A New View of Working Relationships: Part Three—Knowledge Sharing

Last week we introduced the idea of customer—supplier relationships at work, relationships based on the idea that everyone both gets and gives important things to others.

This idea of customer—supplier relationships is a fundamental foundation for taking a new view of working relationships, one of five such foundations we have identified. We introduce the second one today, and it is this:

We must relearn how to share.

We don’t much share at work, really share. Our knowledge is valuable to us: it protects our job, makes us feel important, and creates respect in others. But for companies to work really well, knowledge sharing is critical. And we’ve forgotten how to do it. Why? Because it’s been trained out of us.

Even before you reached kindergarten, it’s likely that you had some exposure to the “rightness” of sharing. Perhaps you had a sibling or a cousin close in age that you played with frequently. If so, your parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles probably all told you more than a few times that you needed to “play nice” with someone or to let “your little sister take a turn.” Sharing is what we were taught to do, what we were expected to do and what we needed to do. Sharing, we were told in many different ways, is a cultural norm.

But then we graduated from kindergarten into the mainstream environments of our elementary grades, and slowly the ideas of sharing and independence slip into competition, as if you can’t really do one and also the other. And it’s this dichotomy that continues into our adult lives and into the workplace. But how does it happen?

It begins very early, during the time we transition from a sharing-based play/learn environment to a more learning-centric environment in school. As we move through the grades, each progressive world we are led to relies more on individual measurement, usually in the form of grades. We are tested on what we learn, study, and know for ourselves. And slowly, as we move through our school years, what used to be sharing is given a new name: cheating.

For those of us who go on to college, that training becomes even more intense. Despite the study groups and the joint projects, despite the way students may take notes for each other in order to skip a class or two, there is now an even stronger emphasis on independence, on that individualized grade. Now, in college, you’re not just going to be graded on what you know, you’re also going to be graded on what other people don’t know. It’s called the curve, and it means, simply, this: To score well, to get a good grade, you must be better than the average within your class. Inherently that means that you must know more than other people around you in order to truly succeed.

And so there we all stood at one time or another: on the threshold of our working lives, degree in hand, gladdened (or not) by how we’ve scored throughout twelve or sixteen or twenty classroom-filled years, and ready to move forward into hopefully fulfilling and interesting careers. Eventually we find that door and begin, bringing with us all the training and learning worked into us over the entirety of our educated lives. And one of those things we’ve learned, that is now practically bred into us, is how not to share.

But sharing our knowledge with others (and having them share theirs with us) is a critical component for creating the customer—supplier environment we want and need for our organizations. As leaders we must learn to recognize the importance of encouraging and enabling sharing whenever and wherever we can.

Photo courtesy of: otnaydur / 123RF Stock Photo

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3 Ways to Retain your Employees (Hint: It’s about Learning…)

We used to think that people leave their jobs because they weren’t earning enough, that “cash was king.” Turns out that’s not the case. Not anymore.

According to Diane Stafford, a business, economics, and workplace writer with The Kansas City Star, The biggest reason people leave their jobs today is that they’re not learning enough. She cites a recent study published by The Harvard Business Review which says that:

Multiple studies find that today’s younger workers have absolutely no intention of sticking around if they don’t feel like they’re learning, growing and being valued in a job. Beth N. Carvin, a consultant who has spent 12 years researching exit interviews, finds that a loss of training opportunities and a lack of mentors in the workplace are two of the biggest reasons why young workers leave. “Companies need to recognize that these young workers are very mobile,” Carvin said. “They have to understand that they want a personal and clearly articulated career path.”

The loss of such talent will ultimately hurt any company’s bottom line, not only because of the potential “brain drain,” but also because of the high costs of recruiting, hiring, and training replacements. Maintaining and sustaining performance, therefore, should be a key goal for your business. Retaining and providing opportunity for learning for your top talent, especially those who will potentially grow to lead your business in the future, should be a top goal.

Here are 3 important ways to create a learning-centric environment that will encourage your top, fresh talent to stick around:

  1. Provide opportunity to learn new things. Often. There’s nothing more deadening to a thirty-year-old (or younger) employee than to be stuck doing the same job the same way day in and day out. Mix it up a bit, even for entry-level folks. Is there a new project or program being talked about? Is there a new planning group bouncing around interesting ideas? Bring in the new, raw talent to be part of these forming conversations. Inevitably, you’ll find a perspective you had’nt considered, a viewpoint you hadn’t realized might be important. They’ll surprise you with what they know and what they contribute every time.
  2. Encourage mistakes and reward do-overs. Really! Nobody (not even those of us who are more “seasoned”) learns anything unless we try something once, perhaps fail, and try it again in a different way. Unless you are in the business of brain surgery, I’m guessing that there’s plenty of runway for your folks to take on new challenges and go with it. Again, the outcome will probably surprise you. More than once I’ve seen someone come up with a new way of doing things—something I hadn’t thought of—that increased everyone’s productivity.
  3. Ask them, and often try what they suggest. Initiate your conversations with a “beginner’s mind”, staying completely neutral and having no hidden agenda or preconceived outcome in mind. Be curious about what they think and where they’d go with a problem. Then, try what they come up with. This sends a powerful message that you are listening and that you respect creative opinions. This is the vortex of learning, both for you as a leader and for your workers. When you come out the other end, you’ll both be surprised at the learning that has occurred.

American author and poet Christopher Morley once said that “there are three ingredients in the good life: learning, earning and yearning.” It’s no accident that “learning” is first on the list, for without it the others are much less likely to happen. We, as managers and leaders, are in a unique position to encourage that learning in our younger staff members and, as a consequence, strengthen our organizations overall. These three ideas are just the beginning; I’m sure many of you have your own ideas as well. Please share them in the comments below.

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