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How to create a knowledge-sharing culture

With more access to knowledge across an organization, employees are more collaborative, more engaged and better performing -- and are eager to share these skills with their peers.

Humans freely share information every day, whether it's a social media post about their pet or a Yelp review of a new restaurant. Yet, inside their organizations, they may keep knowledge close to the vest.

A lack of knowledge sharing can impede decision-making, create a culture that is less responsive to changes in the market and reduce employee engagement. However, organizations that create a knowledge-sharing culture can reap many benefits -- the least of which is a more nimble organization.

Learn how to create a knowledge-sharing culture and foster long-term growth for knowledge management programs.

What is a knowledge-sharing culture?

With a knowledge-sharing culture, employees receive encouragement and incentives to share internal knowledge, skills and experiences with their colleagues. This may include formal knowledge-sharing initiatives or the culture of the organization organically fostering trust and collaboration. Overall, this culture can lead workers to freely assist their colleagues and give them guidance as needed.

The following traits categorize a knowledge-sharing culture:

  • Openness and trust. Employees feel safe and valued when they share knowledge and aren't afraid of losing their jobs.
  • Collaboration. Employees are encouraged to work together on projects and rewarded for their efforts.
  • Incentives and recognition. Employees receive rewards such as promotions, bonuses and recognition when they contribute to the organization's collective knowledge base.
  • Accessible platforms. Employees can easily find and use the platforms to share knowledge.
  • Leadership support. Leaders and managers freely share knowledge and participate in knowledge-sharing programs to set examples for employees.
  • Continuous learning. The organization promotes continuous learning and encourages sharing lessons learned with peers.

5 benefits of a knowledge-sharing culture

Organizations that create a knowledge-sharing culture experience a host of benefits for employees and the business as a whole.

1. Enhanced organizational agility and innovation

"Organizations with a robust knowledge-sharing culture are more agile and innovative," said Dr. Merary Simeon, co-founder of Zera Consulting, a business consulting and services firm. This culture enables organizations to adapt quickly to changes in the market and come up with new ideas and solutions to potential challenges.

2. Improved performance and productivity

The continuous learning and collaborative aspects of a knowledge-sharing culture lead to better individual and organizational performance, according to Dr. Simeon.

3. Better talent attraction and retention

Organizations with a strong learning culture attract top talent -- particularly millennials who prioritize growth and development opportunities, Dr. Simeon said. Current employees also become more engaged and invested in their own careers when exposed to this type of culture.

4. Increased employee engagement

Knowledge-sharing cultures contribute to employees feeling valued, which increases their job satisfaction and engagement levels, Dr. Simeon said.

5. Bolstered competitive advantage

Organizations that excel in knowledge sharing are more likely to innovate, maintain high levels of customer satisfaction and perform better financially, according to Dr. Simeon.

5 ways to create a knowledge-sharing culture

To reap the benefits of a knowledge-sharing culture, organizations must first create it.

1. Have leaders model knowledge-sharing behavior

"Leaders need to consider the employee's perspective," said Josh Levine, director of strategy at Great Mondays, a business culture consulting firm. Employees go through a journey like a customer journey, starting with awareness and ending with habituation. Leaders can model knowledge-sharing behavior to ensure employees move from awareness to regularly engaging in knowledge sharing, he said.

2. Implement structured knowledge management systems

Knowledge management systems can help store and share information through document repositories, collaborative tools and discussion forums. Organizations can create standardized processes to document and share knowledge in these systems and ensure the processes are user-friendly and accessible to all employees, Dr. Simeon said.

3. Drive decisions with data

Clear, organized data can help improve knowledge-sharing programs.

"Leveraging technology to track HR metrics, like benefits and diversity, helps you understand performance and identify areas to enhance talent acquisition and system improvements," said Laura Sheehy, chief HR officer at Odyssey Logistics, a supply chain management services provider.

4. Invest in talent

Leaders should create personal development plans tailored to individual employee needs and career goals and regularly update those plans, according to Dr. Simeon. Additionally, organizations can incentivize learning through recognition programs for employees who actively share knowledge and contribute to the learning culture. Regular knowledge-sharing sessions, such as lunch and learns, workshops and seminars, can also help.

Investing in talent also includes an investment in succession planning, according to Sheehy. Organizations must identify and develop future leaders to maintain continuity and expand skills across teams, she said.

5. Embrace technology proactively

AI and digital tools are here to stay, so ensuring employees have the right skills to succeed and successfully share knowledge about these technologies can improve how the organization functions, according to Sheehy.

AI tools can also help analyze data, making it easier for employees to find information quickly, Dr. Simeon said. Deploying intelligent search recommendations can help employees find relevant content for their roles, and AI-powered chatbots can help answer questions and find the right resources.

Christine Campbell is a freelance writer specializing in business and B2B technology.

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