One might easily think this is only an employer issue, but it is not. It is a two-way street. On the practical level, this is always about a person-to-person interaction where both must be active and make an effort. If things are done rightly, this is a win-win situation for the employer and employee, if there ever was one.
Training, knowledge sharing, and information sharing concern everyone who joins work life, the young ones, the experienced and everyone in between. I find it hard to imagine a person or company not benefitting from these activities. Still, I can easily imagine how no training, knowledge sharing, and information sharing are bound to be a showstopper for any career desire and company’s wish to succeed.
We all want to learn, develop, improve, and become ever better in what we do, regardless of our job or organizational level. The desire to experience and learn new things tend to remain with us throughout our careers. This is a fundamental reason why people change jobs. Rightly done, training, knowledge sharing, and information sharing can significantly impact how we experience, develop, and do our job, on how successful we are, and it should take place on every organizational level.
People sometimes say that two issues are like the two sides of a coin; both sides are needed. Otherwise, we have no coin. I like to introduce a new concept and say that “training, knowledge sharing and information sharing” are the three sides of a coin. And in fact, every coin has three sides, the front, the back, and the circular side of the coin. And all three sides are needed here. Training, knowledge sharing, and information sharing are intimately connected, but, in my mind, they are three different ways we can help people enjoy their work and become better at their job.
However, what kind of outcome training, knowledge sharing, and information sharing brings is directly related to how you (employee/employer) approach and carry out these activities. Both employee and employer must have a goal, a will to make an effort, an ability to listen to others with an open mind, a will to share your knowledge with others, and above all, you must have the right attitude and a positive and constructive approach when you interact with others.
Training, knowledge sharing, and information sharing may feel similar, but on the practical level, they mean different activities. Also, the mixture and content of the box may vary a lot in different industries/companies. Some may, e.g. be very training intensive, others knowledge sharing intensive.
So, what is the difference between training, knowledge sharing and information sharing? This is how I see it.
Training is an activity that always needs advance planning. It must be based on the specific identified needs of your employees. The training content must be suited and executed according to these needs. You must define the learning objectives and outcomes that the training program should achieve. You must define how to evaluate and follow-up on the effectiveness of the training program afterwards. You have to reserve a dedicated place for the training and the time in the calendar for this activity. You must decide whether you have in-house training or will outsource it. If you choose to outsource, you likely have a training budget. There are hundreds of training service providers out there, so you must first find a service provider with a good training program that fits your needs, budget, and schedule.
So, what if we do it with in-house resources? This may have some advantages. An in-house trainer understands the company’s specific needs and goals, which allows them to customize the training content and delivery accordingly. They may know the persons attending the training, so they can better personalize the training program and how to address a particular individual or group. As far as the planning is concerned, it is equally needed and essential here too.
What kind of training is needed varies considerably between different industries/companies. It can be a one-day training course, a one-week training course, or take even longer. In some industries/companies, continuous training is a must-have, even mandatory by law. On the other end of the training spectrum, learning by doing (under someone’s supervision) may be the best method to learn the job. It is hard to imagine a company or job requiring no training. Already the onboarding process when a new employee enters a company contains training activities, meetings, lectures, printed guiding materials, maybe videos etc. What else is this than a customized onboarding training course? Good companies invest a lot in this, but others do not. Guess how the difference impacts someone entering their first-ever job in some company?
Knowledge (all-over professional expertise) Sharing
Already the name implies what we are talking about here. You have professional expertise and experiences you can share with others. The more experienced you are, the more knowledge you have. Sharing can be done in many ways and forms. There are no exact rules regarding how to do it. Knowledge sharing is, in my mind, a broader concept than just “sharing of the knowledge and passing on skills you have”. I feel knowledge sharing is, more than anything, an attitude, a spontaneous process where you share knowledge, yes, but where your ultimate goal is to teach, enlighten, encourage, and support other people so that they can develop and improve in their work. You should also challenge and demand from the other party. It should be an interactive process, not just one person talking. Even though experienced people and senior managers/executives perhaps have more knowledge to share, one should not take this as a one-way street. We can all learn from each other. Both should make an effort here. So, how do we do it?
Knowledge sharing can be just an “educational” discussion about a subject while having a morning coffee when you start your day. It can be a lunch meeting where you talk about some experiences you have had in your work you feel are helpful to share. It can be about taking your subordinate with you to a customer meeting, a business fair, a seminar, or a management meeting to let them observe and learn new things. It can be about proactively giving professional advice to someone when you see that they are stuck with a problem. It can be about reserving one or two hours in the calendar with someone to teach them something about a particular subject. It can be a performance appraisal discussion, where you take the opportunity to educate and support someone after they fail to reach a goal. Knowledge sharing should not be occasional on-and-off happenings occurring now and then, but a continuous ongoing spontaneous activity when you interact with people and, mind you, always positively and constructively.
Sharing is also a way of motivating people, showing you care about them, and showing appreciation for them and their work. Via your behaviour, you also teach other people to share.
Knowledge sharing, as presented above, is something that always takes a conscious effort. You must want to share. An executive who never shares is not a very good asset for a company. The moment they decide to leave, there may be a massive knowledge gap below them that is difficult to fill as all the executive’s knowledge and experience walk out of the door together with him/her. Also watch out for age/status/position gap-related bias in knowledge sharing.
Junior people, “the newbies”, are young, in tune with modern technology, present-day values, and trends, curious, full of new ideas and energetic. When Junior people look at Senior people, they sometimes think they are already out of date and don’t know even anything about social media, so what do they know? “ Their advice is yesterday’s news. Why should we listen to them?
Senior people “have been there, done that”. They have experience, and perspective, are knowledgeable and have skills. When Senior people look at Junior people, some think Junior people have little business expertise, are unrealistic, don’t see the trees from the wood, hurry too much, and don’t listen to advice. “They don’t know anything, are just interested in social media and less in their work. So why should we listen to them?”
Both parties are wrong and biased. Both can learn from each other. No matter who we are, how good we are, in what job or position we are, we all stand on other people’s shoulders. We have learned most of what we know from others in school, colleagues, bosses, subordinates, friends, newspapers, books, training courses, television etc. On top of this, we then give our input and make our mark. Sometimes a big mark we can be proud of, but we should never forget the impact of what we have learned from others.
In my mind, information sharing is about making data or information available to others, like company news, events, and developments. Particularly about keeping people up to date about matters, they feel concern them. We all like to be informed about issues that impact us. This obviously concerns important things, but we should not forget that those small everyday things may feel just as important to someone. So, what information should we share?
It can be about anything. Time schedules, meeting agendas, business news, a profit statement, a new investment, the hiring of a new boss, the firing of the present boss. Your colleague has a habit of leaving early now and then. Does he tell you about this, or does this come as a surprise when an important client calls and wants to talk to him, and you have no idea where he is? Your colleague called her boss to inform her she was sick and won’t come to work today, but no one informed you. Now you have already been sitting for 30 minutes waiting for her in your room to discuss an important issue, wondering why she is late. You tried to call her, but the phone did not answer. Last evening you worked your back off for a presentation this morning at 09.00 and only when you entered the meeting room did people inform you that the meeting was cancelled three days ago. They just forgot to tell you. A client praised you and a business report you had made to your boss, but he forgot to pass the praise on to you. Etc. Etc.
Keeping people informed is not just about passing on information. It is equally a sign that you pay attention to and appreciate them. Not informing them may quickly be taken as a sign you do not appreciate them. Not informing them is ignoring them. So why should they not feel this way?
Lastly: I am proud of what I have achieved in my work over the years. I was very good and successful in my work, and much appreciated. Yet, I am very aware that I could never have done this alone. Throughout my work life, my colleagues at work and friends outside work have shared their knowledge with me and supported me. Not to forget my wife, whose support has been simply crucial. Only by standing on others’ shoulders I made it. This is the reason I am writing my blog. I want to share my experiences to benefit others the way others shared and benefitted me during my career.
Knowledge sharing is also the profound reason why I wrote my book How to recognise excellence in Executive Search.