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A remedy for the knowledge-hiding epidemic

What you don't know can hurt you if you're a knowledge worker. Think about it. Consider some of things you once weren't aware of and later discovered, only to realize how important that information would have been earlier.

When you look back on those times, did you determine why you didn't have the information you needed? Was it squirreled away in an obtuse place? Was the person with the knowledge not accessible when you needed them?

There are myriad reasons why knowledge workers and other employees alike can struggle to access the information they need, when they need it. In fact, this problem is so widespread, that it might be at epidemic proportions.

That's the conclusion Kimberly Weisul recently drew in this BNET article, "The 'Knowledge Hiding' Epidemic in Corporate America." She cites a new study that finds employees don't always want to share their knowledge.

The researchers -- which included David Zweig from the Rotman School of Management, Catherine Connelly from McMaster University, Jane Webster of Queen’s University, and John Trougakos from the University of Toronto -- are dubbing the behavior "knowledge hiding."

So if employees don't want to share, asks Kimberly, are companies wasting their money on knowledge management software? That investment totaled $73 billion in 2008 alone, according to AMR Research.

Here's my take. First, employees should be sharing their knowledge in positive, productive ways. As I wrote in my comment on Kimberly's article, employees' knowledge is their currency in their organization and industry. It's one of the most important assets they have to make themselves indispensable to their organization and in their careers.

Employees' knowledge is also what makes an organization as a whole valuable. If this knowledge isn't extracted, used, shared, and built upon, what value does it have to the business?

This is why the right knowledge management technology is crucial to an organization. Some $73 billion was spent on knowledge management software in 2008, but was it the right technology for the organization?

I would argue that some companies have sound intentions and clear objectives, but are investing in sub-optimal technologies that aren't effectively supporting knowledge sharing among employees. Every company's knowledge sharing and knowledge management needs are unique.

We've said many times that Enterprise 2.0 is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and the same goes for knowledge sharing initiatives. They must be tailored to the company's business objectives. If your objectives are to improve knowledge access and speed productivity, for instance, you need the right technology to support this.

Conversely, some companies might be investing in the right technology for their organization, but they are failing in one or more of the other crucial components of a successful knowledge management program -- people, processes, and culture. This four-part recipe is a recommendation we continuously hear from our customers as well as several industry consultants we've interviewed on our blog.

And that is the remedy I see for this knowledge-hiding epidemic. It takes the right combination of technology, people, processes, and culture to create a sustainable and effective knowledge sharing program. Knowledge is crucial to a company's long-term success, and it must be tapped to propel new ideas and innovation.

What's your take? What remedy would you recommend?

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