Why Performing Knowledge Sharing is Important for Your Career
A good knowledge capturing strategy is knowledge sharing (KS), where personnel who work at a particular job train others on what they do. KS is a cost-effective way to develop staff, and it also alleviates the growing pains encountered during temporary staff shortages (illness, vacation, short-term disability, FMLA) and long-term staff attrition (retirement, voluntary or involuntary termination, contract changes that affect staff). Many corporations and government agencies that have a high amount of employees retiring in the next five years are currently working on plans to make sure that the existing and new employees have the information that has been obtained by the retiring staff so there is little to no disruption in processes and services. In most cases, KS is difficult to implement because personnel are naturally reluctant to share information. The mantra is, “if someone knows how to do my job, then I can be replaced.” It’s a natural fear, especially in this economy and especially in certain fields such as IT. This article intends to explain how the outcome of knowledge hoarding can backfire on the person.
Knowledge is power. Information is power. The secreting or hoarding of knowledge or information may be an act of tyranny camouflaged as humility. – Robin Morgan
The Downsides of Holding Information
It’s a natural fear to share what you know to another co-worker on what you do. People have heard the stories or even experienced the situation about personnel who shared their information to novice, lower-paid workers, only to find themselves replaced by those same workers. However, hoarding information can actually work against people.
Holding the information doesn’t make you that valuable – it only gives management a reason to cut you.
I’m sure you know about the open secret with staff attrition – when managers are tasked to right-size their departments, they have to evaluate which staff members they can live without, and they take personality and work behavior into consideration. You may be a superstar in what you do, but if you’re the type to hoard your knowledge, management will view you as a “diva who is not a team player”. It doesn’t matter if you’re the best in your field – management will likely cut you if you’re not viewed as a team player.
When I worked at an energy company, they staffed people to support an upcoming merger with another energy company. However, the merger fell through, and the company where I worked had too many people. In my department (IS), there were three developers that were being evaluated by management, and they had to cut one.
- Developer #1 was a junior level developer who was willing to learn and do anything to help out the team (I used him once when his work was slow and I needed some help with SharePoint). He was also well liked by everyone in my department and in other departments in the company.
- Developer #2 had a good background in .NET and Java, but he didn’t have a lot of practical work experience. Although he was shy, he was willing to help the team if he was asked. Since he was studying for his industry certificates, he was also willing to share his notes and practice tests with his colleagues.
- Developer #3 had a strong background in .NET and was a coding whiz, but he wasn’t willing to share his information or work with his teammates. He also came across as arrogant to other team members, and people in other departments dreaded working with him.
Guess who senior management cut? I’ll give you three guesses, and the first two don’t count.
Do you really want to get phone calls while you’re out on vacation or lying in bed sick?
When I worked for a major airline, I was a valued team member because not only did I know the programming language for their maintenance systems, but I also knew how to administer UNIX servers. Being young and naïve, I felt important because I was the “go-to girl” when someone had a question about UNIX. Then I went on a three-week vacation to Florida to visit relatives. My cell phone rang off the hook the entire time I was on vacation. It was people from work calling me with questions on how to work in UNIX. Not only was my fun time with my family and fiancé (at the time) frequently disrupted, but I had an almost $400 cell phone bill (yes, this was the days before unlimited talk plans from anywhere in the country)!
When I got back, I worked on creating “cheat sheets”, and I worked with my supervisor on holding UNIX classes for my colleagues. The knowledge sharing techniques actually got me more compliments from my supervisors than the knowledge that I had. In the words of one of my supervisors (who eventually became one of my mentors) – “proactive actions like this demonstrate to upper management that you’re not just some techie-geek cube jockey”.
Information hoarding makes it difficult for you to move up the ladder or to other opportunities within the company.
I’ve noticed that one of the reasons why people don’t move up the corporate ladder like they want to is they become TVF. TVF is an abbreviation that I use that stands for “too valuable in the field”. If you’re satisfied with where you are in your career, being TVF is a compliment. However, if you’re interested in upward mobility, or if you’re interested in different opportunities within your company, being TVF is a kiss of death. If you’re viewed as the only person who can do x-y-z, your immediate management is less apt to support your upward mobility because you’re too valuable where you are.
When I worked as a SharePoint consultant, there was a colleague of mine who wanted to get into management so badly that he could taste it. He was considered a technical expert in his field. He seemed to be doing everything right to make that transition to management. He was taking evening classes at college on business administration, and he would meet with the owners every week to learn about the concerns that they face with the company so he can do what he can to help. However, there was one thing that he wasn’t doing that was holding him back – he wasn’t willing to teach his less experienced colleagues what he knew. In fact, there were times where he would outright refuse to teach them. His thinking was that since he spent his time learning everything himself, then they should do the same thing if they want to get to his level. Since he was the expert on the team, the owners viewed him as the go-to technical person, and the owners were not willing to promote him to management because he was too valuable in the field. The owners’ thinking was that if he moves to management, then there will be no one in his department that can work at his level, so he’s more useful to the business as the technical expert instead of as a manager.
Remember that this is a small market, and your actions get around.
Word gets around about how you were at work. Even if you live in a larger market such as New York City, Los Angeles or Washington, DC, social networking has shrunk the size of the markets. If you were viewed as someone who is uncooperative and a knowledge hoarder by your colleagues and supervisors, they’re more than willing to share that information about you with their friends and colleagues. It can definitely be held against you when you’re looking for another opportunity. Hiring managers and decision makers do value what their trusted colleagues say about people, and they use that as a factor for hiring someone. If you don’t think that hiring managers are reaching out to their colleagues and casually asking, “Hey, do you know so-and-so? What do you think?”, then you need to take more trips to the rodeo because hiring managers are not just checking your references and checking whether you worked at place A.
When I owned and operated an IT services company a few years back, I interviewed someone who seemed to be a good fit for an upcoming project for my client. He was very strong technically, and he seemed personable, but I still wasn’t sure about him. My gut instincts were telling me that something wasn’t quite right. Luckily, I knew people who worked at his previous jobs, and I casually asked, “Did you know so-and-so?” Let’s just say that my colleagues were more than happy to tell me about how he wasn’t going to win any employee of the month awards in the near future, and did I mention that they were willing to give me examples of why he wasn’t such a good employee? One of the things that I kept hearing was that he wasn’t willing to share knowledge to help others , and he would go as far as give misinformation to individuals. I ended up not hiring the person.