The APQC Blog

KM Experts Respond: How Do You Combat Knowledge Silos and Knowledge Hoarders?

Knowledge silos and knowledge hoarders are two of the biggest roadblocks that prevent employees from engaging in KM. Silos emerge when one part of the business—such as a team or business unit—doesn’t share knowledge with others. Knowledge hoarding is when an individual employee doesn’t share knowledge. There’s a myriad of reasons that these behaviors emerge, but they always create problems. So, APQC asked a roundtable of KM experts about the best ways to combat knowledge silos and knowledge hoarding. These KM experts will be speaking at APQC’s Knowledge Management Conference, April 29 – May 3, 2019.

Knowledge silos can prevent KM from becoming a natural part of work. What’s the best silo-busting technique you’ve encountered?

Natasha Levanti: The digital age has been fundamental to breaking the barriers to knowledge sharing. However, digital tools and knowledge sharing platforms need to “fit" and be practical for users. There are three elements necessary to break knowledge silos within a global organization.

  1. Digital accessibility must not be limited by geography or discipline.
  2. Knowledge sharing platforms must be a “safe place” to share and discuss.
  3. Users must be able to engage in knowledge exchanges that are relevant to their current work as well as related areas of interest.

Diego Alvarado: To break though silos, KM needs a cross-functional approach. Shift from a functional mindset to an end-to-end process perspective. Ensure you have executive sponsors that promote KM not only from a resource perspective, but also from a change management and culture perspective.

Theresa Decker: Our KM team holds global “learning exchanges.” Learning exchanges bring field staff together around a specific technical area or organizational objective. These events have broken down walls between remote sites, built trust between field staff, and begun to establish a unified culture of exchange and support. However, our learning exchanges would never succeed if they didn’t receive top-down buy-in. With leadership support, these events are viewed as a privileged distinction for field staff—not just a box to check off.

Mary Maida: Working out loud is the key. As a community manager or KM leader, you can create programs that encourage employees to share their work as they work, whether that means posting in the enterprise social network or sharing work in an internal forum. This doesn’t mean that individuals have to share every nuance or detail; they only need to share enough information to inform others of the direction and focus of their work. By doing so, employees can identify potential collaborators and, at the very least, avoid duplicative work.

How do you deal with knowledge hoarders and other resistors who just don’t want to share and reuse knowledge?

Mary Maida: My philosophy is to not invest too much time with knowledge hoarders and resistors. Instead, invest time and energy with people who champion knowledge sharing. Work with people who demonstrate the knowledge-sharing behaviors you want to see in others, and then share stories of these champions as examples of behaviors that lead to faster innovation, better decision-making, and smarter ways of working. The resistors may come along eventually.

Theresa Decker: Jim Collins says that great leaders “start by getting the right people on the bus.” Ideally, subject matter experts should be hired for more than just their expertise, but also their experience with and willingness to use their knowledge as a coach and educator. To engage long-time resistors, you may need to re-define success. Begin acknowledging and honoring not only their expertise, but also their ability to transfer it. Use senior-level recognition, internal awards, expert profiles, performance reviews, and other incentives to encourage the behaviors you want to see.

Diego Alvarado: Change management is key. Provide a safe environment in which knowledge sharing is both encouraged and recognized within the organization. Help knowledge hoarders see and understand how knowledge sharing translates into process improvements and ultimately impacts business results.

Natasha Levanti: Knowledge hoarders and resistors need to be influenced, not fought against. In global organizations, it’s unrealistic for the KM team to target individual knowledge hoarders. Therefore, it’s important to try to prevent resistance from occurring in the first place by emphasizing the mutual benefit of participating in knowledge sharing. This messaging should start as soon as someone joins the organization and continue till they choose to depart though retirement or otherwise.

At all levels of the organization, peer pressure is a strong influence on behavior. Identify KM champions across the organization and encourage them to vocalize the value of knowledge sharing to their peers.