Knowledge management's generation gap

The reaction to a recent blog post by Steve Kelman highlighted one of the barriers to knowledge management: animosity between those who know and those who need to know.

Kelman reported on how the FBI has developed an innovative mentoring program for its acquisition workforce. But the topic of mentoring stirred up a lot of bad feelings among employees old and young who saw little hope in working together.

James M., who came up through the Air Force’s Copper Cap intern program, said his experience was not a good one.


Related story: The high-impact approach to knowledge sharing


“What I have observed in my six years from some of the ‘seasoned specialists’ at the operational level is they lack initiative, creativity and drive to increase their abilities, mostly doing only what is required of them and nothing more,” he wrote. “I had to do everything short of begging to get senior specialists and contracting officers to participate in my development as an intern.”

Meanwhile, an older reader was irate that some agencies try to retain talent by promoting young acquisition workers more quickly than their experience would seem to justify.

“I have witnessed two occasions that newly graduated interns are promoted beyond the seasoned specialists,” the reader wrote. “The seasoned specialists have over 20 years of experience, were raised in the field from the ground up, but lack college so they are not promotable. And these are the people being tasked to ‘mentor’ the newbies.”

About the Author

John Monroe is Senior Events Editor for the 1105 Public Sector Media Group, where he is responsible for overseeing the development of content for print and online content, as well as events. John has more than 20 years of experience covering the information technology field. Most recently he served as Editor-in-Chief of Federal Computer Week. Previously, he served as editor of three sister publications: civic.com, which covered the state and local government IT market, Government Health IT, and Defense Systems.

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Reader comments

Thu, May 20, 2010 Peter G. Tuttle, CPCM

Remember the old saying "Knowledge is power?" An offshoot of this is that knowledge provides job security (or a perception of it). Many times folks are unwilling or reluctant to share, since previous experiences of sharing what they knew came back and bit them. Unfortunately, this happens more than we wish to admit - not everyone is enlightened about the value of knowledge management, both to the organization and the individual. It's tough to get people to share, especially when they don't see any tangible reward or benefit (e.g. what's in it for them). Leaders need to establish an atmosphere of trust so that older workers feel that they can safely share what they make them valuable to an organization without fear. If they think that once their knowledge is mined that they'll be let go or that there is no benefit - you won't get anyone to share anything. After all, we are dealing with humans here, even though this is the 21st Century.

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