Knowledge hoarding

Agencies find incentives can encourage the reluctant to share what they know

Although passing along expertise and lessons learned can boost an agency's productivity, a culture of knowledge hoarding presents quite a challenge as agencies seek ways to promote sharing.

But several agencies seem to have found at least a partial solution. They are motivating their employees to support budding knowledge management initiatives by establishing incentive programs.

"Incentives don't do everything," said Jay Mandelbaum, research analyst for acquisition initiatives in the office of the undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics. "But they have to [be] part of a comprehensive plan to implement" knowledge management.

If knowledge is power, managers and staff tend to guard this knowledge, wary of the effects on their own positions if they share, Mandelbaum said. Employees also tend to hoard their time, don't ask others to share insights and don't trust those who ask them. "Trust is an important one. You're worried about what people will do when they take your knowledge out of context."

To tackle the information-sharing barriers, the office of the undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics developed an integrated process team of public and private partners to develop guidelines and recommendations to encourage sharing among acquisition workers. "We looked at those behaviors and tried to figure out where incentives might make a difference," Mandelbaum said.

Leaders of an organization can promote a culture of sharing by highlighting knowledge sharing in strategic plans.

"Leadership is trying to align the business goals of the organization with the [knowledge management] activities, so KM is aimed at solving those business problems," Mandelbaum said.

Leaders should even take it one step further, Mandelbaum said, by including knowledge sharing in performance measures for career advancement and in the hiring process.

Sharing knowledge may benefit an organization in the long run, but employees need recognition in the early stages of a project, said Susan Nappi, the U.S. Army's Communications-Electronics Command project lead for knowledge management in the office of the deputy chief of staff for operations and plans.

Officials have grasped that idea and recognize employees at the command's quarterly awards ceremony, a program started about a year ago that rewards individuals and teams with as much as $300.

The money might be minimal to some, Nappi said, but it's the formal awards ceremony, complete with winners' names in the program and photographs and handshakes with the commanding general, that really makes the difference.

Employees who have taken advantage of knowledge management and sharing may also receive a personalized "two-star note," a letter from the two-star commanding general on his stationery. "He doesn't give them out widely," Nappi said. "Receiving one is a big deal."

While some agencies are devising incentive programs, one agency hasn't had to struggle to create a sharing environment. For the U.S. Coast Guard, a relatively small agency faced with critical operations such as rescue and security missions, knowledge hoarding isn't a cultural issue, said the Coast Guard's chief knowledge officer, Nat Heiner.

"The Coast Guard is an inherently small organization relative to the missions we tackle," Heiner said. "We are forced immediately into a mode to work together."

Rewards may work in some agencies, but not at the Coast Guard.

"If I tried to impose an incentive, it would be considered pretty laughable. It would be like incentivizing people to breathe," Heiner said. Instead, he and other Coast Guard officials are charged with finding ways to facilitate this sharing, such as creating knowledge depositories and communities of practice.

NEXT STORY: Army's FCS moving to next phase

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