This article is not about a philosophical debate as to whether the hypothesis ‘Knowledge is Power’ nor whether the antithesis ‘Power is Knowledge’ are valid. This article is about Knowledge Sharing in organizations and how a belief is evident in many organizations that to control (and restrict) Knowledge is to have power.
Knowledge, Competitive Advantage and Survival
The very strange thing about Knowledge is that it no longer merely provides competitive advantage. Knowledge Sharing is about survival; increasingly, organizations which are poor at sharing Knowledge internally, are finding it increasingly costly and difficult to compete. The costs extend to attaining and keeping employees. People entering the workforce (i.e. Generation Y) grew up with Knowledge Sharing technologies and expect organizations to be open to Knowledge Sharing. Employees expect to be able to perform fast and accurate searches for information/Knowledge just as can be done on the Internet (e.g. Google).
So why, if so much technology is available to enhance Knowledge Sharing, aren’t some companies keeping pace with the demands that the competitive environment requires? There are numerous reasons for trying to curtail Knowledge Sharing but one of the most prominent is the belief that power stems from controlling Knowledge.
Silos and Power
The term ‘Silo’ is often used in large organizations to reflect how teams and or business units don’t share Knowledge. The very reason for these Silos is the fear that sharing Knowledge will result in less power for the leaders within the Silos. Think of this; What happens if your Silo suddenly doesn’t have exclusive Knowledge and all the Silos have the same information? Power that used to be in the hands of the individual Silos and those who controlled the Knowledge will be lost.
From an organizational perspective, the fundamental error with the argument fearing Knowledge Sharing (based on power dissolution) is that Knowledge is both tangible and intangible. This means that Knowledge Sharing may certainly occur with tangible information (e.g. that which is documented) but intangible Knowledge is difficult (and often impossible) to convert into, and share in, a tangible form. From a Knowledge restrictor’s perspective (i.e. the person controlling Knowledge in the Silo), it is definitely worth fearing Knowledge Sharing as the power will progress to those with the Knowledge (i.e. those that share Knowledge) as the need for a Knowledge restrictor will be lost.
So what may organizations do to start to eliminate Silos and further embrace Knowledge Sharing? Here are a few tips:
- Becoming a Knowledge Sharing organization means a corporate culture change. Recognize that it will take time.
- Identify the formal and informal Silos within the organization and the power holders. Is an organizational structure change necessary?
- Communicate to employees the need and strategy for Knowledge Sharing.
- Start to implement Knowledge Sharing systems e.g. an Intranet, Document Management Systems, communication via Instant Messaging (or Twitter) etc.
- Reward Knowledge Sharing and frown upon restricting Knowledge Sharing.
It is a matter of when and not if organizations have to become excellent at Knowledge Sharing. The sooner every organization starts enhancing Knowledge Sharing, the better the chance of survival.