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How to Use Technology to Create a Knowledge-Sharing Culture

In a high-speed market, the ability for an organization’s employees to learn faster than competitors’ is a sustainable competitive advantage, making it the responsibility of leaders to create, store and apply knowledge. The free exchange of information will ensure employees are able to propose ideas, exchange concepts, access data, solve problems and find solutions that are essential to their organization’s future.

“Before, employees didn’t know what they didn’t know,” said Ray Schwemmer, co-author of the forthcoming book, Dynamic Collaboration: How to Share Information, Solve Problems, and Increase Productivity Without Compromising Security. “People didn’t know what information was available, so they were making decisions with only a small subset of that information. Nowadays, more people in the organization have access to more and more data, so everyone in the organization can make better decisions as opposed to just one person up at the top, who is the aggregator of this information. It’s helping companies be more agile and quicker to market.”

According to Schwemmer and his co-author Rick Havrilla, the key to achieving collaboration in the corporate environment is to place knowledge-sharing technologies at employees’ fingertips to generate mass involvement.

“If I understand people on my team have access to certain information and I can also see the information they’re using, I can better appreciate why people are coming to certain conclusions and understand where they’re coming from when we have differences because the data is transparent,” Schwemmer said.

Leaders need a rigorous process for discovering pockets of insight and bringing people together in conversation to get that insight out and into circulation. Katrina Pugh, president of business and knowledge strategy company Align Consulting Inc., outlines a process called “knowledge jam” in her book Sharing Hidden Know-How. According to Pugh, this process uses social and collaboration technology to identify those pockets. It then uses any number of different types of Web-conferencing or online discussion tools to help seekers draw out the insights of experts. Often this is with the help of a facilitator or moderator. During that conversation — whether in real-time or not — the content becomes transparent. The words are out there for participants to see, validate or amplify.

“Knowledge conversations like the knowledge jam are more efficient at drawing out content that matters for practical problems,” Pugh said. “That’s because you have knowledge seekers in the room pulling, not just experts documenting. In the conversations, you’re eliciting ideas in a sequence that helps the seeker translate to his context, but others outside the room may learn, too. The conversation is captured — either as a document or as a threaded social media discussion. Those other learners might watch, subscribe or search for the knowledge jam at a future date.”

In the future, Pugh believes, knowledge sharing will become more of a pull process and less of a push process. This will be, perhaps, messier, but content will accumulate more organically around business-relevant topics rather than top-down through curriculum development.

“Transparency improves the coherence and cohesion of the organization,” Pugh said. “When I know more quickly what is going on in other parts of the organization, I have the opportunity to contribute either directly or indirectly, and as an organization we are able to more quickly mobilize when we are in conflict.”

Leaders are on view in this situation, and they need to be the first to see the inconsistencies and even strengths that this transparency reveals, according to Pugh. For example, if one leader is funding a project to evaluate a new product space and another leader is funding a project to reinvest in the existing product space, this is all out there for the organization to see. The leadership is now responsible for making the strategy crisp and clear to the organization.

Relying on so much collaboration and technology will not create a greater gap between generations because new technology will be more inviting for older-generation users. “The greater use of conversation and dialogue between the experts and the knowledge-seekers will take the organization back to the conversation skills the older generations know well,” Pugh said.

“Technology used to be a big source of generational differences,” Havrilla said. “You had to read a manual or spend a lot of time working with and around different tools. The interfaces now are becoming quite intuitive, robust and easy to use. Everything’s integrated.”

The ease of use of this collaboration technology increases sharing and integration of text, voice, data, images and video between people and the organizations where they work. It also fosters greater willingness to share, adaptability to new situations and incorporation of critical information into initiatives.

“This is changing learning and development and making it more on-demand,” Havrilla said. “Subject-matter experts might recommend computer-based training courses that are online within the organization. As a user that needs training I would take it on-demand at any point in time. It’s not as structured or rigid as we’ve been used to in the past. You don’t have a certain number of people taking a course and you might not be tracking it, but its value is what is important and its value is incomparable by doing it this way.”

Ladan Nikravan is an associate editor of Chief Learning Officer magazine. She can be reached at lnikravan@CLOmedia.com.