Thursday 11 November 2010

Bridging the generation divide in knowledge sharing

Generation Gap
Originally uploaded by Joi

This blog post is prompted by Suresh Nair, who added a comment to this post as follows "I have got yet another thing to point out - the old usually are stubborn and are a hard nut to crack. The young do share the available knowledge liberally to at least make their position strong".
Let me tell you about some findings from a recent piece of work, conducting a detailed KM assessment in an organisation.

This organisation had a major issue. The bulk of their knowledge was held by an ageing workforce, and they needed to transfer this to the next generation of young graduates. They had set up a system of mentoring, and personal development plans, but somehow this was not working. When we investigated, these are some of the things we heard

Old guys
"Unfortunately the young guys are not responding. I have to go looking for them -- I have to pull them out of bed to come and learn".

We are ready to share our knowledge with them, but they have to ask. We don't know what they want; we can't read their minds"

"They never ask us anything"

Young guys

"The old guys don't share with us. Maybe they are worried we will take our jobs"

"they are too busy solving problems to train us"

"They never tell us anything"

Do you see the problem? "They never ask us anything - They never tell us anything"

It's not that the old guys are stubborn or the new guys are lazy - both of them would share knowledge, but there is a gap between them, and nothing to bridge the gap. Each is waiting for the other to make the first move. There is no process to help them, and there is no incentive to close the gap either. The young guys lose face by asking to be taught, the old guys are distracted from "important work" by teaching (they see themselves as doers, not teachers). So the knowledge does not get shared.

So how to we get round a problem like this?
First of all we recognise that the problem does not lie with the old guys, nor does it lie with the young guys. The young guys would ask, if they knew how to ask, and if they had an opportunity to ask. The old guys would share knowledge willingly if they thought the young guys were interested. The problem is with the system, and with the assumption that if you say "share knowledge", people will just do it, with no process, no technology, and no governance.
So we introduce some process. We train the young guys in knowledge harvesting. We give them some status as "knowledge managers". We give the old guys some status as internal consultants. We create approaches that close the gap. Then we monitor and measure and track, and we support the people who need support, encourage the people that need encouragement, and recognise the people who need recognition.
What we don't do, is blame the people.

1 comment:

Suresh Nair said...

Thank you Nick for the prompt response.

I liked the idea of making the oldies internal consultants and the fresh blood knowledge harvesters.

Here again, I feel, on the idea plane it will work fine, but will it happen in reality?. May be we need to give it a try and see.

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