every night attempting to complete his team’s daunting task of centralizing the company’s fragmented e-mail system. Jim, his teammate, always leaves. Bob resents Jim’s blow-off attitude, but he takes solace in the fact that the knowledge he gained while working on this project will make him a more valuable employee and a more marketable candidate should he decide to move on.

But now, the new knowledge management (KM) officer wants Bob to document his experiences in the KM system, for all the Jims in the company to benefit from. The task has no immediate payoff for Bob, it will take more precious time out of his day, and it may even help to level a playing field that Bob thinks should not be leveled. Why should Bob share his knowledge?

He shouldn’t, argues Wendi Bukowitz, coauthor of the Knowledge Management Fieldbook with Ruth Williams, if the company is doing KM the wrong way. “If [employees] believe that they are giving more than they are getting,” says Bukowitz, “there is plenty of opportunity to find somewhere else to work where the value of their contribution receives its due.”

However, a company that bases its KM program on a culture of trust among colleagues and that recognizes and rewards the intangible contributions of its employees, Bukowitz argues, will find itself with workers who willingly give up their knowledge in the spirit of cooperation and volunteerism.

But in an economy that places a premium on knowledge, and where the best workers are often the most competitive, getting employees to document what they know is easier said than done.