Corporate Knowledge Sharing: A Competitive Advantage
Article revised on 25 October 2018
Everyone agrees that the labour market is changing. Organizations now, more than ever, must innovate and renew themselves to retain their competitive edge. For this reason, knowledge accumulated by employees is of tremendous value. But employees have to be able to share their knowledge so that it can be of benefit to the organization as a whole!
A fast-moving environment
Today’s organizations are evolving in a changing world. Baby boomers are retiring in droves, taking their expertise and life knowledge with them. Their successors are entering the labour force at a somewhat older age. Yet, between the departure of some and the arrival of others, organizations need to be able to rely on workers who are creative, have good judgment and are able to work independently. That’s why it’s crucial for your organization to put measures in place to ensure that knowledge is preserved, transferred and used effectively.
Different types of knowledge
Researchers at the Université de Sherbrooke distinguish between two types of knowledge:
- Explicit knowledge, which is objective, formal and fairly technical. It can be verbalized, codified and easily transmitted to others. Examples would include rules, procedures, signs and symbols. Such knowledge represents about 20% of an organization’s knowledge.
- Tacit knowledge, which is based on judgment, know-how, values and intuition. It is harder to formalize, because it is based on personal experience. Such knowledge represents about 80% of an organization’s knowledge. Transferring this type of knowledge is a real challenge for organizations.
Advantages of knowledge sharing
According to a 2015 Harvard Business Review article, top US companies were still losing a combined $31.5 billion per year from employees failing to share knowledge effectively. Yet, a number of studies have demonstrated that organizations that can benefit from their employees’ knowledge have a definite competitive advantage. They are better positioned to innovate and come up with new products, new services and new approaches, thereby renewing themselves.
There are many advantages:
- Quicker decision making, reducing the risk of error
- Enhanced organizational effectiveness, time savings when searching for information
- Greater quality and profitability of actions
- Increased capacity for innovation, based on experience and expertise
- Reduced duplication of roles, tasks and actions
- Increased employee satisfaction and engagement.
In other words, an organization that ensures effective sharing of knowledge avoids having to continually reinvent the wheel. Rather than going back to the same point and constantly making the same mistakes over and over, teams can pool accumulated knowledge and propose ideas, products and ways of doing things that are in line with the corporate strategy, which is based on past experience and knowledge acquired over time.
Concrete actions to facilitate knowledge sharing
First and foremost, it’s important to ensure that senior management has made managing knowledge sharing a priority. This is one of the conditions that must be in place in order for there to be a true culture that’s based on the sharing of knowledge throughout the organization. If so, you, as managers, can:
- Diagnose the situation in your team: Who has what knowledge, and what can the organization do to retain it? What knowledge is considered to be critical, given the organization’s priorities?
- Implement consistent methods for storing information. Do what’s necessary to ensure that the information that is kept at various locations by various means can be centralized, stored and made accessible within consistent structures. New technologies offer nifty ways of doing this.
- Facilitate the sharing of knowledge by asking the members of the different teams to share the knowledge they have. If you feel that certain employees are reluctant to share information, try to find out why. Are they afraid of losing authority? Are they pressed for time? Are they afraid of losing some form of recognition?
- Institute concrete actions for the circulation of information: Hold meetings to encourage employees to tell their colleagues about projects they’re working on, implement peering or mentoring initiatives, have more experienced employees work with newer ones, hold brainstorming sessions, systematically document procedures and paths for certain projects, form co-development groups, etc.
Take advantage of the knowledge that individuals have and harness it to benefit the entire organization? That’s a win-win, for sure! As an organization, you have everything to gain by implementing structured measures to take full advantage of the wealth of knowledge and ideas that flow among your teams. It’s not just good for your organization’s productivity: it will also boost your employees’ motivation and team spirit.
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