Decades worth of newspapers piled to the ceiling, enough canned goods to sustain you through 10 apocalypses, and, dare we say it, far too many cats. These are the images typically associated with hoarding, and there’s no doubt about it; the effects are detrimental. Who could ever find what they’re looking for in a home bursting at the seams with junk? Who even knows what they’re looking for in a home overrun with useless clutter?
Although your home may be a “safe space” to indulge your hoarding tendencies, you might not be able to say the same for your workplace (no, we don’t mean finding cats you didn’t know you had behind the office refrigerator). We’re talking about information hoarding.
Information hoarding, whether intentional or not, can be a costly problem. In fact, International Data Corp estimates that Fortune 500 companies lose at least $31.5 billion a year by failing to share knowledge across teams and individuals. When employees don’t share their knowledge, teams miss opportunities to collaborate, individuals waste time trying to track down information, and organizations fail to preserve expertise and tacit knowledge when people leave the company.
Why Employees May Hoard Information
Employees hoard information in the workplace for a variety of reasons. After years of hard work, employees often become territorial of their knowledge. They fear that sharing information they worked to gain will undermine their expertise, or worse, give credit to others where credit is not due. Some employees hoard information because they feel a sense of job security when others consistently come to them for advice. And in some cases, information sharing and collaboration is simply not encouraged. But whatever the case may be, the results remain the same: productivity suffers. Big time.
Admitting there’s a problem is the first step. Here are five signs your workplace is suffering from information hoarding and how a knowledge management solution can help you address these issues:
1. The Same People Constantly Answer the Same Questions
Of course, your organization has subject matter experts, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But if you find a handful of folks are consistently answering the same questions over and over again, you’ve got a problem. Documenting answers to frequently asked questions in a knowledge management platform gives everyone fast, searchable access to high-demand information and provides a place for input and collaboration surrounding that information. This means more consistency for your employees and more time for your top performers to focus on new initiatives.
2. Putting Together Presentations Feels like Reinventing the Wheel
Does it feel like Groundhog Day every time you pull together information for a presentation? Now exactly where did I find that image last time? Where is that intro paragraph I used last week? Imagine a world where everything is cataloged in one central location, and all content (not just document titles and tags) is searchable. A world where current, finalized knowledge assets are stored so that you never have to question which version of a document is the most recent. When up-to-date knowledge is accessible to all in one platform, you won’t waste any time reinventing the wheel (or reinventing the presentation you put together last week).
3. You Lose Institutional Knowledge When Employees Leave
Without a system in place to retain the knowledge of employees as they leave or retire, you risk losing some of your most valuable institutional knowledge. Invest in a knowledge management solution to pull information out of the brains of top performers and into an accessible location for all to learn from (long after the source of that information has retired or left for another role). Ideally, look for a platform that supports many file types and rich media posts (with videos, images, audio files, and more) so that employees can document their knowledge in the format that makes the most sense to them.
4. Information Is Regularly Shared Through Email or Chat
Imagine this scenario. Marketing creates a new training document for your product. Every single employee in every department in the company benefits from the knowledge contained in this document: best practices, standardized language, overviews of new features, you name it. Marketing sends a company-wide email containing said document (or posts it in a company Slack or Microsoft Teams channel). Months later, they still receive requests to resend it because employees can’t locate it in their cluttered inboxes or chat threads. Each time a new hire joins the company, Marketing has to send them the document. See where we’re going with this?
By storing that document in a knowledge management platform, where all could readily access it, not a single email would have been sent, and the teams producing that content would regain time to produce new material.
5. Transparency Is Not Valued as Part of Your Company Culture
Do you work in an environment that rewards collaboration and information sharing? Do people discuss their failures along with their successes? Or, do you suffer from information hoarding, with employees keeping everything under wraps until the last minute to avoid unwarranted input and conflict? The truth is that while it may make you feel exposed to share your shortcomings along with your victories, the goal of transparency isn’t to focus on individual performance but to learn from experience and use this knowledge to build out new ideas and plans. Companies embracing transparency and knowledge sharing don’t just encourage employees to share, they create communities where it is expected and rewarded.
If you recognize any or all of these symptoms, it’s time to banish information hoarding from your organization. Creating a culture of collaboration and knowledge sharing won’t happen overnight. But it will happen with an attitude of sharing and technology that empowers collaboration. Invest in a knowledge management solution and continue to build your wealth of accessible, searchable information, and your company will be on its way to putting information hoarding habits behind them.
Note: We periodically update blogs to reflect the latest trends, research, and best practices in knowledge management. This blog was most recently updated and expanded on September 23, 2021.