How Tech Information Sharing And Information Reuse Profit Your Total Group

By Jeff Koyen

Oracles don’t cut it anymore. Knowledge that emerges from on high—distributed top-down, in modern management lingo—is unlikely to meet the needs of the contemporary employee.

Teresa Dietrich would seem to agree. “We at Stack Overflow believe in the democratization of knowledge,” she says.

As Stack Overflow’s chief product and technology officer, Dietrich has a guiding hand in this democratizing process. She’s a proponent of putting the power of knowledge sharing and reuse into the hands of all employees—and in a very human manner.

“The foundation that we’re built on is question-and-answer,” she says—and that foundation is, in her words, “human-centric.” She adds: “We learn by asking questions and getting answers.”

The benefits of a democratized knowledge sharing platform are obvious to its users. But how does it benefit the entire organization? In a number of ways.

Peer-To-Peer Support At Scale

We’re all knowledge workers at the end of the day,” Dietrich says. “You give us a computer and we’re expected to be productive and create things.” 

But knowledge workers’ value, she notes, doesn’t derive only from what they produce in isolation. It also derives from the way in which their work helps “the whole organization” advance.

In a post-pandemic world of hybrid work environments where the proverbial watercooler doesn’t exist, this peer-to-peer support is more valuable than ever. But, as Dietrich puts it, “How happy are you when you answer the same question for the 20th time this month?”

Knowledge sharing is peer-to-peer support at scale: Answer one question once, and everyone else can find that answer in the knowledge base. People can add their own know-how to the article and share it with other colleagues. The expert who originally added a piece of information to the system, meanwhile, can avoid redundant questioning from colleagues, thus remaining free to do more meaningful work—a measurable benefit for the company itself.

Less Pressure On Valuable Employees

Success in the workplace can be a double-edged sword: The better we perform, the more is asked of us. This is particularly true in knowledge-intensive areas, such as IT and HR. The more our best employees know, the more questions they’ll field.

Great employees can feel like they’re always balancing their own responsibilities with the expectation that they’ll “share their knowledge and help their colleagues,” Dietrich says. “How do you help them share their knowledge with others while also not burning them out?”

These employees benefit enormously from a knowledge sharing platform—especially in a project’s earliest stages, when they can answer the most commonly asked questions once, and for everyone. Not only are they saving time, but they’re finding relief from the burden of being the “resident expert,” which can be a stressful thing to be. 

Procedurally Preserved Knowledge

For HR, the most obvious benefits of knowledge sharing manifest themselves during the onboarding process. And for good reason—welcoming new employees is a repetitive process that a knowledge sharing platform can simplify.

Knowledge sharing can make off-boarding better, too, enabling the more efficient capture of the departing employee’s knowledge.

When a subject matter expert moves on and leaves behind gigantic exercises in written documentation, problems can result. It can feel “overwhelming and challenging,” as Dietrich puts it.

Dietrich recommends breaking such documentation down into easily digestible answers to specific questions. This, she says, will be “less overwhelming” for whoever’s taking up the departing employee’s responsibilities, allowing the inheritor to “build on” the knowledge left behind.

New Ways To Reward Top Talent

When it comes to measuring employee success, there’s no shortage of yardsticks. But it’s never been easy to assign a specific value to expertise and reward the person who possesses it accordingly.

Exactly that is now possible, however, thanks to new knowledge reuse metrics, which measure how often someone visits a piece of content and then doesn’t ask another question. 

For managers, this opens up the possibility of rewarding those who share cogent, compelling articles with their colleagues.

You can identify who in an organization is in fact “sharing the most knowledge,” Dietrich says—and reward them with recognition.

Self-Service Pays Dividends

Much has been written about the next generation of employees, but rarely has any consensus been reached. Are they more collaborative than were workers of earlier generations, or more independent? Are they more apt to seek approval or to buck convention?

For Dietrich, what’s important is this: “They want answers, and they want them now.”

Knowledge sharing systems eliminate the wasted time associated with the process of finding out who can answer questions, tracking those people down and eliciting clear, precise information from them.

The knowledge people require, Dietrich says, is “there for everyone to see.”

A platform also eliminates the anxiety that can attend searching for information. There may be no such thing as a dumb question, but many employees will still prefer being free to discover answers on their own time—and their own terms.

Fostering Diversity And Democratization

In the end, knowledge sharing and reuse are about positive company culture. A great knowledge platform fosters democratization by putting info in everybody’s hands. It flattens the hierarchies that can form when “experts” possess key knowledge and “nonexperts” don’t. It eliminates the need for the latter to approach the former in a process that can be inefficient. All of this makes for better teams, with higher levels of internal trust and cohesion.

“We talk about diversity. Diversity of thought, diversity of experience, diversity of education are all so important,” Dietrich says. What better way to show new employees that their expertise is valued than by inviting them to share it, and then making sure that they are “recognized and feel satisfaction right away”?

Jeff Koyen is an award-winning journalist, media entrepreneur and early cryptocurrency investor. He lives in Curaçao with his family.

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