Monday, 3 November 2014

Pay people to share knowledge and they will, funnily enough.

Seeking help from colleagues at work is something that everyone has done; it's common sense.

When asking someone to share their knowledge, and thanking them for doing so, we deepen the bonds that connect us at work.  Moreover, we negotiate implicit deals whereby we agree that we too will help them back, when the time comes.
Encouraging employees to share knowledge with one another like this is at the heart of knowledge management (KM).  It sounds like a good idea, right?  So why do so few organisations actually do it?

One reason is a presumption that these things will happen naturally, with no effort from anyone and certainly with no-one having to spend either time or money to enable such sharing.

Such a presumption would be incorrect because without deliberate effort, even small organisations develop unseen yet powerful barriers to sharing.  One such impediment is the way in which we are rewarded at work, elements of which include:

- Salary
- Bonus
- Promotion
- Awards

Unwittingly, many organisations use rewards that discourage knowledge sharing and effectively penalise those that seek to combine their knowledge with others.  This is because, without firstly identifying and then rewarding the kind of behaviour they seek, employers usually reward people for what they know.

It’s not uncommon for people to be paid more because they have more experience.  Nor is it unusual for companies to encourage competition amongst their employees, either as individuals or as part of wider teams and departments, paying more to those that have gained more valuable knowledge relative to their ‘colleagues’.

However, if organisations actually want their employees to share knowledge then rewarding people on this basis is both counter-productive and confusing.  It’s counter-productive because such rewards encourage knowledge ‘hoarding’, not sharing and lead to defensiveness and the many problems of internal politics.

If someone is rewarded primarily for what they know, relative to their colleagues, why on earth would they share that knowledge with anyone else?

If a salesperson is rewarded mainly for generating higher revenue, relative to their colleagues, why on earth would they share ‘top tips’ or things to avoid with anyone else?

If a branch of a retail company is rewarded mostly for selling more stock, relative to other branches in the region, why on earth would they share good practice or ‘lessons learned’ with anyone else?

Furthermore, such reward systems are confusing because to claim to encourage certain behaviour whilst actually encouraging the opposite shows a lack of alignment between strategy and implementation.

People will actually do what they consider to be in their best (often short-term) interests, so if organisations genuinely want knowledge to be shared then rewards should be designed to encourage them to do so.

This doesn’t mean paying people less for knowing more but paying them more for sharing what they know.

It means openly praising those that share what they learn with their colleagues.

It means paying bonuses to people for coaching and mentoring colleagues over and above their day to day work.

It means rewarding a branch for sharing its lessons with others, perhaps by giving them a share of the other branches’ increased revenues.

It also means promoting those that demonstrate the right behaviour (i.e. honesty, self-criticism, intellectual curiosity) and demoting or firing those that demonstrate the wrong behaviour (i.e. covering up mistakes, defensiveness, resistance to change).

The use of rewards and penalties to promote knowledge management comes under Governance element within Knoco's KM assessment framework, more details of which can be found here.
For a conversation about how to reward the right sort of behaviour to encourage knowledge sharing, please get in touch via the Knoco website.

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