Career and danger of hoarding knowledge

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By Goke Ilesanmi

   Last week, it was reported in some national dailies that employees of some affected organisations in a sub-sector of the Nigerian financial services industry were jittery over the likely outcome of a particular action to be taken by the regulator. The long and short of this is that they were (and probably still are) worried about what the likely outcome would be on their jobs. Today, too much concern about job security has given birth to a lot of negative manifestations in the workplace, among which is knowledge-hoarding. Research shows that knowledge-hoarding even flourishes in non-profit organisations in spite of their social missions.

 Despite many corporate strategies launched to decrease information-overload, increase teamwork, and facilitate knowledge-sharing, many organisations still find themselves engulfed by the culture of knowledge-hoarding. The reluctance of many workers to share knowledge and credit is impeding productivity and staff morale in the workplace.

Why people hoard information and knowledge

  The reason for knowledge-hoarding is both simple and complex. On the one hand, it is simple because we know that hoarding of information is less productive. We know we are capable of doing something better. But the issue is complex because most traditional work environments are still hierarchical and may need to be in order to achieve their real bottom-line missions. Jamie S. Walters, author of “Big Vision, Small Business” says in such environments, the organisational cultures traditionally rooted are ones of hyper-competitiveness, where people hoard knowledge because it makes them more valuable and thus more likely to be promoted (or less likely to be sacked). “In such organisations, for better or worse, the emphasis on competition, individual achievement and reward, and financial opportunities have well-fertilised these patterns of behaviour,” he expatiates


 Studies confirm that in very large organisations, the organisational system required to maintain order among many parts ends up impeding true collaboration or knowledge-sharing. This implies that small groups or organisations may have a greater likelihood of success in this area, because the small size requires fewer control structures. Paul Sarvadi, a renowned human resource development expert also educates that knowledge-hoarding is especially compounded by economic strains, where repeated rounds of lay-offs heighten fears of joblessness and encourage certain individuals to hoard information, take individual credit for a team’s accomplishments and despise collaborative efforts.

     That means knowledge-hoarding is often embraced in self-protection. That is, it is natural that an individual who is afraid of losing his or her job would act in a way he or she believes would make him indispensable, irrespective of the number of team-work courses he or she must have attended. Also, hoarding of knowledge or the inability to make use of it is said to be magnified by problems of information-overload and a basic problem of an individual’s inability to manage his schedule and priorities well. As Walters puts is, “A person who feels chronically behind is more likely to lapse into ‘security behaviours’ like hoarding information (or just failing to share it) or thinking only of his own job survival. Again, many corporate cultures, with their lust for perpetual change and layoffs, etc., help to foster such problems.”

Encouraging knowledge-sharing and modelling

   Joan Lloyd of Joan Lloyd & Associates, a specialist in leadership development, organisational change and teambuilding says there seems to be no easy answer, particularly for large, more established companies. However, studies suggest that the first thing to do is to create sub-cultures or initiatives that focus on small-group interactions which can tolerate a greater degree of chaos or complexity in their way of functioning where individuals/groups can tap system-wide tools that act as information repositories. But Walters says, “The dynamic nature of an individual’s or a group’s knowledge renders such complicated or system-wide tools or repositories chronically out of date. Still, technological tools that allow people to share information, knowledge, and experiences can be an excellent resource.”

 Another thing is to model from above. Many employees act according to what they perceive from their leaders and managers. Those who themselves share information, award credit where credit is due and display collaborative behaviour will be more likely to encourage the same in their employees.

Mini-workshops at staff meetings

     Integrating teaching and sharing into the group constitutes yet another solution to this problem. Research shows that some of the simpler ways to do this include asking people to share instances where one of their colleagues shared knowledge or information to help them do their work more effectively or asking staff members to do mini-workshops at staff meetings, in which they take some minutes to share a best practice story or tip for more effectively doing their work. Those who do well in their presentations at the mini-workshops can be rewarded to motivate others.

Unnecessary everlasting meetings

  Another thing that can be done is to deal with the unnecessary-meeting problem, which many large companies have. This is because people who move routinely from one very long meeting to another unnecessary everlasting meeting, meetings filled with meaningless agendas will naturally become too tired or exhausted at the end of the day to share valuable knowledge with subordinates and colleagues or integrate it into their own activities.

Parting words

     Beyond everything, as an employee, knowledge-hoarding is very dangerous to your smooth career advancement. If you hoard knowledge so that you can become indispensable or the only person that can do a particular job, there is possibility of you getting stuck on the ladder of advancement. If there is any opening in a higher position that you naturally merit, your being the only person that can do what you are currently doing means that you cannot be promoted there. It is like holding something big in your hands already. Until you release what is in your hands, you cannot receive another thing. Change your strategy from knowledge-hoarding today to knowledge-sharing and pursuit of excellence. Till we meet on Wednesday.

NOTE:  Those who are seeking job assistance can now go to the “Links” section of my website and apply for local and international jobs there.


GOKE ILESANMI, Managing Consultant/CEO  of Gokmar Communication Consulting, is a Certified Public Speaker/Emcee,  Communication Specialist, Motivational Speaker, Career Management Coach, Renowned Book Reviewer, Corporate Leadership Expert and Editorial Consultant.


Tel: +234(0)8056030424; +234(0)8187499425

Email:  gokeiles2010@gmail.com; info@gokeilesanmi.com.ng

Website: www.gokeilesanmi.com.ng


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