Are Your Employees Paying Learning Forward?

8 Tips for L&D to Improve Knowledge Sharing at Work

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Nearly 80% of business executives call information mission critical for today’s organizations. Yet, six in 10 say employees are challenged to find information when it’s needed. In fact, estimates suggest that individuals spend about a third of their workday searching for information.

Those searches don’t go so well either. One study found that employees require as many as eight tries to find information they’re seeking, and about a third of workers spend up to 25 minutes searching every time they need to find specific documents or details. In fact, only one in five searches are successful on the first try.

Those numbers emphasize how important it can be—to organizations and employees, alike—to ensure that knowledge acquisition doesn’t stop when training is completed. That’s why top learning professionals are actively encouraging people to take newly gained information and skills back to their colleagues and work teams. In our need-to-know-it-now business world, knowledge sharing has become a critical tool, one your employees can use to pay learning forward.  (You can help them along with the information in our L&D Knowledge Sharing Tip Sheet.)

How Knowledge Sharing Helps Organizations

As an L&D pro, you know that understanding the why behind learning is crucial. For organizations, the whys underlying knowledge sharing are important, too, because they translate to tangible business benefits. Here are a few of the potential top payoffs when employees regularly share knowledge:

  • Improved collaboration and interaction. 
  • Enhanced awareness of business and strategic objectives, resource availability, and customer needs and preferences.
  • Improved performance and operational efficiencies.
  • Better identification and communication of internal best practices.
  • Faster customer response time. 
  • Reduced time to productivity for new hires and internal movers.
  • More effective transfer and retention of knowledge.
  • Better organizational agility, resiliency, and response to change. 
  • Improved identification of high-potential employees, influencers, and potential future leaders

Of course, knowledge sharing offers benefits at the individual level, too. Improved job performance, enhanced expertise, greater employability and opportunities for advancement, higher levels of engagement, greater confidence, and other takeaways enable employees to grow both professionally and personally.

Despite the Benefits, Knowledge Sharing Requires Effort

sharing-knowledge-teamVeteran L&D professionals know that even when people understand that knowledge sharing can translate into valuable benefits, it can be difficult to get everyone onboard. In fact, resistance is commonplace.

In the course of our work lives, most of us have encountered information hoarders—colleagues or leaders who view information as power and don’t want to relinquish it. So they mete it out in the tiniest bits possible. They may fear that sharing information with others means they somehow will become less valuable to the organization. Some may even fear that knowledge sharing in the workplace could put their jobs in jeopardy. Still others, may feel empowered by hoarding information because only they possess certain skills or perform specific tasks or jobs. By closely guarding that status they enjoy a sense of being indispensable.

Those insecure information misers and overly confident one-offs will need to be convinced that when knowledge sharing is done constructively, it doesn’t detract from or threaten their standing. Rather, it enhances it. For L&D, that means anticipating and purposefully addressing fears and information hoarding must be part of any strategies to encourage knowledge sharing.

The core ideas those employees must understand are these:

  1. Collaboration and teamwork are becoming more important in driving business results, and shared knowledge is vital to team success. 
  2. Sharing information and expertise doesn’t take away from individuals. Instead, it emphasizes what makes each of us special, the unique contributions we have to offer. Those attributes—that collective knowledge—strengthens the team (and the organization).

Attitudes Can Fuel Resistance, Too

information-hoardingInformation hoarding isn’t the only hurdle for L&D when it comes to encouraging employees to pay learning forward. Attitudes also play a big role in willingness to share knowledge—or not. Some emotional factors that contribute to employee reluctance or resistance:

  • Concerns about being perceived as self-important or arrogant—a know-it-all.
  • Beliefs that co-workers are not open to knowledge sharing by their peers, preferring to receive information from managers.
  • Feelings of mistrust because previous information sharing experiences did not go well or past bosses were not supportive of knowledge sharing.
  • Worries that taking time away from work to share knowledge with others will adversely affect personal productivity or that there simply isn’t enough time in the workday to pay learning forward.

How to address such concerns? Individual performance discussions are beyond the scope of L&D, although, in extreme cases, the function can identify problem behavior and reach out to managers. As always, the main lever L&D can pull to neutralize negative attitudes is education. When addressing knowledge sharing in training sessions, acknowledging that worrisome feelings are normal and involving employees in brainstorming ways to resolve negative emotions can be a constructive approach for all parties.

On the leadership side, some managers may feel usurped or resent the fact that employees want to learn from their peers. In reality, managers who are good developers of talent and encourage their employees to share knowledge shine far brighter than those who tamp down peer-learning efforts.

With the increasing focus in organizations on social learning and the inclusion of talent development in formal job expectations for leaders at all levels, poor reactions on the part of managers should become a less prevalent issue as peer knowledge sharing and content contributions grow more commonplace. As with employees, thoughtful training for managers on knowledge sharing and peer learning—including feelings and reactions related to those activities—can be a helpful intervention.


High-Tech May Work, But It Isn’t a Requirement


Just as the whys behind knowledge sharing vary, so can the how. Many companies have, or are implementing, internal social collaboration tools or knowledge management systems, making possible online communication and readily accessible electronic information storage. Certainly, those approaches have many proponents and satisfied users, but they don’t serve the needs or circumstances of all organizations.

Fortunately for companies lacking the culture, infrastructure, or resources to implement and support electronic systems, knowledge sharing in organizations is not exclusively high-tech. In fact, it doesn’t require technology at all. Casual conversations—among colleagues, leader-to-leader, or between leaders and employees—offer abundant opportunities to share information. So do more structured settings, from small team gatherings to department and all-company meetings. Further, on-the-job learning experiences, formal or informal, are very effective vehicles for demonstrating and sharing new skills and knowledge—and excellent options for employees to pay learning forward by teaching their colleagues.

When it comes to successful knowledge sharing, the bottom line is about mindset and the workplace environment. What’s really needed are people who are dedicated to ongoing learning and willing to share their knowledge and skills. Beyond that, an organizational culture of trust is vital to create an atmosphere that makes it safe to express opinions, try new things, and make mistakes without fear of failure. In companies that value continuous learning, where people are open to new ideas and ways of working, and where open communication enables collaborative relationships, employees find the conditions needed to pay learning forward—and they do.

For L&D: 8 Tips to Encourage Knowledge Sharing

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To help you encourage employees to pay learning forward through better knowledge sharing, here are 8 tips for L&D:


  1. Educate employees and leaders about knowledge sharing, its value, and how to do it. During live training, talk about taking learning back to team members, and remember to include discussions about the feelings and reactions that may accompany knowledge sharing and peer learning. For online training, embed quick visual reminders in learning assets. Create handouts that make it easy for training participants to pass along what they’ve learned.
  2. Use training methods that encourage knowledge sharing. Most L&D strategies incorporate a blend of learning methods. Add job shadowing, rotations, and other interactive methods that involve sharing knowledge and expertise. Add another twist to blended learning by creating a regular program of brainstorming sessions. Ask experts in functional areas to facilitate by doing a short presentation on an emerging or critical business topic followed by a 15—20-minute session to elicit and share ideas. Instead of thinking long term, start with a pilot: Schedule sessions during one quarter of the year, and see how it goes.
  3. Start early. Onboarding often includes talks by organizational leaders. Expand that idea to the peer level by inviting functional area experts to do presentations and share their know-how with new hires. Talk about paying learning forward during onboarding. To encourage knowledge sharing and continue training during and after the transition from onboarding/re-boarding to new job, assign experienced employees to act as buddies or mentors to new hires (and internal movers).
  4. Encourage (and teach) multidisciplinary teamwork across silos and business functions. Provide training in effective collaboration, networking, and communication skills to drive knowledge sharing company-wide.
  5. Create special events (live and/or virtual) to promote ongoing knowledge sharing and continuous learning. Include round-table chats on varied topics at large learning events or internal career fairs, using departmental subject matter experts as presenters. Sound like old hat? Try a refresh similar to speed-dating to make knowledge sharing and learning fast-paced and fun. Take it virtual, if your organization has the resources. Offer small prizes as added incentives.
  6. Volunteer L&D to spearhead a project to capture and share internal best practices. One idea: interview internal subject matter experts or project leaders and write short case studies on innovative solutions or work processes. Draft a team of helpers from multiple disciplines.
  7. Advocate for time in meetings for people to share and contribute new ideas. Model how it’s done by building knowledge sharing time into L&D staff meetings, then challenge leaders in other business functions to do the same. Some companies invite employees to take turns facilitating meetings.
  8. If your organization has an online collaboration tool or knowledge sharing platform, forge an active role for L&D. By taking ownership of all, or some, facets of enterprise collaboration platforms, L&D can monitor and curate employee-contributed content and ensure frequently sought topics or types of information are easy to find. Reviewing reports and analytics on platform activity enables L&D to identify emerging trends and hot topics, seed discussions, and set up related online communities.

Better Knowledge Sharing Begins with Media Partners

At Media Partners, we understand that learning professionals like you need tools and support to improve knowledge sharing in your organization.  For more on this topic, don't miss our related post How Executives Pay Learning Forward: Leaders-as-Teachers Programs. A tips sheet is included in that post as well.

Should you decide to try monthly brainstorming programs to bolster knowledge sharing, we have engaging, effective training videos and a comprehensive checklist to prepare the leaders who will facilitate these sessions.

Want to offer skill-building training to drive better knowledge sharing through collaboration and teamwork? Our MANAGER MOMENTS: How to Build a High Performing Team microlearning series is the fast-track to team-leadership success.

Hundreds of award-winning videos cover the topics you need to enable your L&D team and your organization’s employees to gain extensive knowledge and skills and share them with others confidently and enthusiastically.  We even have a video on peer-to-peer coaching, When the Coach is You: Skills for Helping Others Learn What You Already Know, and this helpful post, 4 Peer-to-Peer Coaching Tips. For video recommendations in specific development areas, use Live Chat or give us a call at (800) 408-5657.