Stop knowledge hoarding: open source your internal expertise
It should come as no surprise that companies with a culture of sharing knowledge and expertise have a substantial advantage when it comes to upskilling, coordinating teams and undertaking organisation-wide projects.
However, getting different parts of a business to talk to each other can be challenging, especially in larger organisations. This can become particularly tough when an organisation wants to share knowledge and expertise between teams and across the entire enterprise, as leaders will often find themselves butting up against the phenomenon known as ‘knowledge hoarding’.
Knowledge hoarding refers to individuals and teams that purposefully keep critical business, technical, or industry knowledge to themselves. This can prove to be a major structural challenge for businesses and the implications go beyond familiar issues such as siloing between teams. It can be driven by an individual’s desire to protect knowledge they feel they’ve worked hard to gain, but it’s of no benefit to the business. The inability to share information can limit opportunities to nurture talent, stunt interdepartmental projects, and lower the quality of output for partners or clients.
Given how entrenched the issue can become, taking the first steps to share information more widely and openly across the business can feel like a seismic shift. However, there are many encouraging lessons and examples that can be learned from the open source software community to help you get started.
Open source is all about collaboration
Open source software i.e. software whose source code is open to be used, copied, edited, and distributed - draws upon a large community of programmers who develop, maintain, and debug the code on an ongoing basis. Anyone can contribute to an open source project, see all previous versions of the code, and be privy to conversations between developers working on the project’s latest versions. Essentially, this means that all knowledge of the project is democratised, and there are no gatekeepers to prevent interested parties from attempting to make contributions; even a casual observer has access to the information needed to understand the project's direction.
In this way, open source software begets an open and meritocratic culture. With no incentive or benefit to hoard knowledge in the open source community, developers are instead encouraged to share and review their ideas among the community. New concepts and ideas at the cutting-edge of a project are shared and collaborated on, ultimately creating something even greater. The accessibility offered by open source processes allows for innovative new ideas to surface, which helps bring products to market even faster, while also providing a means to promptly call out errors or shortcomings that might hinder a project.
However, the culture of the open source community need not be restricted to software. It’s possible for organisations to adopt open source structures and working practices to tackle the issue of knowledge hoarding head-on.
Introducing Communities of Practice
So how exactly can organisations improve knowledge sharing? To mirror the example of open source communities, organisations should focus on creating a space for valuable knowledge sharing that will benefit the wider team, rather than just sharing information for the sake of it. For example, anyone can submit code to an open source project, but the code is unlikely to be accepted if it doesn’t benefit the community at large.
This is where “Communities of Practice” (CoPs) come in. They are spaces within an organisation, wholly dedicated to exchanging and refining knowledge, information and practices in specific subject areas. They operate using the open source way, by connecting people with a shared passion, purpose and set of objectives. Groups are convened to pool knowledge with the goal of developing materials that anyone across the organisation can draw upon and contribute to.
What Communities of Practice bring to the table
CoPs allow organisations to better refine and standardise their hub of internal knowledge, and to create content that is widely accessible across the business. They can be of use in all areas, from producing training resources, tmaterials for customer lead generation or even through to architecture diagrams and technical scripts to support installation.
CoPs encourage decisions to be made collaboratively by cross-functional teams, resulting in much greater efficiency and faster progress. Reusing and building upon existing materials saves employees a huge amount of time and effort, and by creating a common place to share best practices and lessons learned, there are more opportunities for enablement and professional skills development. It’s also valuable to know that those materials have been used by others previously to produce successful outcomes, and that there is someone you can contact with any questions.
Where should you begin?
When it comes to introducing CoPs into your organisation, there are two approaches you can take. A top-down approach is one that starts with executive sponsorship. This requires you to focus first on the strategy, determining the mission and objectives, and creating the right conditions and criteria for success. For example, a frequently overlooked but important consideration is how time will be allocated for people to contribute. From there, you can start the implementation process - building core teams, setting up systems and tools, and engaging in regular communication.
Alternatively, and if you want to get the ball rolling more quickly, you can take a bottom-up approach where the focus is to start with a single CoP. Begin by gathering a group of people interested in sharing knowledge and promoting learning in a particular area that is aligned with the organisational strategy. Appoint 2-3 people to be CoP managers and define a set of goals alongside a communication plan . From there, you have the foundation to get started.
Taking notes from open source communities can have a hugely positive impact on your business, particularly when it comes to reducing the rigid hierarchies and silo behaviours (and counterproductive competitiveness) that can emerge between teams. As well as helping your organisation pivot towards an open source culture, implementing CoPs will allow it to benefit from the creativity and energy of your teams, while providing them with democratic support. It’s this uniquely open, democratic, and meritocratic culture that makes the open source way so effective.
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.