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The delicate balance between knowledge sharing and rules

by Carol Rozwell  |  May 1, 2014  |  Submit a Comment

One of the tenets of KM initiatives that rings true based on my experience is that knowledge sharing is a voluntary activity. In contrast to previous deployments of enterprise wide systems like ERP or CRM, creating a vibrant environment that fosters knowledge sharing using social software or collaboration tools depends on people freely contributing their intellectual capital. Remember, in my world KM stands for “knowledge movement” not “knowledge management.”


This is not to say that there can’t be rules around the knowledge sharing, but demanding that people contribute X number of documents to the knowledge repository does not produce the desired result. Instead of surfacing a large quantity of reusable information, a more likely result is a repository filled with marginally useful information.

So demanding people share their knowledge doesn’t work – but that doesn’t mean that setting rules or guidelines isn’t permissible. Encouraging people to achieve a specific level of sharing, particularly when it’s accompanied by mechanisms that allow others to comment on the value of the content, can be create a virtuous cycle. There is often a correlation between seniority and expertise that can be reused by new members of a community, people changing roles who want to learn something, and other similar scenarios. Setting an expectation of how and what knowledge should be made accessible and shared with others makes sense, especially when there is a baseline of how much content is typically produced. Providing the contributor with feedback on how useful the information is feeds intrinsic motivators of reputation and mastery.

It’s also permissible to provide guidelines on how information should be formatted as long as there is an explanation of why following the format makes sense. Anyone who has attended a Gartner event knows that our presentations follow a well-established format. In the recent past we’ve introduced some new formats. Why do analysts follow them? One reason is that some people just naturally follow the rules. But a more compelling reason that taps intrinsic motivation is that when an analyst knows that customers prefer a certain format, they will follow that format. If I care about making customers as satisfied as possible with a session, then I will strive to produce material in a way that is most useful to them.

In the future I’d expect to see tools that simplify the knowledge contribution process. It may even be possible to automate the contribution process. Of course, a high level of trust and transparency must exist for this approach to work. In the meantime, it’s fine for leaders of KM initiatives to set expectations. When people are told about the impact their knowledge had on the organization meeting its performance objectives, it makes the sharing that much sweeter.

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Category: change-management  collaboration  community  knowledge-management  social-media  social-networks  social-software  

Tags: collaboration  collaboration-dynamics  communities-of-practice  knowledge-management  organizational-change  rewards  social-networking  social-software  

Carol Rozwell
VP Distinguished Analyst
11 years at Gartner
21 years IT industry

Carol Rozwell is a vice president and distinguished analyst on Gartner's Digital Workplace team. Read Full Bio

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