What’s Behind Employee Knowledge Hoarding And How To Fix It Quickly

Employee Knowledge

By Mostafa Sayyadi and Michael J. Provitera 

Creativity, innovation, and higher business performance require learning and sharing of best practices and experiences among employees. In this article, we show how job redesign and knowledge extraction can be effectively led by senior executives to develop knowledge sharing and inspire employees to create more creative and innovative ideas for better business performance.


To improve creativity, innovation, and business performance, organizations should effectively manage their organizational knowledge and expand it by disseminating it throughout the organization. [1] [2] [3] [4] In over 15 years of management consulting, we find that we see what we call “knowledge hiding.” In fact, despite the maximum efforts of organizations to encourage their employees to share their knowledge by the upper echelon of the organization, many hid their knowledge for no apparent reason. [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] These employees pretended that they did not have the knowledge and if they confirmed that they did have the knowledge, they pretended that this knowledge was no longer useful and could be not used for the current problems of the organization. [10] [11] [12] [13] This, as we noted, is a call to be anonymous and, in some cases, non-existent. 

Organizations are not going to remain inefficient in knowledge-sharing because, after COVID-19, they have improved the knowledge process. No more repetition of mistakes that have imposed huge costs on the productivity of organizations. These costs are not only the result of hiding knowledge by the employees of the organization but also the lack of effective knowledge extraction methods and also traditional job designs which weakened the knowledge-sharing process.

Let’s Do This

STEP ONE: The first step for organizations to solve this problem is to focus on the effective extraction of knowledge from all available sources (i.e., Harvard Business Review, European Business Review, Employee Think-Tanks, Scholars, etc.). In doing this, organizations learn important methods of observation, extraction, and application. Observation is one of the important methods of acquiring knowledge. Recent research shows that observation alone, as a means of acquiring knowledge, can only lead to the illusion of learning among learners. Thus, without extraction and application, organizations can falsely insinuate that things be done in the same way. This causes inertia. False self-confidence, limits current employees who play an important role in gathering, storing, and disseminating future knowledge. This step breaks down the silos and opens up communication to build a knowledge management database.

STEP TWO: The second step is redesigning jobs so that employees experience job enrichment and task significance. In our suggested method of job design that we consult with the C-Suite, the information interweaving of jobs must be the focal point of a diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture. This means that the information processing of one department requires cooperation with other departments simultaneously and in real time. Interweaving information will improve knowledge sharing in the organization and goes much further than the usual recommendation by other consultants who recommend dissemination. Dissemination is good for old paradigms. Our experience of knowledge management consulting in different organizations shows that the new paradigm includes these two steps so that organizations can improve the knowledge-sharing process and move innovation, creativity, and business performance to optimum levels.

Improving the Knowledge-Sharing Process

Purposeful practice and observation improve knowledge extraction from the existing employees and help talent acquisition develop and onboard future employees. In doing this, trainees should be asked to be with the employees in the work process to learn how to do the work from them. By getting mentally involved in the complexities of the work employees express their opinion in a safe and protected environment. When building a diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture, there is more learning that, in turn, helps the effective sharing of knowledge.

Organizations are dealing with more complexity due to government policies and the new ecosystem and the expansion of organizational boundaries due to post-COVID-19, and the need for organizations for intellectual capital has expanded. [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] Organizations increasingly need to build teams of experts and develop effective platforms to communicate. Our knowledge management consulting experience in a Japanese car manufacturing company located in Sydney, Australia confirmed this two-way learning and showed that these constant conversations between trainees and external experts in virtual meetings could sometimes lead to the modifications of the current ways of doing business, product improvement, and customer service.

Job redesign is another important step that should be taken to improve the knowledge-sharing process in organizations.  Job design prevents employees from inadvertently hoarding knowledge and thus not sharing it. [19] [20] We use a model of “forced sharing of knowledge.” With this model, we ask participants to share two sets of knowledge that they have to meet the needs of the other employee’s clients. Whether spot-on or wrong, the employee decoding the suggestions can only say thank you. This develops into an interesting conversation when at the end of the discussion we ask what worked about this process. Fruitful advice was given to many employees from their colleagues and the majority felt engaged in the exercise. As we expected in a follow-up session with the leaders, some job advice can lead to the widespread sharing of knowledge in organizations and help people that did not feel they needed or even wanted help. Thus, this led to the redesign of jobs and developed into a cohesive flow of knowledge between them. Realizing the importance of knowledge in organizational success and motivating people to share knowledge offers a fresh appellation to innovation and creativity throughout the organization.

In Conclusion 

Knowledge sharing is one of the most important factors for innovation, creativity, and enhanced organizational performance. Two steps mentioned here that may improve this process of knowledge management are extracting knowledge from employees and redesigning jobs. These two steps can help create conditions that improve continuous learning in organizations and the flow of knowledge that becomes a competitive advantage for organizations. Knowledge is like lettuce left in the refrigerator, if found and used, it feeds the group, if left untouched, it wilts and is not used.

About the Authors

Mostafa SayydiMostafa Sayyadi works with senior business leaders to effectively develop innovation in companies and helps companies—from start-ups to the Fortune 100—succeed by improving the effectiveness of their leaders.

Michael J ProviteraMichael J. Provitera is a senior faculty professor of Management and Leadership, in the Andreas School of Business at Barry University, Miami, Florida, USA . He is an author of Level Up Leadership: Engaging Leaders for Success, published by Business Expert Press.


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