Fostering Knowledge Management and ending "Mental Hoarding"

I was recently discussing autonomy within Technology departments and it sparked a larger thought process for me.  During that conversation it came up how it seemed that specific people will retain project or company related knowledge vice documenting and sharing that knowledge within that department.

Off the cuff, my initial thought was "Job Security'.  That individuals who do not want to document activities actually want to be that go to person on the subject.  There is some truth to that, holding back critical information is one way to make a person indispensable.  The problem with that in business is in theory that information isn't the individuals, but is actually the businesses information to maintain.  

This is where a basic understanding of exactly what knowledge is, is actually crucial in understanding on how to manage it. Merriam-Webster defines knowledge as: 

 - information, understanding, or skill that you get from experience or education

-  awareness of something : the state of being aware of something

If you look at what that is implying, it implies that all knowledge would have to stem from a person or living entity.  That despite us all believing to some extent that people can naturally be "knowledgable" that in fact it is actually a learned state.  

Now how does that apply to business, specifically Information Technology.  Think of the case where a Network Engineer Designs and implements a network for a business.  That business has paid for both the time and equipment.  Who should retain that knowledge?  Should that network be documented?  Can that Network Engineer choose to hold that information in their head?

Those are all great questions, but the initial answer should be that only a living breathing thing can retain the knowledge, but the business should have a process in place for Knowledge Management (KM).  KM being the information that was garnished from the employees level of Knowledge.  Yes if it wasn't for the employee this network may not have been built this way, but it was, and it was built on behalf of the company.  Companies need to remember that even though it may not be like Intellectual Property (IP), or Business data, it is just as important as any other business related data.  That being said, a policy should always be in place to document the IT Infrastructure.

This brings us back full circle to the employee.  The natural instinct on what causes this problem, is the fact that from the employee perspective, knowledge is power.  As that maybe true to a certain extent in this situation it comes down to mutual trust, and management of the business.   A company shouldn't put itself in a position where they feel held hostage by the knowledge being stuck in an employees head.  An Employee at the same time shouldn't feel that they have to retain that knowledge in their head in order to keep their position.

This is where proper management, communication, and knowledge management policies need to be put in place.  In this example, the Engineer should fully document the work that has been completed.  They should also be educated on how that impacts the business for the best. For instance, being able to cross train, to retain in case of emergency, things of that nature.  Just as importantly they need to be reminded of what they are worth.  That the previous knowledge that is "stuck" in their head isn't their value that their overall knowledge and expertise going forward is what is important.   They need to have that sense of comfortability to realize that their job isn't safe because of what they are keeping in their head but because of who they are and what they are capable of.

In closing, this is one of those areas where it comes back to mutual respect between employee and employer.  The employee needs to respect that they are working for a business, that the work they do is that of the business.  At the same point the business needs to understand that without the work done by their employees the business wouldn't be what it is.  At the end of the day having policies in place, and mutual respect should solve these issuese.