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In writing the lyrics to  the Beatles song “Mean Mr Mustard”, John Lennon was inspired by a newspaper story about a miser who concealed his cash wherever he could in order to prevent people from forcing him to spend it. A miser is stiff a, hoarder someone who hates to spend money.

In relating this miserly attitude to a work scenario, consider what happens on your team when an employee hoards knowledge? You know the type who thinks “I’m the only one who knows how to do this.” It’s only natural for employees to try to look out for their own well being by hoarding valuable information from others. Yet companies consider knowledge acquired on the job as belonging to the company and it is critical that it be shared. Often, employees do not see it that way.

The idea of knowledge hoarding seems to be directly related to protecting one’s job. Most often this occurs in companies where employees have gone through downsizing, firings, or layoffs that are regarded as arbitrary.

When employee are having trouble accessing the knowledge they need in order to do their job. Because other employees who have that information refuses to share, is a detriment to any team. Aside from causing distrust among employees, it also kills any effort to get your team to collaborate. The serious costs of a knowledge hoarder is that the team becomes stifled when it comes to innovation, not to mention upfront issues like bottle-necks with ongoing projects.

Dr. David Zweig, an Assistant Professor of Organization Behavior at the University of Toronto points out, despite many companies’ emphasis on teamwork, most promotions and rewards are given based on individual contributions. So to create a knowledge sharing culture you need to encourage people to work together more effectively, to collaborate and to share – ultimately to make organizational knowledge more productive.

Dr Zweig, Dr. Susan Brodt of Queens University and several colleagues have been studying why people are reluctant to share their knowledge. Their research have found that people with critical knowledge will often protect it as if it were their own property and they will engage in different behaviors to hide knowledge from others. They identified three reasons why employees engage in knowledge hiding. One is interpersonal when people feel that an injustice has been done to them and are distrustful of management. Another is being unsure and being afraid of negative job evaluations so they are better off not sharing anything.And the third reason is the organizational climate.

Dr. Zweig says that companies will need to make knowledge sharing and collaboration a norm in the workplace. He suggests that knowledge sharing, could be part of a performance appraisal. If employees know they will be rewarded for sharing their expertise, they will be more open to doing so,” he says. He also suggests that if companies emphasize positive relationships and trust among employees, then knowledge sharing will become part of the culture.

Help employees to see for themselves that knowledge sharing is in their personal interest. This needs to be explicitly communicated throughout the team that“sharing knowledge is power”, not just that “ knowledge is power”.If employees understand that sharing their knowledge helps them do their jobs more effectively; helps them retain their jobs; helps them in their personal development and career progression; rewards them for getting things done and brings more personal recognition, then knowledge sharing will become a reality.

By hoarding knowledge employees risk not being promoted. Coworkers will probably notice that they are not sharing, and will stop sharing with them which prevents learning, adversely affecting performance, and job security.
The primary reason to share knowledge is because it encourages others to share their knowledge; At some point you’re going to get stuck with a situation and are going to need help.

So don’t have Mean Mr. Mustard’s on your team, encourage knowledge sharing as a way to improve the way that things get done by sharing.

I encourage and invite you to share your knowledge, experiences or thoughts, or comments. You can contact me for more information on soft skills/interpersonal skills workshops that can transform employees.