There are two grocery stores down the street from my daughter’s school. We often go shopping on the way home from a long day of work and school. The two stores sell the same food (basically), have similar layouts (approximately) and draw from the same pool of prospective employees (exactly). But the people in one of the stores are so much friendlier. So why are the men and women who stock shelves, sweep floors and check us out so much different at the friendlier store? It’s not the people out in front, but the managers behind the scenes that make the difference.

For making knowledge-sharing practices work, the manager is also critically important. My colleague, Bill Stockton, says that the key to managing in a knowledge-sharing organization is “creating the right environment.” The environment makes it possible for team members to find, reuse, enhance and create knowledge while they are doing their work. It’s the job of the manager to sustain this environment. But managing this kind of organization isn’t

  • Telling people what to do
  • Watching a monitor or dashboard
  • Even walking around.

What should managers do to create the right environment? Here are five specific things each manager should do to build and enhance it.

1.Say the right things consistently

You are always the manager. Everything you say to your team is delivered in that context. If you are at happy hour with the team and wonder about the benefits of sharing knowledge, they hear doubts from the organization. So, every time you interact with your team (in all-hands meetings, in one-on-one interactions or when you are just walking around), you must reiterate the importance of sharing knowledge. You have to tell them how sharing knowledge is an investment in making their jobs better. A single doubt from you will get your team to doubt the effectiveness of sharing their knowledge.

2.Remove “just this once” from your management toolkit

It isn’t OK for you to tell your team member that they can skip a step and not search, reuse, enhance or create knowledge. There are hundreds of “reasons” why a team member wants to skip knowledge-sharing practices. As soon as you say “just this once,” the team believes that sharing their knowledge is optional. And let’s face it, if you expect them to share it later, they won’t ever have time to get back to it.

3.Advocate for the few minutes a day

Your team will need a few extra minutes a day to share and reuse knowledge. It’s pretty easy to get the time for the team early on in a knowledge-sharing program. But as weeks and months go by, executives have a tendency to start asking when the program will end. When will they get that time back? It won’t, and they won’t. The few minutes a day for sharing knowledge will continue. There might be significant benefits in overall time to complete the team’s tasks—calls, projects, sales—but the few minutes for each task to share knowledge will remain. Hold the line on these few minutes!

4.Be ready for resistance

Your team will have to change how they do their work today to incorporate knowledge-sharing practices. It will be much easier for them to go back to “how we have always done things around here” in times of crisis or high demand. There will be lots of resistance and not a small number of “reasons” why the teams shouldn’t have to stick to sharing knowledge. You and your peers must anticipate these objections and provide consistent responses. For some tips (and some suggested responses), take a look at Klever’s article on handling objections.

5.Have the nuclear option in your pocket

The worst-case option for your team is to stop sharing knowledge entirely. All of the benefits you have gotten – better productivity, shorter time to train new team members – will evaporate if your team stops. Think about how your team performed before you started sharing knowledge. How much pain did your team endure? How many times did you do the same work over and over again? How many team members did you try to train by letting them “shadow” someone for a while before leaving them to find and create their own knowledge? Be prepared to remind both executives and your team what their world will be like if you stop.

Managing a team that embraces knowledge-sharing practices takes consistency and hard work, but the environment you create will be noticed by customers, executives and your team. Do you want to the be least friendly grocery store?

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