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Managing our knowledge

by Justin York

I was asked the other day for some information that is not a secret nor am I the owner of it. I do however have the knowledge that was being requested from someone I thought would have known it already. I am personally someone who has no issue sharing my knowledge for the greater good and gladly gave the information, however I did find it interesting to think about why people might not.

My experience, historic and recent in the fields of financial services, aviation and the military shows that in fact this situation pervades almost every business of any size and walk of life.So what can possibly be that important that we cannot either take the time to explain what we did and the outcomes or just open the doors to let people ask the questions.Many of the answers can be found in the fascinating area of knowledge management (no I'm not being facetious), however when we look a little closer I find that the majority of the issues surround people, their fears and desires sometimes in equal measure.

So when we consider that the issues are around the people and the fact that they don't want to share for the greater good, what could possibly drive that behaviour?This is where coaching can assist within organisations in terms of performance and individual fears that may exist.

In my experience there are three key drivers for such behaviours:

  • The old idiom, knowledge is power
  • Fear of blame
  • Fear of losing power / job (no longer needed)

In all cases the overriding position is it's mine and if I share with you, then you will know a much as I do. The facts are of course that this could never be the case and the holder of the knowledge retains the advantage. It is the simple case of getting this understanding across which is the key to being able to share what we know if produce in an open and amicable way, internally of course. There is of course always the issue of intellectual property and a basic need to know; however in the majority of cases this does not apply! If I inform someone else of something that I know which may prove beneficial, have I actually handed any power over? Not at all, however I may have improved the performance of the business as a whole and will certainly have provided some help, assuming that the information I have handed over is accurate. Herein lies one of the keys to this, what you hand over must be right! The context and future use of that should not be an issue for you unless you suspect that someone is going to use it either against you or someone else.If that is the case then you need to check in with yourself before giving out the information.This ecology / ethical check should provide the guidance that you need.When we speak about knowledge there are always the fears that surround the delivery of information.I liken these to a series of quandaries and I consider these to be:

  • Will it help
  • Will it be useful
  • Will it be used for ill will

On some occasions you may not even be thanked for the information and it is used to further someone else's position. The ecology check will always provide an answer to this as if it happens once then there is a better than even chance you won't allow it to happen again. It is an interesting view that if this happens then the person who used it will be exposed when asked for further input. That may teach them a lesson or they may ask elsewhere, whatever happens you should always view the return objectively and think feedback rather than slight and that it provides an opportunity for learning. As we reflect on our own and others actions the are tools that we can use to assist us they are a learning cycle provided to us by Kolb and the ability to look at the situation from another's perspective.

Perspective is key to the process of sharing our knowledge. In many cases people will feel that the person is asking just to further their own position, which may be true, however without the knowledge that this is the case then what causes you to make that assumption. It is by looking at perspective that we find some of the answers.

My perspective may be that I'm being too generous and that I may lose out, their perspective may be that they want to further their position, the businesses position is that without the knowledge we all lose out. So it's a balancing act, to give or not to give, only you have the answers, but don't assume that everyone is out to gain and after all your power remains just the same.