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SA business suffering from lack of knowledge transfer in employee management

Philip Yazbek
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Many of us have attended a strategy session, or listened to an impressive speaker, and longed for a method to absorb – efficiently - all of the knowledge presented. Employers know that for their employee management practices to be successful, gaining knowledge is empowering and creates vast opportunity for improvement and growth. Unfortunately, not many people are willing to share their knowledge. People are hesitant to share what they know with others as they believe that protecting this information gives them power over their colleagues or audience.

Many of us have attended a strategy session, or listened to an impressive speaker, and longed for a method to absorb – efficiently - all of the knowledge presented. Employers know that for their employee management practices to be successful, gaining knowledge is empowering and creates vast opportunity for improvement and growth. Unfortunately, not many people are willing to share their knowledge. People are hesitant to share what they know with others as they believe that protecting this information gives them power over their colleagues or audience.

As employees, consultants and leaders become more engrossed in the organisation, they gain valuable knowledge and insights. Many then hold on to this knowledge and become selective as to who they may share it with. I believe that this is a common theme found in many organisations as their people think that withholding information is what makes them successful and gives them the upper hand. Corporate South Africa is currently facing a skills shortage and it is vital that a culture of knowledge-sharing is created within individual organisations to combat this.

The resources spent on having to educate teams on knowledge – which should have been passed down from longer-term employees and leaders - are substantial and unnecessary. The International Data Corporation developed a metric measure referred to as the 'knowledge deficit'. It captures the costs and inefficiencies as a result of intellectual rework, substandard performance and inability to find knowledge resources. The knowledge deficit among Fortune 500 companies is estimated conservatively at US$12 billion (approximately R134 billion) annually.

Not all knowledge gained can be, or rightfully should be, shared but the value of sharing is plentiful – especially in your employee management practices. Knowledge-sharing gives employees and leaders valuable insights into their business, helps to foster a trust relationship and empowers others to learn.

Knowledge is a living breathing entity

For knowledge to live through us, it needs to be sustained. If nothing is done with the knowledge gained, it will become redundant. The advantages and richness of conveying what we know to others - and then what others share with us - is invaluable.

Research by Carol Kinsey Goman, entitled 5 reasons why people don't tell what they know, states that knowledge management resides with people. Organisations invest millions in technology to support knowledge management with the likes of shared portals, collaborative software and intranets, and formulate their strategies to include knowledge management. However, the actual knowledge transfer needs to happen with people.

Goman has also found that people tend to withhold information and only disclose on a need-to-know basis. In her research, she found that people withhold information because they:

  1. Believe that knowledge is power,
  2. Are insecure about the value of their knowledge,
  3. Don't trust each other,
  4. Are afraid of negative consequences, and
  5. Work for other people who do not tell them what they know.

Seugnet Van den Berg, MD at Bizmod, says that for knowledge-sharing to become the norm, it needs to become part of an organisation's culture. Leaders need to become accountable for the sharing of knowledge, they need to drive the process and only then will employees start seeing the benefits and follow their lead.


Philip Yazbek is an industrial psychologist and consultant at Bizmod Consulting. He has a B.Com (honours) in industrial psychology from the North-West University as well as an M.Com in industrial psychology (cum laude), from the same institution.
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