Should You Reward People for Knowledge Sharing?

In our recent interview with David Gurteen, a well-known name in the Knowledge Management industry, we spoke about a most discussed topic in Knowledge Cafes, and that was the topic of "Should you reward sharing knowledge in your organisation?". David argued that it does a lot more harm than good, and there is research to support that claim.
In 2005, a survey on Knowledge Sharing and reward was posted on the Gurteen Knowledge website, and the question asked was: “Do you think people should be rewarded for sharing their knowledge?”
Believe it or not, 43% of the voters agreed, and stated that they should be explicitly rewarded. 20% agreed, but noted that it should be a part of the performance appraisal process, 27% of the voters felt that only recognition is enough and the remaining 6% told the reward isn't necessary.
To summarise: 94% of pollsters believe that the reward should exist, but they disagree on what it should be. The organisations respect the opinion, and they are trying to integrate rewards into the knowledge sharing process. However, when asked what they would like to improve in their knowledge sharing system, the reply is: We'd like people to share more". What went wrong?
There are many studies conducted to determine the causes of lack of interest in sharing knowledge, despite the rewards, but very few of them actually look at the psychology of an employee, they are more focused on the intention.
We believe in understanding the reason behind the behaviour and giving advice.
This is why the employees are not sharing what they know:

They are afraid of losing trade secrets

People who are afraid of losing trade secrets realise that the workforce is a competition and that "Knowledge is power". They want to remain the only ones who ‘know how’ to do something when others do not, citing “In professional services, your value is often defined by what you know and how many people come to you for your expertise”. These people hoard their knowledge in the aim of competing with each other to show better performance. It is a fact that people who are working towards higher achievements in the promotion line don’t like to teach others their job secrets. This is because the more knowledgeable and skilful a person is, the better his chances of getting that promotion he had aimed for. Behind this behaviour lies their insecurity, the fear of losing both their job and exclusiveness. 
What can be done about it?
Engage knowledge hoarders in teamwork assignments that can provide opportunities to develop new skills, explore, seek and learn more from their co-workers. Such activities will show them the benefits of participating in the process. Also, invest in a Knowledge Management platform that promotes recognition. We did that with our algorithm supported ranking system that ranks their Expertise and their Community Tally, which provides a context to their knowledge, so the concern, although valid, is put to rest.
Reward people for knowledge sharing

They take pride in not seeking advice from others. 

When improving your knowledge sharing practices, you need to understand all parties or units involved, both those who share knowledge and those who seek knowledge. If both ends are not feeling the benefits, the results won't come. 
What can be done about it?
Build your knowledge base. Many organisations have basic information readily available on their internal information management platform, i.e. some sort of a centralised file management system that stores information which can then be searched, structured by text, and linked to. However, this does not encourage knowledge sharing per se. A knowledge sharing platform, if it offers an option to upload files and the ability to assemble information and present them in a novel way in real-time, will. When this platform is perceived as a valuable resource that will make their jobs easier, they will participate.

They are unaware of the usefulness of particular knowledge.

It is very difficult to predict the usability of particular information, and some employees may even be worried that sharing, from their perspective, useless information may either hinder the knowledge sharing process or show them in a negative light, so they keep it to themselves until they recognise its value.
What can be done about it?
Make their expertise known and encourage questions. Organisations who use Tallium encourage their employees to fill out their PROfiles and show their expertise, this way, when a co-worker asks a question that is relevant to their expertise, they receive a notification and can answer that question. This way, they do not only share, but discover useful information they didn’t know they possessed.
Rewarding people for knowledge sharing with points

They have a lack of trust

Knowledge is power, and a person who has spent their entire career gathering valuable information is not prepared to share it with an intern that might take it to a competitor. Trusting your co-workers with your knowledge implies that they will not use it inappropriately and will not steal what took you a lot of time to figure out. 
What can be done about it:
Privacy settings on your knowledge sharing platform must be well set up, and you should invest in more team building activities that will inspire trust among co-workers.

They don't have the time

Of all the reasons people have for not sharing knowledge, being too busy with a real job is the most common one. Sharing knowledge requires time and if it is not well integrated into job tasks, the employees may end up looking at it as a chore. 
What can be done about it
Making knowledge sharing a formal part of employees’ responsibilities can be done by placing it in job descriptions and including it into performance appraisal processes. This way you have acquainted your new hires that this is what is expected of them.

They don't have the knowledge

An employee might not share knowledge if he or she believes that they have nothing to contribute to the existing knowledge base or help improve the organisation. The other reason may be that their knowledge may not prove useful, or even expose incompetence. This employee has a deep down fear that their own perceived inadequacies will become known to the entire company.
What can be done about it?
Allow them to acquire knowledge and recognise their role in the knowledge sharing system. Once they find a place in the community, they will start to contribute.
It is tough to promote knowledge sharing through rewards. Think about it, if you give, say 1$ each time a valuable piece of information is shared, and then stop giving it, what will happen to your knowledge sharing process? It will die out. The only way to encourage and generate knowledge sharing is to build meaning into the workplace. How? Organisations need to develop a sense of value in their employees’ minds in regards to knowledge sharing. Understanding the fears and motivations we've outlined above, should help with better dealing with the problems and provide ways for better solutions. For a support system, schedule a Tallium demo and find out how we’ve transformed best practice solutions that facilitate knowledge sharing into features.


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