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Knowledge Hoarders vs. Knowledge Sharers

There is nothing better than a little satirical office humor to get you through the workday – especially if it pokes fun at mismanaged offices and hard-to-work-with employees.

The other day I stumbled upon a classic Dilbert comic that made me laugh and think, “the more things change the more they stay the same.” It has been nearly a decade since Scott Adams released this comedic nugget; unfortunately for us, not much has changed.


Ignorance is Rarely Bliss
In my opinion, there are two types of people in the workforce: knowledge hoarders and knowledge sharers.

Knowledge hoarder (noun): a person who gathers and guards information for personal preservation and future use.

Knowledge sharer (noun): a person who actively, purposely and happily gives information to others.

The level of knowledge hoarding varies from hoarder to hoarder, but I think we can all agree that regardless of how much they don’t share, they can be a real pain. Intentionally or not, these people are reluctant to share valuable information with friends, peers and superiors.

So what drives knowledge hoarders to so closely guard their information? I think there are a few factors that come into play.

  1. Power. People crave authority and influence. Guarding information gives people the upper hand. Organizations put themselves at risk by becoming dependent on power-hungry knowledge hoarders.
  2. Uncertainty. Many people (myself included) live in fear of being wrong. When asked for information or opinions, they go silent. They would rather claim they do not have the answer than suffer the embarrassment of being wrong.
  3. Trust. Have you ever shared a secret with someone you don’t trust? It’s not a good feeling. Trust is vital for information sharing. Unfortunately, 25% of employees do not trust their employer.
  4. Fear. Why do they need this information? How will this information be used? Is my job at risk? Some feel the best way to maintain job security is to be the only person who knows how to perform a specific function.
  5. Organizational culture. Some organizations thrive on promoting nearly cut-throat competition among workers. Employees aren’t encouraged to help colleagues out because the person in the next cubicle is their biggest competitor.

Releasing the Hoard
On the other side of the coin, we have knowledge sharers. Just like their counterparts, their capacity for sharing varies. But organizations can cultivate more knowledge sharers by examining their workplace culture and providing employees with the tools and technology they need, such as a learning management system, to share experience and expertise more freely.

Creating a culture of learning and sharing is core to organizational success.  Learning, training and mentoring programs – both formal and informal – provide opportunities to break down trust barriers, open the lines of communication and collaboration, boost confidence, and eliminate fear and uncertainty.

Connect with your team. Understand their wants, needs, limitations and frustrations. Identify what needs to be developed in order to achieve success. As my colleague, Jody, perfectly wrote in her blog a few weeks ago, “the gap between current reality and desired destination can be filled by building the needed skills and abilities from within the workforce, if you provide the opportunity.”

P.S.: It’s worth noting that there’s also a hybrid of knowledge sharers, called knowledge over-sharers, but that’s a whole different blog post.

Knowledge over-sharer (noun): a person who reveals an inappropriate amount of detail about his or her life.

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