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Vox pop: Are we useless at sharing knowledge? By Sarah Fletcher


Are UK organisations good at sharing knowledge within their company? Or do we spend hours chattering about rubbish without ever giving valuable information to improve our performance? Sarah Fletcher asked members of HR Zone for their views.

  • Useless information overload
    Rosemarie Loft, HR director, SMBC:
    “I think information is on overload. There’s so much, and so much drivel, that the useful stuff gets lost in the overall rubbish. On average, I get about 40 ‘general information’ messages each day at work. Information giving has been made so easy that I think people have lost the ability to think before the message goes out (let alone consider its affect and impact). So while information is being given, I’m not sure it’s being received.”
  • You can never get it right
    Nina Waters, HR manager, British School of Osteopathy:
    “I think this is the challenge of most organisations for the 21st century. As companies grow, and as technologies allow us to work remotely and on different sites without the need to travel to meetings, getting a culture of communication is vital. At the British School of Osteopathy we have the wonderful complication of a very flexible workforce, where everyone works different patterns and at different times – it means we need to get very creative about communication and not assume that we reach everyone with the same means.

    “For example, we have a weekend staff conference once each year, which most staff attend – but then we write up the sessions for our staff newsletter as a reminder for those that were there, and an overview for those who couldn’t attend. We use our e-mail system widely, which has ‘conferences’ on different subjects and in different areas, so that we can hold ‘virtual debates’ about academic and clinical issues. However, we are constantly looking at ways of improving our knowledge sharing, and I feel this is an area that you can only get better in – you’ll never get it right!”

  • We hoard information to get ahead
    Mike Morrison, consultant:
    “In many organisations people’s experience and knowledge is what gives them the edge when it comes to performance appraisal and promotion. When organisations promote people on their ability to share and encourage cross fertilisation of ideas then we will start to see a real knowledge led environment.”
  • It takes real skill
    Steve Watson, consultant:
    “In a technical sense, ICT, probably. In practice, knowledge remains power and it’s a clever organisation that releases the pearls of wisdom from the organisational oysters.”
  • A problem that’s getting worse
    Richard Ciechan, director, In My Prime Ltd:
    “The answer is no but it is probably no worse than in other countries. However, organisations will gain tremendously if they do take steps to harness all the information and insights which are accumulated from all parts of the organisation. Knowing what other people do and how useful it might be to share nuggets of valuable information should be part of an organisation’s basic philosophy and culture.

    “The situation is probably getting worse as real internal personal interaction declines. ICT provides a distorting veneer in that it provides an easy way to feel one is fulfilling one’s obligations in terms of information flow when, in fact, there is no reality check on whether transmission is the same as communication and data is the same as information.”

  • Do we ever ask the staff?
    Mike Kewal, managing director, Sankey Consultancy Ltd:
    “I’m sure all UK organisations think they are, but how many actually audit their staff to see how their staff actually perceive it? And the content of the sharing is important too. A company I worked for changed entirely its content of the quarterly company newspaper when a new chief executive arrived… from a results-focussed magazine with actual information on productivity and prospects, to a totally people-focussed magazine with no mention of how the company was performing… oh to be a chief executive! The real answer lies in the middle; how many consider this, I don’t know.”

  • Middle management’s refusal to share may be their downfall
    Tim Edwards, managing director, Cahro Ltd:
    “I believe that organisations wish for this to happen – however, many people with “the knowledge” are not always prone to share as this gives rise to the philosophy that “knowledge is power” and many employee’s do not wish to share their perceived power. In my experience, very senior managers share best practice and knowledge and the same is usually the same at lower levels of the echelon – the blockage appears more in middle management who are striving for seniority… Is this their downfall and failure?”
  • The law panics employees into witholding information
    Don Rhodes, consultant:
    “In New Zealand we have the mix of very good, not so good and downright awful knowledge sharing… and this seems to be regardless of the size of the organisation. Many people believe small organisations are better because everyone works together with the boss, but in my experience that is not necessarily so. Quite often small business owners are reluctant to share important business information for fear of it being used against them in various forms.

    “But that is most often misguided, because firstly employees are more trustworthy than many believe; and secondly the information usually is not of any great import to competitors etc as they have many and varied methods of determining how the competition is doing. The paranoia surrounding confidentiality in business is driven mainly by legal folk who do not understand this was established as one of the cornerstone principles enshrined in common law by your own House Of Lords. As a result we see numerous examples of confidentiality clauses in contracts that unnecessarily run to pages and pages, and naturally put the ‘frighteners’ up employers.”

  • 3 Responses

    1. knowledge sharing & knowledge managment
      Hi All
      Interesting comments here.

      I was of the view that we were asked questions about knowledge sharing NOT knowledge management.

      BOTH are vital and yet very different methodologies – one a formal strategy and infrastructure the other more a cultural one.

      One of the goals of many knowledge management projects is to ‘support and/or increase knowledge sharing’.

      From my experience without the CULTURE of knowledge sharing, knowledge management systems just do not work. Yes they capture information but as has been said information is not knowledge.
      Knowledge management programmes typically have one or more of the following activities:
      • Appointment of a knowledge leader – to promote the agenda, develop a framework
      • Creation of knowledge teams – people from all disciplines to develop the methods and skills
      • Development of knowledge bases – best practices, expertise directories, market intelligence etc.
      • Enterprise intranet portal – a ‘one-stop-shop’ that gives access to explicit knowledge as well as connections to experts
      • Knowledge centers – focal points for knowledge skills and facilitating knowledge flow
      • Knowledge sharing mechanisms – such as facilitated events that encourage greater sharing of knowledge than would normally take place
      • Intellectual asset management – methods to identify and account for intellectual capital.

    2. Sharing knowledge – or insights?
      The most valuable part of the article was that of the first comment from John Ayerst, not on the original contributors! The article itself showed a complete lack of understanding not only of the concepts of managing data and information (as John Ayerst pointed out) but the fundamental differences between; data – information – knowledge – understanding – insights.

      There is a model called, I think, “Anthony’s triangle” which illustrates the difference between the above concepts and how useful they are and how to manage them. The concepts ARE NOT interchangeable – i.e. data is not the same as knowledge etc. You have to manage these differently.

      No wonder the contributors to the article were struggling to manage the “information” and were overloaded – it seemed to me (at a brief glance) that they had not made any clear distinction between the types of “information”.

      In the ‘information age’ it is worrying that senior managers can make these fundamental errors and misapprehensions. Knowldge management should be as fundamental as project management to managers in the 21st Century – this shows how far managers in the UK have still to go!

    3. Selecting what to share is important
      I find the comments very interesting as in general they show a lack of knowledge/implementation of the basic concepts of knowledge management. The idea is not to bombard staff with raw knowledge but to develop a system that includes managed knowledge domains, knowledge pulling, knowledge verification and knowledge pushing. When knowledge is seen to be managed then attitudes to knowledge sharing change and individuals are generally happy to convert their tacit knowledge into implicit knowledge. That is what they know into a form that can be shared. If this mechanism is not set up and managed how can individuals share what they know. If they independently try to tell colleagues how to do things in a better way they will rapidly lose friends.

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