Insecurity is the modern corporate disease

Bust_of_sir_francis_bacon In 1597, Sir Francis Bacon coined the famous phrase "Knowledge is Power".  While knowledge does create power to the beholder of that knowledge, it can rarely be harnessed effectively until is it shared with other entities.  In today's business world, I'd broaden that phrase to "Sharing Knowledge Creates Value".

Let me explain my thinking here.  Too many employees today have a tendency to hoard their nuggets of knowledge, for fear of fear that giving them away will weaken their value and, ultimately, their job security.  This can sometime be as rudimentary as documenting a business process, through to sharing knowledge of a particular market, discovery or idea. 

It never ceases to amaze me how much better businesses could perform if their employees were better at sharing their knowledge with each other, and – ultimately – with their trusted partners.  We can talk for hours (and have done) about how you can develop service levels, contract stipulations and incentive plans to drive more value into a service-contract.  But ultimately it's the spirit of collaboration and knowledge-sharing that wins the day.

How can firms create this spirit?  Can they go out an buy some software to enable it?  Can they call up McKinsey or PwC and pay for them to create it for them?  Sometimes; these are measures that can help, but ultimately it's about corporate leadership driving change throughout their organization that is likely unprecedented for them.  And sadly, it's a change that is likely abhorrent to the culture that has blighted  so many organizations in this modern business world.  This change is about making talent feel secure about their jobs and their futures.

Let's take some examples from across the sourcing industry where knowledge-sharers succeed:


 

1. Service providers which share best practices across clients.  The service providers are in powerful positions to offer industry process blueprints, application accelerators, workflow tools, knowledge-sharing workshops etc. with their clients.  However, in order to do this, they need to create these collaborative behaviors across their client service teams.  Hence, they need to create environments for their key client managers to collaborate with each other, otherwise they will fail to develop true business utility services to scale thier businesses profitably.

2. Clients which document their workflows and operations effectively.  Getting employees to tell you exactly what they do, how they do it, and at what frequency, is probably one of the greatest challenges for operations leaders today.  And when you outsource, having access to this level of operational information is critical.  Staff are so protective of their jobs, in any case, and when they get a sniff of outsourcing, many will become even more protective over documenting their world.  Clients who fail to pull together their current operational inputs and outputs effectively, will struggle to develop a realistic business case and establish an effective governance model.  Hence, they need to create an environment where their employees feel secure enough to share their current operational knowledge.  If an employee can effectively source work elements over to a third-party, they can then focus on developing their skills to deliver higher-value work for their company, and develop their own career trajectory.

3. Analysts which share their key insights and data in their reports.  How frustrating is it when an analyst doesn't have a single report which encapsulates all the key datapoints you need to make decisions?  The issue here, is that analyst is afraid to give up their knowledge for fear it will weaken her/his position.  As a result, they will normally stick to covering only that one solitary market and fail to broaden into new areas.  They constantly protect their little patch of power, and only deliver their insights in one-one customer meetings.  However, when the market they ruled eventually became less lucrative, that analyst has become so tied to this one little area, it becomes almost impossible to branch into new lucrative areas.

Conversely, if that analyst had dared to encapsulate all those key datapoints and insights into a concise report, many more people would think "wow – this is great stuff… how can I call this person to apply this insight to my needs".  The analyst immediately gained credibility by demonstrating their knowledge to the world, and created a launchpad for expanding their knowledge and coverage.  By sharing his/her knowledge, that analyst has generating empathy with clients, respect, and a platform for future growth.  Hence, that analyst needed an environment which made him feel secure to do this.  Those analyst firms which encourage their analysts to share their knowledge in their reports will scale their businesses far more successfully, and will also possess analysts with broader knowledge and insights across multiple domains.

4. Consultants which pool their IP with each other.  The best consulting firms incent their consultants to share information and create repositories of IP.  The more they share, the easier it is to take on new projects when their IP is so readily accessible for their consultants.  Anyone who's worked in consulting firms has experienced the successful collaborators and the hoarders… many of those that made partner tended to be those skilled at embracing the talent and knowledge at their disposal.   Those consulting firms which make their consultants feel secure to share their IP with each other will find their ability to take on new work much more enhanced.

Bottom-line:  The common thread here is centered on job security.  In each scenario above, people who fear for their jobs will be inclined to hoard their knowledge, for fear that sharing it will weaken their job security.  In this post-recessionary environment, this fear in magnified. Where staff are encouraged to share their work in a clear, documented fashion, the advantages to their employers are huge. 

The solution is clear to business leaders today:  identify your key talent; make them feel secure about a long-term career path in your company, and keep executing this strategy until you create a secure collaborative work culture.

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19 Comments

  1. Posted October 4, 2009 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    Knowledge-sharing has to be embedded in every level of the organization, so that silos don’t form, and new ideas are not crushed by managers. This means that you have to hire people at all levels who are willing and able to think outside all the boxes that their positions present – and good luck with that.

    Erica Friedman

  2. Posted October 4, 2009 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    Tone from the Top / Culture – where the collective is seen as more important than the individual and induction into the business sets the right expectation.

    Tools – make them easy to use to find what you need.

    Governance – guidelines for not allowing the knowledge sharing solution to get out of control and thereby rendering it useless for the community.

    Communications, promotion and rewards all to come into play.

    Some say pick up the phone, rather than email !!

  3. Manish Mehta
    Posted October 4, 2009 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    At a philosophical level, it comes down to two things really – Culture and Leadership. A key expectation of a good leader is the ability to create a feeling of security, without diluting the need for better collaboration and ongoing performance. You need to build that culture and your people need to have that right attitude to this. So, it also depends on who you hire into your team.

    Often repeated phrase is – In today’s internet driven, connected world access to information cannot be a competitive advantage, what you do with that information and what insights you have is. To reach the best conclusions and solutions – it helps to collaborate with like minded people.

  4. Donna Bellamy
    Posted October 4, 2009 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    Keeping your organizational chart fairly flat will encourage ideas from employees. The more levels of hierarchy in an org. the less input you will receive from the lower levels.

    I read recently about an org. that had a short corporate huddle every day at 11:15. Everyone shared ideas, koodos, what they were working on etc.
    It kept everyone involved and abreast of what the company was doing.
    Another method is to share corporate information on a daily basis. Like percent of profitability today is: xx % and so on. This gives employees the feeling they are contributing to the bigger picture.

    A great magazine to read regularly, in my opinion, is the Harvard Business Review.

    Donna

  5. Posted October 4, 2009 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    Start from yourself.
    Share the news you have heard this morning with people in cafeteria, or suggest a good professional seminar to the person in office next to yours. In that way, you will give a positive example and encourage this way of behavior.
    Of course, this is just a small step, but individual changes the world.
    Encouraging should be done on company level, but also on team/department level. Every leader/manager should try to make hers/his team feel secure and explain them that the best way to develop themselves is by developing other people.

  6. Linda Fredrick
    Posted October 4, 2009 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    Hi Phil,

    Unfortunately I think you are correct, many are very insecure and this makes accomplishing certain tasks a true trial! Open communication is key, a true willingness to not just listen to ideas but also evaluate them is hard sometimes, but much needed.

    Openess and mutual respect are crucial to developing the relationships needed for a synergistic flow to develop. It’s often frustrating to find those who consistently fail to see the benefit of this and act as barriers, but I just keep pushing.

    Cheers,
    Linda

  7. Susan Gainen
    Posted October 4, 2009 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    Phil,

    Before implementing complicated “knowledge-sharing” systems and structures, managers ought to examine their organizations’ cultures (and perhaps their own behavior) to make sure that sharing is part of the DNA.

    If an organization is running on any version of “you eat what you kill,” or if employees are fearful for their jobs or their perceived power, encouraging “sharing” will be a waste of time.

    In any multi-generational organization, the definition and value of “sharing” needs to be ironed out in private and in public without finger pointing or demonizing one generation or another.

    In grossly general terms, “sharing” may be perceived as a Boomer imperative, loosely grouped with singing Kumbaya and engaging in group hugs. Xers who are energetically independent and fiercely opposed to wasting time, need their perspectives addressed. Millennials, who come to the table with energy and enthusiasm but not a lot of experience, may need to be introduced to systematic knowledge knowledge by management showing how they will benefit personally and how their perspectives may be beneficial to the enterprise.

    Examine your culture. Work your crowd.

    Susan Gainen

  8. Susan Shwartz PhD
    Posted October 4, 2009 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Make certain no one starts building silos. Embed it in your hiring.

  9. Posted October 4, 2009 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    Interesting article which made me dig a little deeper into the examples quoted to see how we can actually make it happen.

    1) Service providers which share best practices across clients: If you leave this to chance or goodwill you are not doing better than most companies. The way to do this is for managers to lose their sense of insecurity in letting go those team members with critical knowledge to another account. You cant easily transpose best practices without a context. The best way to make one client experience and best practice to bear upon another client account to get those people who have the knowledge move to the new account. This wont happen if we have insecure managers who wont let their people move.

    2) Clients which document their workflows and operations effectively:
    This cant be left to the client alone. The vendor has to make the client do this, help the client do it, make it easy for the client to do this. Often, vendors sent the client on a wild goose chase asking for all sorts of irrelevant information. Also, they wont help them gather the information through workshops or interviews. So, this is something vendors need to think about as much as clients.

    3) Analysts which share their key insights and data in their reports: Here my only comment is that I would not depend on the analysts too much to make decisions for a specific project / requirement. Analysts are looking at things from a 30000 ft perspective and invariably can only give directional inputs.

    d) Consultants which pool their IP with each other: The way to do this (which many companies are attempting recently) is to have Solution Architects and Solution Integrators shared across the organization. These are practitioners who have just finished an assignment with a client and then come into this SA group which puts their knowledge to use on 5 other similar situations. Again, technology can do only so much. You need to get the people out overcoming managerial insecurities

  10. Ramesh Kumar
    Posted October 5, 2009 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    Every Friday Evening ask one person to talk on a topic of his/her interest – Keep the topics/options open. And then have a Question answer session.

    It builds confidence in person giving the lecture. It lets people do some research before talking.

    This kind of open topic dilutes ‘insecurity’ as the person decides what and how much he/she wants to share !

    Ramesh Kumar

  11. Posted October 5, 2009 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    Phil,

    I will start by saying I feel it comes down to having good leadership who understands the energy and power behind unified team efforts. Let me elaborate. I think Susan Gainen is correct – it does have to be part of the company DNA. Regardless, I believe that you can modify the company DNA through leadership, effective communication and transparency. In my past, I have seen good CEO’s brought down by innocently trusting those at the next level. So when I say leadership, I include those that are in charge of actually getting things done. I think this is a great question, because it highlights how important knowledge sharing can be to an organization. I also feel that it is a significant “disease” in many companies that cannot seem to “get out of the mud.” I propose that knowledge sharing is a pivotal and necessary precursor to effective, energetic, cohesive, and positive organizational change. If we did not feel that knowledge sharing was important culturally, why would we have created public libraries?

    OBSERVATION 1: I have witnessed that many corporate leaders seem to like to play one functional area off against the other and also to hide information. There will also be some in an organization that feel knowledge is power and they will not share it. For some leaders, I conjecture that they justify this philosophy of chaos and hidden agendas by thinking they are creating a forum for, “a spirited exchange of ideas,” and a desire to “expose the weaknesses of those in the organization.” (Darwinian survival of the fittest.) I feel those methods are simply a way of control and manipulation designed to keep others attention away from the shortcomings of the leadership. It also has the added “benefit” of keeping the energies of the “lesser” beings focused on maintaining their own position and jockeying for approval from the leader. These activities do nothing to help the company – rather they appear focused on the individual or individual’s in charge for the sake of their own ego.

    OBSERVATION 2: I feel that embracing chaos is a failed approach fostered by fear and insecurity. A true leader wants to see the company and everyone in it do well. You cannot do that if you hide critical elements like business goals and objectives. I have actually been in two companies where those elements and long range business plans were well guarded secrets. We all know from our own experience that lack of knowledge breeds fear. Fear is known as a debilitating force. Additionally, we all know from physics that nature abhors a vacuum. When people do not know what is going on, they create false information to fill the void and augment that fear (for better or worse). This information spreads quickly and can have different, unplanned, and many times unwanted effects on those in the company.

    PROPOSED SOLUTION: Clearly we are all social animals, we gain our real strength by sharing and working together for a greater goal. The same is true of companies. Shared and clear goals and objectives allow for every person to align themselves and have their actions support the whole. In order to harness the energy and actions of the entire company for the greater good. Think of it in very simplistic terms like a tug of war. What would happen if one or two members on one team started pulling in different directions? Would there be conflict on the team, reduction of effectiveness, or even loss and potentially being dragged through the mud? I think we all know the answer. Sound leadership, enhanced with knowledge sharing, and strengthened by good communication and transparency are the keys to effective change.

    Jim Adkins

  12. Posted October 5, 2009 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    Phil,

    Knowledge sharing can be a great way to enhance your productivity and efficiency. Several meetings can be organized on a regular basis where staff members can communicate with each other effectively and share with each other their knowledge.

    Insecurity prevail;s in dearth of command on your field of specialization. Once an employee has pushed his boundaries to know more and explore his potential, I guess insecurity will disappear gradually and efficiency will step in.

    Raina

  13. Hitendra Patil
    Posted October 5, 2009 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    Hi Phil,

    It’s an issue that needs deeper understanding of human psyche. In yesterday’s information age and today’s knowledge era, power (and hence benefits associated with power) is perceived to be derived from knowledge. The survival instinct in today’s world will not easily let many to share knowledge forthwith.

    Can you open with bare hands a small screw tightly fitted into a wall? You need a screw-driver and force to remove it. In other words, you need tools and resources to achieve the objective. But first of all, you need the “will”, a “desire” to remove the screw (inherent objective). So a combination of will, tools and resources are required to achieve creation of a collaborative knowledge sharing culture.

    Tools and resources could be collaboration softwares that work on web or private networks, knowledge management and indexing softwares, sharing of email inboxes and message boards etc. But the “will” to share has to be instilled in each individual and that is the most critical task.

    Remember, the human psyche in today’s corporate world leads people to believe that power and benefits are associated with knowledge and hence “threats” and “opportunities” are associated with “sharing”. One needs to reduce the “tangible” threats and create “tangible” benefits or opportunities to induce the sharing behaviour. How? – well thats a complex mechanism and some basic fundamentals required are trust and consequences of actions – negative consequences for knowledge hoarding and positive consequences for knowledge sharing.

    Hitendra Patil

  14. Lala Mamedov
    Posted October 7, 2009 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    Phil,

    People will freely share knowledge if two conditions are met:
    1. They see clear benefit of knowledge sharing, and
    2. They are rewarded for what they share, not for what they know.

    There is nothing more empowering for employees than knowing that the knowledge they shared helped others solve real problems, or achieve real business benefit. Before asking them to share, you need to decide – how will the shared knowledge be used? How will people know they made a difference? What is the true business value that the shared knowledge is adding?

    Lala

  15. Judith Angell
    Posted October 7, 2009 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    Assign (most) projects, tasks, etc. to teams that are from different organizational components and multidisciplinary in composition rather than to just one unit or organizational group. And setting the expectation that work within organizational groups will similarly be based on the combined expertise of multiple staff members.

    Judith Angell

  16. Posted October 7, 2009 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    This is the psyche you can easily find in the mind of the people in middle and lower management. The key to “create a collaborative knowledge-sharing culture” lacks the involvement of the people and the involvement can only be roped in by changing the attitude across the organizational hierarchy which the organizations usually don’t dare to change.
    My opinion is to start with a campaign where everyone writes his/ her mind/ attitude/ ideas for the day on a white board facing the office space and visible at all the time in the office. Once people become habitual to the freedom to express their ideas they won’t mind contributing to the mass’ competencies through collaborative knowledge sharing as well…

    Abhishek

  17. Posted October 8, 2009 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    The secret to knowledge sharing is the speed and accuracy of its replication. And only when knowledge is codified can it really be made to work for you.

    All the best
    Mark

  18. Posted October 8, 2009 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

    Phil,

    From my experience: the only way for this is to ‘incentivize’ the right behavior that fosters collaboration, team-work, and knowledge-sharing. Having said that, it could be the most complex thing to do. One size won’t fit all; one man’s incentive will hardly make a difference to the other. If you run a small team, it is easier to do. To make collaboration and knowledge-sharing part of the organizational DNA, it may require a more heroic effort. Leave that to HR and the CEO.

    Without getting into OB (organizational behavior) jargon, a few common sense steps:

    1. Clearly spell out the need to collaborate and share knowledge. Paint a compelling picture.

    2. Start with yourselves and doit right every time

    3. Play to people’s strengths and motivations. Money is rarely the right answer here. Recognition, attribution, credit, expertise request are some ways of incentivizing knowledge workers.

    4. Reward the right behavior every time.

    Ed Nair

  19. Posted October 28, 2009 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    Hi Phil,

    Great points! Two thoughts…

    The first relates to the “soft stuff” that turns out to be so hard. Trust takes forever to earn, and can be lost in an instant. If we are truly going to reward our folks for open sharing of knowledge and expertise, then we have to be very aggressive about recognizing protecting those that do. The moment anyone suffers a loss from such sharing, by either a reduction of income or even of prestige, that will be the last time that person and all her friends make the effort to share their knowledge.

    The second relates to the hard stuff; the systems and procedures that make it efficient to share while at the same time we are barreling down the highway at 100 miles an hour and changing our tires. That is, if we don’t build the sharing mechanisms into the work processes and tools themselves, so that sharing is an automagical artifact of doing “the work”, then our folks will not have the time or energy to share, regardless of how much trust they have.

    Regards,
    Bob

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