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The fruits of knowledge

Microsoft founder Bill Gates is said to have sent employees a weekly email entitled “The mistakes I have made this week”. His aim wasn’t to make them feel better about themselves or to provide them with a laugh – it was to show that getting things wrong was a key part of the learning process, and to ensure they did not make the same mistakes again.

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Read time: 5 minutes | Published in Hays Journal 10

Whichever sector a business operates in, sharing the fruits of experience can add commercial value. Increasingly sophisticated technology means we can acquire, share and diffuse knowledge faster than ever before.


This has certainly been the case at global engineering company Laing O’Rourke. The creation of a new role of Knowledge Manager at the company demonstrates just how important this issue has become. Stephen Hinds, who has been the company’s Knowledge Manager for around four months, says there has been a drive from the very top to share knowledge more effectively, after a staff engagement survey suggested there was room for improvement in this area.

“If we’re not sharing knowledge effectively, we could be solving the same problem again and again,” he explains. The result is online knowledge-sharing platform iKNOW, which Hinds likens to “a Wikipedia site for capturing and sharing our knowledge, lessons learned and key product and project experiences”.

Searching for knowledge

Employees looking for material specific to projects they are working on use the search engine on iKNOW. Information can be accessed in a number of other ways too: by sector, by topic, or by who oversaw it. Each entry has a list of key contacts so that staff can pick up the phone and talk to an expert on a subject in more detail. This has helped to connect colleagues working on similar projects or solving similar issues across Laing O’Rourke’s Europe and Australia hubs.


While iKNOW has been received positively, it’s early days in terms of usage, so all employees have been requested to upload some relevant content. Any staff member can create or amend an entry and all articles are approved by a project leader, or another expert in the subject matter, to ensure accuracy. At the same time, managers push the career benefits of being seen as an expert in your field.

At IT security company Kaspersky Lab, employees possess a wealth of complex knowledge, much of it highly technical. “That’s why it’s extremely important to keep this knowledge in the company and ensure it is communicated and transferred from experts to other people,” explains Marina Alekseeva, Chief HR Officer.

The company shares corporate and market information over its intranet and via a weekly email, but Alekseeva says there is much greater value in employees exchanging knowledge more proactively. “You can’t guarantee someone will open the email or look at the intranet if they’re busy, because they have their own targets to achieve. So we invite people to discuss things face-to-face or online, through our network of coaches and mentors. A two-way discussion is important.”

The way Kaspersky shares knowledge encapsulates a burgeoning trend towards ‘social learning’ – the idea that employees have nuggets of valuable knowledge to share with peers and that this can be done informally, rather than through the traditional approach of attending a course. This could be as simple as sharing a TED talk in an online discussion group or subject experts hosting ‘lunch and learn’ sessions for other employees.

Capturing every piece of knowledge within a business may seem like an impossible endeavour, and it probably is. But creating a more open culture, where intelligence is shared rather than hoarded, mistakes are learned from and experience is passed on, can only reap rewards in the long term.

This article was published in Hays Journal 10


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