Knowledge Management - Leadership Behaviours Which Encourage Knowledge-Sharing

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The concept of knowledge management or knowledge sharing makes intellectual sense to the leadership teams in most organisations. Why wouldn't we want to learn from our successes and failures, and translate that learning into value?

However, there is often a gap between the conceptual understanding, and their own behaviours as leaders - and that can be a problem? How do you engage leaders both intellectually and emotionally, in a way which will make a difference to their day-to-day behaviours? It requires more than a set of competency frameworks!

The examples below are taken from the bestselling fieldbook "Learning to Fly ? Practical knowledge management from leading and learning organisations", written by Chris Collison and Geoff Parcell.

Example 1) In BP, well known for its knowledge-sharing culture, the senior leadership developed a habit of reinforcing "learning from others" when they visited operational sites. Imagine the scene: the Director or Senior VP arrives, and is given the usual tour of the site. They sit down with the management team and review the performance of the business against a set of stated KPIs. One of these KPIs is currently not being met. What happens when they identify this issue?

"Have you thought about approach X? Addressed performance issue Y? Changed widget Z?"

..will generate one set of behaviours.

"Who else have you spoken with at other sites who might have a similar issue?" ..will drive a very different set of behaviours.

This is the route that BP has chosen to take; senior management visits are opportunities to reinforce the value of learning from others, rather than opportunities to underline their seniority by providing "the answer".

Example 2) When the senior directors from energy and essential services company, Centrica, met to discuss how to improve knowledge sharing in the company, they agreed a set of practical "leadership challenges" for senior managers across the organisation:

  • How can I personally demonstrate that "asking for help" is a sign of strength rather than weakness?
  • When encountering a business problem, how can I reinforce the importance of learning from others - rather than simply providing an answer?
  • When reviewing a project or investment proposal, have I challenged to ensure that it brings to bear knowledge from other projects?
  • How do I react when someone fails - is it purely a loss to the business, or is it an investment in their education?
  • Do my team see failure as something to learn from, or something to cover up?

These kind of questions and challenges bring to life the notion of knowledge management in a tangible, practical manner.

What would work in your organisation? If you could issue five challenges to your senior team, what would you choose?


Chris Collison is a renowned expert in knowledge management and an experienced practitioner in the leadership and implementation of organisational change from a people perspective.

As a best-selling author, he has presented to audiences at business schools and at conferences around the world, and is a regular contributor to specialist knowledge management publications. Chris has worked with leaders at the highest levels of many public and private-sector organizations, sharing the practical experiences he gained whilst working in BP's knowledge management team, and his deep understanding of the human dynamics of major change programmes.

Visit the "learning to fly" website at

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