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Sharing Knowledge and Information - 6 October 2015

It's rare to pick up a business book these days without seeing at least one reference to the present 'information age'.  It's become a cliche even though it's undeniably true.  But managing this truism, from a workplace leadership perspective, poses a challenge for many leaders who, on the one hand, don't want to overwhelm employees with too much information but, on the other, don't want to give them too little.

Insights on how to deal with this conundrum can be gleaned from a new analysis published in the Journal of Business and Technical Communication.  In essence, the analysis demonstrates that many leaders mistake information for knowledge.  This isn't semantics.  The two concepts are quite distinct with very different results.

Information is about data.  It reflects the need for spreadsheets, codes, and documentation.  In other words, it can be managed.  Knowledge, conversely, is about wisdom.  It reflects the need for experience, perspective, and influence.  It cannot be managed but it can be inspired.

So how can you inspire people to acquire knowledge and, more importantly, to share it?  The answer, according to this synthesis of prior work, is to establish three informal roles:

Knowledge brokers:  These are the connectors.  They're the individuals within your team who have built relationships throughout the organisation such that they're able to introduce one person to another for mutual benefit.  You should recognise and promote their ability to unite stakeholders, break down silos, and collaborate with disparate colleagues.

Knowledge stewards:  These are the cultivators.  They're the people tasked with helping others produce and share the knowledge that already exists within them.  This could include employees whose role you expand to include coaching and mentoring.  Or it might even be workplace trainers you encourage to facilitate more than teach.

Knowledge researchers:  These are the creators.  They're responsible for generating new knowledge.  You might send them to conferences with the intention of returning with fresh insights to impart.  Alternatively, you could reward them for reading academic journals and industry publications, which they then communicate to everyone else in a learnable and memorable manner.

As they say, knowledge is power.  But there's probably more power in knowledge.


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