Knowledge hoarders: why some people won’t share their knowledge

Catherine Heath | March 20, 2021

In an ideal world, everyone in your team would share their knowledge equally and we would all know exactly how to do our jobs. Unfortunately, the reality is quite different, and knowledge can be bottlenecked in different parts of the company.

Employees have a tendency to hoard knowledge and prevent it being shared with coworkers, so overall company efficiency is affected. This throws up roadblocks to your knowledge management efforts and means that other employees might not have the information they need to do their jobs properly. 

There are many different reasons that this might happen and we’re going to go through some of them. 

They lack process

With the best will in the world, effective knowledge sharing won’t happen without effective processes. Knowledge cannot just rely on individual people sharing it over time – there must be a consistent process that staff can follow. 

Even if your team has an internal knowledge base to contribute to, if staff don’t see the point in adding their own content, don’t think to check the knowledge base when they get stuck, or aren’t given sufficient time to prioritize using it, your KB will start to gather dust. 

Train all your employees on the best way to share their knowledge and create effective knowledge sharing processes. Make sure you have the right tools like an internal knowledge base for employees to contribute to. 

They want to be indispensable

Some people think that knowledge is power and therefore they should keep it for themselves. Although this couldn’t be further from the truth, out of insecurity they believe that if they share their knowledge, their job might be compromised. 

They’ve spent years accumulating their specialized knowledge and they don’t see why they should share it with anyone else. They fear that if they share their knowledge then they might become replaceable and their job security is threatened. 

A supportive work environment will discourage this belief and teach staff that sharing knowledge will be rewarded, and help the whole team to function successfully. No one person needs to be indispensable, but they should be constantly developing themselves and learning new things so they’re an asset to their team. You should reward knowledge sharing among staff, or make it part of job descriptions, metrics, or otherwise recognize when it happens.

They’re not sure of themselves

If someone is still learning it may not occur to the team to share their knowledge for the benefit of the team. Adjusting to a new work environment can be tricky and it may be all that person can do to get on with their daily tasks. 

Some employees will just not have the confidence required to share their knowledge with others, and so even if they have valuable knowledge to contribute they won’t participate. 

Eventually, it’s likely that they will reach a level of confidence in their role that means they will feel comfortable sharing their knowledge with the rest of the team. Execute knowledge management programs that communicate how much value each employee has and what they have to contribute, to encourage them to put themselves forward. 

They don’t get how teams work

Some people are not team players. They don’t see how sharing knowledge will benefit everyone in the team to work more effectively. 

Sadly, not everyone is that committed to their jobs and it won’t occur to them to share their knowledge with their coworkers. As long as they have what they need to do their jobs, they lack the motivation to participate in your knowledge management program. 

These kinds of employees prioritize their own work over everyone else’s and are the worst kind of knowledge hoarders. Showing people how they'd have more time to do their jobs and would spend less time answering emails/questions from other people by documenting their knowledge can be a way to bypass this—then they could just refer people to the knowledge base.

They don’t have time

Employees can be so busy with their role’s standard task that they don’t have time to contribute to a company knowledge base. Knowledge sharing hasn’t been strategically prioritized and so employees won’t be able to take part in knowledge management initiatives. 

The irony is that knowledge management actually saves time in the long run because it makes vital knowledge available to employees searching for it. Knowledge management needs to be prioritized from the top down – senior leaders need to allocate their teams appropriate time to share their knowledge. 

They don’t know what to do

Employees might want to share their knowledge but have not received the appropriate training to allow them to contribute to knowledge management activities. Senior leadership has not modelled the appropriate behaviors or established and communicated clear goals for knowledge sharing. 

If you want your employees to share their knowledge, make sure there are clearly defined channels for them to do so. Bring attention to your knowledge management initiatives and share instructions for how to share knowledge on your intranet. 

They think the recommended way will not work

For some reason, even though employees have received the appropriate training they don’t believe that the knowledge sharing initiatives will work. They have a lack of faith in the system and believe it would be a waste of time to contribute. 

KM leaders, knowledge brokers, and other members of the KM team have to speak to people in small groups or on a one-to-one basis and convince them that knowledge management does work. Share success stories of occasions when employees have benefited from someone sharing their knowledge and results have been enhanced for the business. 

There are no positive consequences for sharing

Employees have been asked to share knowledge but there is no recognition, rewards or other benefits for doing so. They just don’t see why they should invest the time in knowledge management when they don’t get anything out of it. 

You should implement a rewards and recognition program for all employees who participate in knowledge sharing. For example, you could award points to those who share their knowledge and provide rewards for those who reach the top points totals. 

They fear negative consequences for sharing

As mentioned earlier, sometimes employees view their knowledge as giving them power or status within the organization. They fear that if they share knowledge they will lose their status as a guru, or even worse that people will misuse their shared knowledge without attribution. 

Other employees may think they opposite. They worry about answering questions in public in case it exposes their ignorance, makes them appear incompetent, or opens them up to criticism, shame or embarrassment for sharing something improper or incorrect. 

Emphasize that knowledge sharing is critical to the organization’s success. Find ways for people to establish trusting relationships through social networks and face-to-face meetings. 

Set the example yourself

You need to be a knowledge champion in your team and proactively find opportunities to share what you know with colleagues. Everyone’s job is important and there will be things that you take for granted that other people would really benefit from finding out. 

Knowledge management initiatives need knowledge champions to promote them in the workplace. Senior leadership needs to continuously promote the importance of knowledge sharing and set the example themselves if they expect the workforce to follow. 

Reward your employees for knowledge sharing, either financially or simply with enhanced professional status. Give them a reason to share their knowledge and you will find more people coming on board. 

If you encounter anyone who won’t share their knowledge, practice understanding and tell them that you know their work is really important. You’d love it if they would share their expertise with you so you can do your job better.

Our knowledge base software, KnowledgeOwl, is a perfect tool to help employees share knowledge. Take it for a free spin. 

About the author
Catherine Heath
Catherine Heath

Catherine is the Community Builder for KnowledgeOwl. She is also a freelance writer based in Manchester. She writes blogs, social media, copy, and designs owl-based images. 

You can find out more about Catherine on her personal websites Away With Words and Catherine Heath Studios.

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