Leveraging knowledge is possible only when people value building on each other’s ideas and sharing their own insights. Much of this is shaped by the culture of the organization. The culture of an organization is the environment that influences behavior; decision making; and the organization’s approach to markets, customers, and suppliers. It is the combination of shared history, expectations, unwritten rules, and social mores that affects behavior throughout the organization. Culture is the underlying beliefs that, while never actually articulated, are always present to color the perception of actions and communications. These beliefs are transmitted through everyday language and actions. With this in mind, conducted a consortium benchmarking study to discover how best-practice organizations facilitate and nurture an environment for knowledge sharing. By examining how leading organizations execute effective people strategies, we uncovered the potential benefits of human initiatives and exposed the pitfalls of relying too heavily on technology.
This study sought to uncover what organizations are doing to:
- tie the sharing of knowledge to their business strategy;
- build a culture that supports the sharing of knowledge;
- build awareness among employees of the value of creating, sharing, and using
- develop and maintain human networks that share current knowledge and create
- share knowledge regardless of proximity through virtual collaboration and decision
- address the “social side” of information technology.
The aim of this study was to dig beneath the information systems, organizational structures, stories, and proclamations that sharing knowledge is important and find the factors that actually shape behavior. The study sought to discover what draws people to be interested in, excited about, and motivated to share their own knowledge and build on the ideas of others. The study also set out to examine the negative consequences of
not pushing people to share. To understand what really drives people to share, the study examined corporate culture on three levels:
- the company’s espoused philosophy, values, stories, structures, and systems;
- the behavior of people’s peers and managers; and
- deeper core company values.
By looking at these three levels, the study sought to learn not only how bestpractice organizations talk about sharing knowledge but also what they actually do to encourage knowledge-sharing behavior. Drawing from the literature on knowledge management, culture, and organizational change, the study team identified six key factors that influence people’s willingness
to share knowledge. These six elements guided the design of the data collection instruments and were the basis from which the findings were derived.
1. Knowledge Sharing and Business Strategy
Knowledge management is a popular current business initiative, and many assert
that sharing knowledge is worth doing for its own sake. However, successful businesses are predominately driven by focusing on clear and limited goals. Accordingly, sharing knowledge is more likely to become embedded in people’s behavior when it is tied to strategic business goals. Thus, the study team sought to explore how business
strategy, knowledge sharing, and corporate culture intertwine.
2. The Role of Human Networks Human networks are one of the key vehicles for sharing knowledge. These networks are typically composed of colleagues who share insights on topics they care deeply about. Frequently they lead to the development of close personal relationships through which people feel invited and obliged to contribute to each other’s thinking and development.
Consequently, the study team expected that best-practice organizations
would be laced with human networks and wanted to identify the impact they have on the organization as a whole.
3. The Role of Leaders and Managers
The behavior of leaders, particularly senior leaders, often has a strong impact on others in the organization. Leaders influence others directly by the expectations they set for others in the organization. Moreover, they influence people indirectly as role models. Thus, the study team wanted to understand how critical the role of senior leaders and mid-level managers is in drawing people to share knowledge.
4. Fit with the Overall Culture
One of the most powerful influences of behavior is the culture that already exists in the organization, specifically the core beliefs and assumptions of the organization. These are particularly influential because they are often invisible to people in the organization. They are the “seen but unnoticed” background against which people act. Changing these core values is extremely difficult. Accordingly, the study team sought to understand how core values affect people’s willingness to share knowledge and how efforts to increase knowledge sharing link with these core values.
5. Knowledge Sharing and Daily Work
Simple as it is, making it easy to share knowledge can be an important factor that drives how much and how well people actually share. For example, knowledge databases that are hard to get to or navigate are often not well used. Because building knowledge sharing into everyday work can make it routine enough to become a habit, the study team sought to learn how strong a factor this is in shaping people’s behavior.
6. Institutionalizing Learning Disciplines
Organizations often emphasize the importance of rewards, recognition, training,
and practice—activities that reinforce the disciplines of sharing, documenting, and checking the ideas of others. While these activities may not motivate people to share their knowledge, they often reinforce knowledge-sharing behavior. They can push people to continue or increase what they do to share knowledge. Thus, the study team sought to learn how these activities impact knowledge-sharing behaviors.
Our interviews and quantitative data confirmed that the six factors we identified influence behavior, though to different degrees. Accordingly, the findings are organized using these six factors. These key findings will be explored in detail throughout the remainder of the report.
Section One: Knowledge Sharing and Business Strategy
1. Best-practice organizations share knowledge to solve practical business problems or achieve specific business results.
2. At best-practice organizations, people can see the connection between sharing knowledge and the business purpose—and this level of understanding is increasing.
Section Two: Fit with the Overall Culture
3. Knowledge sharing is tightly linked to a core cultural value of the organization. Sharing knowledge simply enables people to pursue that value more fully.
4. The style of each knowledge-sharing approach closely matches the style of the organization as a whole.
5. At best-practice organizations, there is strong management and peer pressure for people to help each other, collaborate, and share their knowledge. People who do not share are ignored, fail to be promoted, or are “siloed.”
Section Three: Fit with Daily Work
6. Best-practice organizations integrate knowledge sharing with people’s work by holding visible knowledge-sharing events and/or embedding knowledge sharing
in routine work processes.
Section Four: The Role of Leaders and Managers
7. The level of management support for knowledge sharing is commensurate with the scale of the overall knowledge-sharing effort.
Section Five: The Role of Human Networks
8. Best-practice organizations enable informal networks without formalizing them.
9. Human networks, whether formal or informal, have a facilitator who “owns” the network and actively ensures that people participate.
Section Six: Institutionalizing Learning Disciplines
10. Best-practice organizations see the need to align reward and recognition with sharing knowledge.
The study findings demonstrate that there is no one right set of motivators to
encourage people to share insights and build on the ideas of others. Instead, what draws people to share is different in various organizations and matches the company’s core values as well as the look and feel of other organizational processes.
Specifically, what draws people most strongly to share knowledge is:
- Alignment with the current culture: By linking with a core company value, matching the look and feel of other organizational processes, and building on the value of collaboration, best-practice organizations make sharing knowledge a natural step.
- A practical purpose to share: Best-practice organizations do not value sharing knowledge for its own sake. Instead, these organizations share knowledge to achieve a business goal or solve an important business problem. Moreover, the value to the individual who uses the knowledge is actively and directly reinforced. This is done by rewarding people for contributing to the knowledge base or building knowledge sharing into everyday work processes.
A listing of the sponsor organizations in this study, as well as the best-practice (“partner”) companies that were benchmarked for their innovation and advancement in creating a culture conducive to knowledge sharing.
- Executive Summary
A bird’s-eye view of the study, presenting the key findings discovered and the methodology used throughout the course of the study. The findings are explored in detail in following sections.
The approach to knowledge-sharing at best-practice organizations.
- Key Findings
An in-depth look at the 10 key findings of this study. The findings are supported by quantitative data and qualitative examples of practices employed by the partner companies.
- Consortium Profile
Background data on the study participants.
- Partner Organization Profiles
Background information on the partner companies, as well as their innovative knowledge-sharing practices.