The Problem with People and Knowledge Collecting

If I give you my knowledge, that makes me less powerful, period. I will not share what I know with […]

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If I give you my knowledge, that makes me less powerful, period. I will not share what I know with you. If I do, well, my value to the organization and the team will diminish. And don’t dare ask me to put what I know into the knowledge base. Forget about it! I won’t.This seems to be the way knowledge management has been perceived throughout time. We can put structures in place. We can implement policies, too. But, as General Colin Powell has said:

“Organization really does not accomplish anything. Plans don’t accomplish anything, either. Theories of management don’t matter much.  Endeavors succeed or fail because of the people involved. Only by attracting and retaining the best people will you accomplish great deeds.”

A robust and working knowledge base is a “great deed” and can be seen in this day and age as a “working miracle!” Why? Because it’s about the people. It’s about getting the people to feel secure enough to add knowledge. It’s about creating buy-in from upper management. For them to know that gathering the information is worthwhile (eventually) and will lead to cost reduction and a better customer experience. It’s about consistent hands-on awareness of what is or is not working, not only in your process but in your people. If your people are not working with you, your “spidey sense” needs to kick in and figure out why!

The People’s Protection

It was a while back when one company called me. The managers were frustrated to their maximum level and about to throw hissy fits. Why you ask?

The management team had asked the level 2 (desktop support) team to transfer some of their lower level knowledge to the knowledge base. It had been a month, and the team was taking a passive-aggressive approach. They had added only four new articles in the KB. Not acceptable. They just would not do it!

Enter Deborah. I sat, asked questions, and listened to the technicians. Yes, they were under the influence that “knowledge is power” and if they gave their knowledge away, they would not have jobs anymore. They would “share” themselves out of a job. And they were not keen to do that, obviously.

I realized that management had told them what to do without telling them the all-important why. This team of individuals was “self-protecting.”

The Human Condition

Humans are not really complicated. And to use an old saying, “there is nothing new under the sun.” Anything that we experience today as a human condition, billions of others have experienced before us.

Our priorities are having our own needs met and protecting ourselves first. If those things are met, then, we will comply, happily and with ease.

In the prior example, that desktop team was protecting their jobs. The need that was being protected was the need of sustenance. That is food, shelter, and water. These folks were afraid that if they added to the knowledge base, that the company would not need them any longer and they would essentially remove themselves from the job by sharing what they knew. Thus that need of “sustenance” was being threatened. They, in turn, began to protect themselves any way they could, which was to refuse to add to the knowledge base, and as a result, they hoarded their knowledge.

I shared with them that this was not the aim of their management. The managers wanted them to offload (shift left) some of that easier knowledge to increase the first call resolution at the support center (level 1) and thereby free up some time for the technicians so that they could give them more challenging work and more complex projects.

Once they understood why, their attitudes changed; there was no need to protect themselves from losing their jobs, and they began to add to the knowledge base with fervor.

Lesson Learned

This is not an extreme example. It happens every day in one way or another. Where we get stuck in any part of our operations is looking at someone’s behavior when they do not abide by the objectives we have in place.

My recommendation here, whether you are building a knowledge base or simply attempting to reach some typical goals this year is to pay attention.

Think past the behavior of your people. In other words, make note of the behavior, but do not judge it without going deeper to identify what is motivating them to behave a specific way.

Each person is different. Each person is protecting something different. People have needs that are more important to them than anything else. If you can tap into that motivational driver, you can get people to do things on their own without too much push or prodding.

What to Look For

“People will tolerate your conclusions, but they act on their own”Rich Berens

According to my friend, Brady Wilson at and author of Beyond Engagement, there are five major needs in the work environment. He encourages me to really listen deeply to what people are saying and find out which need(s) they attempt to meet. Once we know and understand what needs they are attempting to fill, we can use that to engage and energize them.

Here are the five needs and the symptoms of behavior when those needs are not met:


  • Wishy-washy | People-pleaser
  • Gossiper | Complainer
  • Cliquey | Exclusive


  • Micro-manager | Controlling
  • CYA | Finger-pointer
  • Nit-Picker | Overly analytical


  • Maverick | Rule-breaker
  • No follow-through | Unreliable
  • Gambler | Takes unwise risks


  • Takes the credit | Doesn’t recognize others
  • One-upper | Always right
  • Political | Brown-noser


  • Cynical | Hyper-critical
  • Sarcastic | Dark humor
  • Checked out | Jaded

You should be able to see yourself within this list, too. I know my top two are Belonging and Freedom. Earlier in my career, I had experienced my own managers calling me a maverick! I would even throw in Purpose/Meaning as a strong motivator for myself based on the cynical attitude that can show up in my tone and language every now and then. But, enough confession!

Back to Knowledge Collection

Understand that you can implement as many processes as you want, buy as many tools as you want, and construct objectives and tactics to get your knowledge base built, healthy, and robust. The factor that will actually make it work is to know your people and what is important to them.

Don’t assume you know what is important to each of them. Sit down and ask questions. Observe their behavior as a detective gathering evidence for a conviction. Find out what motivates and drives each one of them in the collection of knowledge. Find out why or why not it is important to them. Discover what some of their hindrances may be. Look at the potential that you, as a manager, may be creating interference and hindering their ability to do what you have asked them to do.

Yes, you want to find out what motivates each of them. The processes and objectives you have to implement may constrict you. How do you marry the two? Explain the why, in depth and detail. Get their buy-in. Share the purpose and the reasoning behind the implementation and expectations.

By that time, you are most likely to have everyone’s buy-in and see a change in how people approach knowledge sharing. You may have a few stragglers who will require coaching and adjustment, but they will be in the minority.

What is the lesson here? Limit judging people’s behavior. Find out what motivates each person. Marry their needs with your objectives. Give them the “why.” Watch your knowledge base grow and have a great utilization rate. Achieve the metric measurements you are seeking as a result!

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