The APQC Blog

Keys To Changing Knowledge Sharing Behavior

Phyllis Korkki’s New York Times article "When Those Who Know Won't Share" was summed up very nicely in the quote by David Zweig, an associate management professor at the University of Toronto, Scarborough. What did Zweig say? “Put in incentives to reward people on team outcomes versus solely on individual outcomes.” I agree—it’s really almost just that simple.

Certainly there are other critical success factors in the reuse of organizational knowledge, like alignment to strategy, processes, and technology enablement, but if there’s a holy grail of knowledge sharing it would be the change management required to incorporate the appropriate rewards and recognition for efficient and effective expertise identification and reuse. That doesn’t mean throwing gobs of money at the providers and reusers, however. In fact, to do so is probably the single biggest contributor to “gaming the system.”

So if winning the knowledge sharing lottery isn’t the way to go, then what is? Well, the first question to answer is: What are you doing already to reward the behaviors you want that aren’t knowledge sharing-related? If the answer is nothing, then it’s a bigger problem than knowledge sharing can solve! Better get moving on designing incentives that will result in the behaviors—any behaviors (and outcomes for that matter)—that you’re interested in getting from your folks.

However, if the answer is that there is already an effective reward and recognition strategy in place, then just add knowledge sharing! Make the rewards commensurate with the effort and outcomes from other behaviors though, lest you end up either getting nothing (too little reward) or too much (when people do the math). By the way, when is too much too much? You’ll know pretty quickly since the ideas, tips, and practices shared will inundate you with their lack of clarity, substance, and reusability.

So what’s a person to do? Groupthink! Not in the typical sense and connotation of the word though—in a good way. That is, find ways to incorporate shared incentives and rewards among groups of people in lieu of simply individual rewards. That’s not to say that you can’t or shouldn’t have individual rewards and recognition; just be careful how they’re applied.

I recall working with a very large corporation’s sales staff when they wanted to implement knowledge management throughout the organization. Great idea, great strategy, rah-rah launch, you name it. It was all about and for the sales group to make the entire team more effective. Guess what? At the end of the year, the only award for knowledge sharing went to—you guessed it—a single individual. Fail.

Well if that’s not the way then, what does a good knowledge sharing reward and recognition program look like? It could look like some of the aspects of Ford Motor Company’s Proven Practice Replication program for example. At Ford, white plaques describing practices shared by a department are visibly displayed within the department. Green plaques are also displayed prominently which describe which practices the department has reused. While both are valued, according to Ford, “executives visiting…look for both plaques but really get excited when they see the green ones…” Not only does the entire department share in the recognition then, but the positive reinforcement given by the leaders about reuse adds to the incentive.

What ways have you found effective for creating knowledge sharing incentives among one-to-many, or even better, many-to-many?