My friend, Luis Suarez recently wrote an important post, Why Do I Share My Knowledge? It was a reflection, in part, on a post by the well respected Oscar Berg, Why do people share? He also links to another writer Nancy Dixon on: The Incentive Question or Why People Share Knowledge.
As Luis notes, knowledge sharing is the heart of not just social software, but also collaboration and knowledge management in general. I would expand this to say it is the heart of the connected enterprise where McKinsey keeps finding real quantified benefits from this sharing and related activity.
Oscar notes that sharing is a gift and we cannot expect anything in return. He writes that people share to build their reputation, to gain emotional communication, adds that we share what matters. Nancy lists peer recognition and building relationships as motivators for sharing. Oscar quotes Nancy, “Rather than management asking, ‘How do we incentivise people to share their knowledge?’ It would be more useful for management to ask, ‘How do we develop relationships across the organization that will set in motion more knowledge sharing?’ ”
This is the key to the connected enterprise. These are the organizations that outperform their competitors. See my earlier post on this blog, Doing Well by Doing Good: Humanizing the Enterprise.
Luis adds to the discussion by noting that knowledge sharing is learning. He writes that when he first got involved with knowledge management 15 years ago, he discovered that sharing is a key accelerators for one’s learning, “that one of sharing your knowledge out there, in the open, and the more, the better, allowing others to benefit from it, contrasting it, challenging it, reframing it.”
I agree with this point and all of the above. I discovered long ago that the best way to truly learn about something was to teach it to others and sharing works in a similar way.
So there are multiple benefits from sharing. In addition to personal learning, I think the sense of community mentioned by Luis and others is very real, at least for me. I have met many people through knowledge sharing. Sharing is a great way to enter a community and become accepted by its members. I value the different communities that I have entered through sharing.
Luis goes on to add that, “sharing your knowledge in social networks is that ability to build a legacy for which people would be able to remember you over the course of time. Indeed, what most other folks know as your personal (digital) brand.”
Here is where the potential for direct financial reward for sharing comes into play. Many people and companies start a blog to gain market exposure because they want to sell something. There is nothing wrong with this. I have benefited directly from my sharing and subsequent personal brand on the Web. However, if the only reason or even the dominant reason is to share as a marketing channel, then this motive becomes transparent and it will not work.
I used to help people start blogs and I would always say, do not do it unless it is intrinsically fun for you. You have to enjoy sharing for your blog to work. The people who do not understand this miss the main point of blogging and social business.
Organizations have to promote this sense of joy and the trust than lays the foundation for it to occur.
Managers who do not understand this will fail in today’s economy.
And the sad truth is that many still do not get it. According to a survey conducted by Deloitte executives rank tangibles like competitive compensation (62%) and financial performance (65%) as the top factors that influence culture. While employees have a different view, with intangibles such as regular and candid conversations (50%) and access to management (47%) as ranking higher than compensation (33%) and financial performance (24%).
Here are two other studies with similar results, Why it pays to thank employees in HR Morning and (Almost) Everything We Think About Employee Engagement is Wrong in Forbes.
The returns are in. It is no longer simply idealistic speculation.
If you want to succeed in business, build an organizational culture that supports sharing. If you want to succeed in sharing follow the advice of Luis, Oscar, and Nancy. Do it because it feels good.