A culture of knowledge sharing is what keeps an organization moving forward, whether it’s a startup, small medium business or even a well-established enterprise.
Knowledge sharing among employees is perhaps the single most important reason behind the success of any business, and your organization should do all that it can to encourage it among employees.
Keep communication transparent
To promote knowledge sharing, the first thing a business should focus on is keeping corporate communication clear and transparent. The top management should lead by example and keep everything out in the open when communicating with executive employees.
Nobody likes an environment where certain employees have privileged knowledge about the company, while others don’t. While it may be impractical or even impossible to share sensitive information with all employees, what matters is that there is a sense of implicit trust between employees and management so that everyone is aware about the important developments in their company.
For instance, company-related news such as the company’s goals for the year/quarter, the profits/losses, hiring of new employees, internal promotion of employees, acquisitions or mergers and other relevant news should be shared, preferably, in an intra-company forum. Even if it’s a simple email, then all departments and relevant people should be cc’d to promote an open culture of communication.
Schedule face-to-face meetings
This is a given. No matter what the new-age experts have to say, the traditional round table conference is often the best way to encourage employees to share their ideas and thoughts.
Official meetings, however, should have purpose. They should not end up as chat fests, where employees gather to discuss great ideas that remain ideas. At the end of the meeting, employees should feel a sense of achievement and should have clarity about the next course of action.
Meetings are great because it gives employees the chance to step-up and take initiatives. It functions as the lever that can pivot small projects into full-fledged products. However, having meaningful meetings and not more meetings is the key to build a successful knowledge sharing culture in your organization.
Facilitate conversations between people
Don’t they say that the greatest of ideas are born over a cup of coffee. As corny as this one liner may sound it’s pretty close to the truth. Good ideas can spring up anywhere and at anytime, all it needs is the meeting of the right minds.
Companies need to create opportunities for like-minded people to engage in meaningful conversations. Formal meetings are great but opportunities for employees to start an informal chat, anytime they want, plays a big role in building trust and camaraderie. This is primarily because in a meeting our communication is limited to the topic at hand, but when we chat over a cup of coffee with a colleague we make an effort to know the other person rather than discuss on an agenda.
The edge that startups have over larger, more mature companies is perhaps the ease with which employees can have conversations. In a startup, employees don’t need to match calendars to set-up a meeting, they can simply walk up to a colleague's desk, anytime, and brainstorm a solution is an hour or less. The sad part is that most companies grow out of such an agile environment, as their business grows.
Encourage frequent storytelling
Great leaders are good storytellers. It’s the stories they tell that moves people, that gets them the nod of approval from their peers and the respect of their juniors.
In an organization, the top management must be good storytellers and must encourage it among junior employees. This is necessary not just because knowledge when shared as a story, than stated as mere fact, is more interesting but because a story makes the prosaic more personal; the mundane more memorable and long-winding speeches about ROI worth listening to.
It’s not just training manuals or courses that help employees learn new skills, it’s the personal stories they share with each other that makes them smarter, motivated and more productive individuals.
Implement a knowledge base
As it is often assumed, knowledge doesn’t always trickle from top to down where senior employees mentor less experienced employees. In fact, new employees come with new ideas, which breeds innovation and change in organizations that have stratified processes and workflows.
Also organizations need to be aware that knowledge transfer is not a static process, but that it occurs in different ways - from the traditional closed-room meeting to an informal chat between employees near the proverbial water cooler corner.
Since knowledge sharing happens at anytime and anywhere, and usually in a random-serendipitous manner. The question is how does an organization prevent knowledge loss? For instance, how does one ensure that feedback and suggestions from new employees are captured? Or the productive conversations that take place between employees over email or even-in person are recorded?
One of the ways to overcome loss of collective knowledge in an organization is by using a knowledge management software. With such as tool at your disposal, you can easily capture employee conversations, thoughts and ideas in a company knowledge base. This knowledge base helps employees share their knowledge by writing articles, uploading documents such as PDF and PPTs or even creating online manuals, guides and well-documented wikis.
The best part is that your company never loses any information as everything (from emails, chat transcripts to large files) can be stored in the internal knowledge base and accessed from any device, at anytime.
Andrew Carnegie once said, “You could take away all my factories. You could take away all my money. You could take away all of our ways of doing things. You could take away everything I possess. But leave me my people, and in five years, I’ll have everything I ever had – and more.”
What Carnegie understood was that it's people who are responsible for the success of an organization - not the product, not the money or the machinery. Organizations would do good to take heed of Carnegie's prophetic words and invest in knowledge sharing among their employees because ultimately that is what's going to make the organization a success.