Industrialist Andrew Carnegie once said, “The only irreplaceable capital an organization possesses is the knowledge and ability of its people. The productivity of that capital depends on how effectively people share their competence with those who can use it.”

More so than ever, this statement holds true.

To remain competitive and successful, organizations must create a culture of knowledge sharing and continuous learning.

Creating such a culture requires an open, intuitive and modern approach. Organizations must create an engaging knowledge sharing experience that encourages bi-directional participation of “knowledge seekers” and “knowledge providers.”

This requires a shift from “supply-side” knowledge management to “demand-side” activation and anticipation.

Supply-Side vs. Demand-Side KM

Supply-side knowledge management (KM) ensures that knowledge is supplied to the right people when needed and relies on a top-down method of information dissemination.

Demand-side KM values the creation of new knowledge and the growth of that knowledge from the bottom up. It encourages collaboration and fosters innovation.

Where supply-side approach places a higher value of more prescriptive and scheduled knowledge sharing (manuals, reports, training), the demand-side approach finds equal importance in the ability to collaborate, combine, and share knowledge to create innovative solutions.

3 Common Demand-Side Challenges

However, creating demand-side knowledge sharing can be a difficult task. The following three points highlight common challenges organizations face, as well as provide solutions to establishing a culture of learning.

1. Employees fear knowledge sharing.

Often times, employees associate knowledge sharing with negative consequences. They fear embarrassment and believe posing questions to colleagues will make them appear unqualified for their position and result in job loss. Others would rather hoard knowledge than participate in demand-side knowledge sharing.

Employees hoard information for several reasons. Some acquire “deep smarts” after years of developing a niche. They become territorial and lack the willingness to share their hard-earned skills and experience.

Learning Opportunities

Others feed off of superiority – they enjoy feeling needed and would rather coworkers depend on them for information. Some employees hoard knowledge for selfish reasons; they hope their expertise will result in a pay increase or job security.

To avoid this problem, companies must create a work environment where knowledge sharing is fluid and natural. Management must communicate that it is acceptable to ask questions. Further, employees must be encouraged and expected to share tacit knowledge openly and willingly.

2. Employees have no way to document or access knowledge.   

The capture and dissemination of knowledge is the cornerstone of a successful knowledge management strategy. In addition to knowledge capture, demand-side knowledge sharing requires an open and interactive learning experience.

Many tools and platforms are now available that allow the development of organizational communities where people can easily connect, engage and interact. Most of these systems allow people to pose questions to the community, have profiles and visibility into all of the questions and shared knowledge that has transpired.

3. Executives do not support knowledge sharing.

One of the main reasons employees fail to share knowledge is a lack of support at the executive level. Instead of achieving increased productivity, collaboration, and innovation, the organization remains stagnant; knowledge remains undocumented and inaccessible, causing the risk of knowledge loss to increase significantly.

To avoid this problem, executives must lead by example and set employee expectations. They must drive knowledge management adoption and encourage collaboration. Further, management should recognize and reward both knowledge seekers and knowledge contributors for fostering the bi-directional lifecycle of knowledge discovery.

Providing incentives and incorporating gamification – badges, reputation points and expert status – into the process can spur both adoption and enterprise-wide growth of demand-side knowledge sharing. Knowledge discovery and sharing must be celebrated, not demanded. Only then can organizations truly create and sustain a culture of continuous learning.  

Traditionally, the corporate world has operated prioritized supply-side, but today, with the shift in workforce demographics, the growth of knowledge management tools, and a greater emphasis being placed on innovation and collaboration, organizations must incorporate demand-side knowledge management into their company culture.