Thursday, May 07, 2009

Knowledge Sharing and Recognition: a Guest Blog Post by "Steve’s HR Technology Blog"

This Guest Post authored by Steve Boese is part of the HR Blog Exchange, a fun project that was cooked up a couple of weeks ago on Twitter, details on the project are here.

Employee collaboration, the capture of tacit or implicit knowledge, and fostering a culture of continuous learning and development are pressing issues for many organizations today. Factors such as looming retirements of the Baby Boom generation of workers, increased competitive pressures, globalization, and the rapid pace of change alone or in combination, conspire to make the ‘knowledge sharing’, the ability of an organization to encourage and support individual employees to willingly and effectively share their expertise with others, and with the organization overall a critical imperative in 2009.

Organizations realize they must try to stem the loss of knowledge and expertise, develop more effective and thorough repositories of institutional knowledge, and ensure that employees are able and willing to contribute to the organizational knowledge. This is a complex problem however, and one that has many challenging elements. Some of the issues that organizations must address when trying to build an effective knowledge sharing environment are identification of the business issues that can be addressed with better employee knowledge sharing and collaboration, determining the structure and format of the knowledge sharing platform (there are literally hundreds of competing technologies in this space), and creating an environment where employees are willing and able to easily share knowledge, and actually create the information repository. The specific technology implemented (wiki, internal social network, portal, forum, etc.) is important as it supports the business goals, but not the most important consideration when analyzing motivations and barriers to participation.

In my HR Technology Class, we utilize collaborative platforms, and discuss some of the research on the most effective enablers of information sharing, (sometimes referred to as ‘Community Participation’). We also examine some of the barriers that have been identified that inhibit or reduce community participation. Although it may seem that these kind of platforms and information repositories are very recent developments, in fact, there has been a fairly significant amount of research as to their use in organizations, and in particular the enablers and barriers to employee community participation.

One of the main drivers or enablers of increased and effective community participation are so-called ‘Personal Benefits’, things like the achievement of status, self-esteem, ability to contribute, career advancement, and material gain (monetary and other compensation). In particular, research has shown that status and recognition to be powerful drivers of participation and knowledge-sharing, even indicating these types of ‘soft’ rewards to be more effective than tangible rewards like cash or bonuses. In the workplace, as in many ‘social’ organizations, achieving status, becoming a recognized expert or thought leader can be a powerful motivator, and encourage and inspire employees to contribute their knowledge to the organization’s knowledge repository.

In a modern, knowledge-sharing platform, or information repository like a wiki, or an internal social network, electronic recognition could take many forms. Many of these platforms have tools to ‘rate’ contributions as helpful, or to mark a particular contribution as a ‘favorite’. Employees that have accumulated the highest ratings or the most ‘favorites’ are seen as ‘experts’ and new members to the organization can view these expert employees profiles when they are adapting and learning about the organization’s culture and processes. The organization could also develop and implement a recognition program, where employees are rewarded for making a specified amount of contributions to the knowledge-base (articles, blog posts, helpful answers, etc.). An organization could create the electronic version of the ‘recognition certificate’ that could be attached to the employee’s profile, indicating that employee has demonstrated achievements and value to the organization’s knowledge base.

Recognition is still important in the knowledge-sharing, information overload environment. It could be that the mechanisms of delivery are changing, but the fundamental idea of recognizing achievement and contribution by employees is still important, and still an effective driver for organization success.

Steve Boese is an HR Technology Instructor and Consultant that publishes "Steve's HR Technology" a blog about the intersection of HR and technology. Steve can be contacted at, and can be found on Twitter at sbjet.

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