How to build a workplace where ongoing education is part of the culture.

Knowledge sharing is a not-so-recent buzzword for many businesses, but the idea behind it is straightforward and worthy of consideration. Essentially, organizations are recognizing that the wealth of experience and knowledge their employees possess is one of their most important resources, and that by encouraging their employees to share that knowledge with each other, they not only function more consistently as a team, they also grow the intellectual wealth of the whole organization.

This is a great idea, but unfortunately, many businesses take a rather ham-handed approach when they try to encourage knowledge sharing among the workforce. Their strategies boil down to vague directives with few practical resources dedicated to helping employees achieve their goals. With no incentives or resources in place, it’s no wonder nothing comes of it.

However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t better ways to handle the situation in the office. If you want to build a culture in your organization that supports knowledge sharing, here’s where to start.

1. Make it a priority.

The biggest problem with most knowledge-sharing initiatives is that they don’t go beyond a statement of intent. It’s not enough to want it to happen: to make it work, you have to consider the tradeoffs.

Unless you have a lot of people with a generous amount of time on their hands, the time your employees spend training their colleagues will come at the expense of something else. Making knowledge sharing a priority means stating very clearly that this training takes precedence over other tasks your employees have on their plates.

Without that prioritization, employees naturally focus on the tasks that are most urgent. Within the constant churn of deadlines, it’s easy for those important but less urgent tasks to be shoved aside. If you want to avoid this from happening, employees have to know that they won’t be at fault for prioritizing the time they spend training and collaborating with employees over some other tasks.

2. Provide incentives.

Another piece of wishful thinking about knowledge sharing states, essentially: your employees want to share their knowledge; give them license to do so and they will leap at the opportunity!

Not so fast.

Just because something is a priority for your business doesn’t make it a priority for your employees. They may have other passion projects that have captured their attention, or they may worry that taking time to develop a training course means they could miss out on another opportunity for promotion.

Some employees need little more than an excuse to start mentoring their co-workers, but others will need more of an incentive. Consider what you’re willing to offer employees to encourage them to develop training materials. If you don’t have much to offer, then it may not be as high a priority as you think.

3. Create a space for sharing to happen.

The next step in an effective knowledge-sharing strategy is far more practical: making space in your office for co-workers to develop a training program and share it with others.

This sounds simple, but many offices aren’t set up with good spaces for knowledge sharing. They’re either too open (which makes employees feel like someone’s looking over their shoulder all the time), or they don’t have a good space for collaboration.

Creating good knowledge-sharing spaces can be as straight-forward as setting aside conference room space or setting up a private collaboration nook. It can also mean creating a space online where remote workers can also share their knowledge and learn from their colleagues.

4. Re-examine your training and on-boarding methods.

Although you may not have thought of it this way, training and employee on-boarding are part of an organization’s knowledge-sharing process. Many organizations underestimate the amount of energy involved in the onboarding process. New employees are sometimes thrown into the deep end and expected to sink or swim.

Furthermore, training materials can sometimes fall out of date unless companies take time to proactively maintain them. If it’s been a while since you reviewed your onboarding process, having some of your most experienced employees update them can help new employees get up to speed faster.

5. Invest in a long-term strategy.

A lot of knowledge sharing happens informally. One co-worker turns to their college and asks for help with a problem, or they have a conversation over lunch, or someone gives a short presentation after a regular meeting.

However, if your organization wants to create a longer-lasting strategy, it may be time to formalize the process. One of the best ways to do this is through an investment in learning software. This not only creates a record of your course that will be available for as long as you need it, it also means that remote employees can benefit from it as well.

6. Build a knowledge library.

Employees come and go—that’s just a fact of business. One of the boons of a knowledge sharing strategy is that, when an employee moves on to a new opportunity, they leave some of their expertise behind.

However, unless you have created a way to maintain that knowledge, you may lose it anyway. An online knowledge library not only organizes your resources, it also makes them more accessible to employees.

Incorporating knowledge sharing into an organization is a great idea—so long as it’s done well.

Organizations have a lot to gain from a culture where employees feel encouraged to help each other learn. However, as idealistic as it sounds, knowledge sharing won’t happen unless organizations are willing to commit the resources to make it happen.

Those resources include clearing time for employees who are motivated to share knowledge with their co-workers, providing incentives to encourage hesitant colleagues, and devoting some of your budget toward the technology that will help these programs take root.

By encouraging knowledge sharing at work, you not only improve the health of your organization, you give employees a reason to stick around, and make it easier for new employees to find their footing.

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