A study published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior points out that companies investing in knowledge-transfer software aren’t seeing much improvement in their information flow. One reason: Employees simply won’t share what they know.
“A lot of companies have jumped on the bandwagon of knowledge sharing” by investing heavily in software, says one of the authors. “It was a case of, ‘If you build it, they will come.’ But they didn’t come.”
Unlike knowledge hoarding, knowledge hiding is when someone intentionally conceals information from a colleague—perhaps out of distrust, or to undermine the other person.
Authors of the study say that people tend to hide knowledge in one of three ways:
1. Playing dumb. Employees pretend not to have the requested information.
2. Being evasive. Employees provide incorrect information or falsely promise to give a complete answer later.
3. Rationalized hiding. An employee might say, “I’m not allowed to provide that information” or blame someone else for their inability to share.
Keep information flowing in your corridors with these tactics:
√ Increase staff members’ perceptions of their colleagues’ trustworthiness. You can do it by emphasizing a shared identity, or highlight an example of an employee who followed through on a promise.
√ Encourage face-to-face contact and discourage a reliance on email communication.
√ Remove incentives for employees to “betray” one another. Example: Are salespeople rewarded when they poach one another’s clients?
Building a culture of trust is key in encouraging employees to share what they know.
— Adapted from “When Knowledge Sharing Turns to Knowledge Hiding,” strategy+business.