The Hidden Treasure of Employee Knowledge


Internal communication best practices Paul Barton Communications

Employees are an organization’s most valuable resource. It’s a simple, obvious statement, but it couldn’t be truer. The challenge for the internal communication professional is to facilitate communication not only between an organization’s leadership and its employees but to encourage them to share their vast reservoirs of institutional knowledge with each other.

To tap into this vast hidden knowledge treasure means going way beyond a top-down communications system. Internal communication professionals must make sure leaders are communicating clearly to their employees while also—and this is key—listening to their feedback. It is also imperative that the lines of communication within and between project teams, departments, and individual employees flourish.

Training Programs Fail to Tap Into Employee Knowledge

Look at traditional training programs. A recent study conducted by Speachme that surveyed more than 500 full-time employees at companies with 500 or more employees found that these expensive and time-consuming exercises more often than not fail to tap into the existing expertise of current employees.

“Today’s top-down approach to training is not effectively addressing the need to capture and transfer knowledge among peers,” said Speachme CEO Najette Fellache in a recent WorldatWork article. “We live in an age of user-generated content, but training programs are not tapping the opportunity for employee-generated content.”

Nearly half (47%) of those surveyed agreed that they could create better employee training content than that provided by the employer. Yet another 68% said they aren’t provided the tools they need to actually produce that content.

Internal Communications Must Facilitate the Conversation

It’s up to the internal communication professional to begin that conversation, to make sure there is an atmosphere of open communication that encourages the sharing of ideas and skills. Speachme found that 82% of employees share important information in person to their colleagues, so unless there are systems in place to capture these ideas, they could easily fall by the wayside.

A few things to keep in mind.

  • An old model with new technology is still an old model. Just because an organization uses the latest technology doesn’t mean it’s actually listening to its employees. A CEO webcast that doesn’t have a built-in way to collect meaningful feedback or an intranet filled with management information that doesn’t allow for peer-to-peer information sharing and collaboration are still top-down systems.
  • Two monologs don’t make a dialogue. If feedback mechanisms aren’t integrated into all communication processes and if the feedback collected isn’t meaningful to the organization’s leaders, then a dialogue isn’t really happening.
  • Employees want to talk to each other. In the Speachme survey, 68% of respondents said they weren’t trained by the individuals they were replacing, while 49% of employees have never trained their replacements. Add to that the 61% who noted that they’ve seen a colleague leave the organization with institutional knowledge or skills that were never documented, and you’re looking at an almost incomprehensible amount of information and talent that is wasted.

Employees also said they want to be recognized for their skills and expertise in ways that go beyond compensation, such as receiving more responsibilities and having the opportunity to share their knowledge by leading training sessions.

If Organizations Only Knew What They Knew

Organizations that encourage communication between all levels are by far the most successful. As Speachme’s Fellache said, “The insights we gained from today’s worker show that a bottom-up approach to capturing the skills and knowledge of employees and transferring it to others not only benefits the company’s knowledge base but results in better-informed workers.”

Employees are an organization’s most valuable resource. A little communication facilitation could yield big results.

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