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Helping Employees Help Themselves: How to Encourage Knowledge Sharing

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When you set out to complete a task at work, where do you start? You likely don’t attempt to reinvent the wheel, and instead look for resources that already exist or ask coworkers if they have knowledge of similar projects or events in the past that they can point you to, to help get you started. The notion of starting a project from scratch every time is detrimental to a company’s agility and ability to scale. In fact, according to an article in the Harvard Business Review ( on Nov. 6, 2015, companies waste $31.5 million per year because of inefficient knowledge sharing. In order to begin improving knowledge sharing in your company, employees must be motivated to share knowledge in the first place. What kind of incentives or motives must be in place to encourage knowledge sharing?

To help answer this question, I’m reminded of Frederick Herzberg’s paper “One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees?”, neatly explained in this HBR animated video. Herzberg posits that motivating employees is two-pronged: first you have to take care of basic, “hygienic needs” such as salary, work environment and job security. Once those needs of the employee are met and he/she is not ruminating on those issues, they have more capacity to focus on tackling work. Herzberg states that the second component of motivating employees is creating an environment of self-motivation by creating opportunities for challenging work, autonomy, recognition and advancement.

Think about how you’re managing your employees and their work. Are you creating an environment of self-motivation? There are most likely ways to optimize technology already present within your company such as community groups or self-service portals that increase knowledge sharing within your company.   

Creating opportunities to focus on more challenging work

You can increase productivity, cut overhead costs and spark complex problem solving that could likely lead to more innovation by identifying common issues that are easy for your employees to solve. Identify if your current self-service portal or employee knowledge sharing community is currently tracking most frequently asked questions. You can also determine this by seeing how long it takes your support agents to solve certain cases. If the cases that take the least amount of time often deal with the same content, create content or widespread training for employees to solve these problems or identify ways you can teach your customers to solve these problems themselves on your portal. By identifying the repetitive, easy cases and creating content that will quickly solve those cases as well as how to get it into the right hands, you free up employee time to focus on more complex, interesting problems that will help spark self-motivation.

Create an autonomous environment

There is not much that’s more frustrating than not being able to complete your work because of bottlenecks created within your work environment. Can you identify issues within your company's workflow where projects are getting stalled because of inefficient processes? If you can identify points where your employees are obstructed in completing tasks, ask yourself why. If your junior employees are becoming stuck waiting on information from more senior employees, create content that you can point them to with relevant information they need to move faster. Pinpoint those areas and empower your employees with the tools they need to be more proactive.

Recognize and reward knowledge sharing

Increasing knowledge sharing throughout your workplace is really for the betterment of the entire establishment. Some of the least likely employees might be powerhouses of knowledge without you even knowing it. One of my favorite examples comes from a large consumer goods enterprise I’ve worked with in the past who set out to analyze their employee chat center and identify the users with the most highly ranked responses to questions. They found that it wasn’t their engineers, but the executive assistant that gave the most answers that the crowd voted as “most relevant” to many of the companies frequently asked questions. Insight such as this can be invaluable to highlighting employees who are making an important contribution to your company, and to create an area where it’s okay to reach out and ask for clarification. There can often be a stigma associated with asking questions, because it can be perceived as having not paid attention to something everyone else seems to know. Create a positive space where knowledge sharing is welcomed and questions are encouraged.

Recognition can come from measuring the right things. Not just focusing on traditional metrics, but looking at the contributions to the community and measuring how much employees are sharing what they know and rewarding that behavior. Reflect on how can you recognize and reward the employees who are amazing at disseminating knowledge and solving problems within the framework your company has created for knowledge sharing.

Incorporate knowledge sharing goals into advancement criteria

By incorporating incentives for knowledge sharing within the promotional structure in your company, you will create a framework that consistently encourages your employees to share information. The aim should be to create an environment where the first response to a shared challenge or obstacle is to step back and think, “What resources am I aware of that could help in this situation?” It’s also crucial to employ technology to make it easy for employees to find information, to track when employees share useful information that has aided in solving a problem and benefitted the company.

There are steps you can take today to start auditing how self-motivated your employees are. Distribute a survey that incorporates questions that will help you determine where employee satisfaction resonates regarding their “basic hygienic needs” as well as the four criteria I’ve laid out here that will create a self-motivated environment. Lastly, technology that helps identify who is consuming and sharing knowledge and what content is deemed most relevant for your employee base will be crucial in finding areas for improvement as well as opportunities for recognition and reward.

How do you encourage knowledge sharing amongst your employees? Tweet at @jenmacintosh or share in the comments below.  


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