How to win the forever war against the knowledge hoarders

by Bill Payne
Date Published June 6, 2018 - Last Updated 4 Years, 285 Days, 23 Hours, 52 Minutes ago

HDI’s KCS Principles training curriculum identifies Knowledge-Centered Service (KCS®) as a key capability when organizations need to find better methods for capturing and sharing knowledge and to help meet the growing demand for effective support. The need for KCS is driven by the increasing challenge of supporting business needs as the number of devices, operating systems, and software products continues to grow. Effective knowledge management practices enhance quality of service, improve efficiencies, and result in higher customer and employee satisfaction.

Knowledge management with KCS is, therefore, a key capability for every service manager to promote, develop, and utilize as part of their service management responsibilities. The KCS Principles training curriculum further defines KCS as follows:

  • A methodology that seeks to capture, structure, reuse, and improve knowledge in the support delivery process
  • A means of collaboration
  • NOT something that we do in addition to solving problems—rather, KCS becomes the way we solve problems
  • First and foremost, about people and process; technology (tools) are enablers”

Knowledge articles are central to the ability to practice KCS and are usually stored in a searchable repository commonly referred to as a knowledge base. Knowledge articles fit into a set of service management tools that are vital to achieving the goals of service management. 

Overcoming the Barriers to Capturing Knowledge

Service managers frequently face significant barriers to gathering the content for knowledge articles, usually in the form of “knowledge hoarders.” In her Harvard Business Review article, Dorothy Leonard reviews some of the reasons why knowledge is hoarded. She points out that people may feel as though their knowledge is hard-earned, and that the organization doesn’t deserve it to be shared; or they may be seeking to be brought back as a consultant. Even when coming back as a consultant isn’t really a possibility, some people tend to view hoarded knowledge as an “insurance policy” against changes to their employment that gets more and more iron-clad the longer they can hoard it. Knowledge hoarders may also enjoy being the “go-to person” for those certain things.

One of the most dynamic and engaging service managers that I’ve had the pleasure of working with borrows heavily from his background as a United States Marine. He has cracked the code for motivating young people to do extraordinary things even when faced with barriers to accomplishing their mission. As a U.S. Air Force veteran, I continuously leverage techniques and concepts from the past and the present based on how our armed forces achieve their objectives.

In this case, the mission is to enhance the quality of service, improve efficiencies, and raise customer and employee satisfaction. The objective is to overcome the barrier presented by those who hoard knowledge and disrupt our cycle of capturing, structuring, reusing, and improving knowledge in the support delivery process.

The objective is to overcome the barrier presented by those who hoard knowledge.
Tweet: The objective is to overcome the barrier presented by those who hoard knowledge. @ITSMConsultant @ThinkHDI #KCS #knowledgemanagement

By adapting a tactical approach commonly used by Western militaries, service managers can arm themselves and their people with tools, techniques, and procedures to overcome the knowledge hoarding barrier to capturing knowledge.

Employing Influence Operations to Capture the Knowledge

Remember that the third principle of KCS is that it is NOT something that we do in addition to solving problems. Rather, KCS becomes the way we solve problems. Therefore, it can be effective to address the common barriers to capturing knowledge by exercising influence in the course of our service delivery and service management operations.

The table that follows is a summary of ways to overcome knowledge transfer issues from Dorothy Leonard’s Harvard Business Review article, with some personal recommendations from my experiences as well.

Knowledge Hoarding Root Cause Recommended Influence Operation
Resentment: The person with the knowledge resents the company or the team and doesn’t feel valued.

Appreciate and Reward Sharing: Work with the service stakeholders to provide incentives to knowledge sharing and establish practices that demonstrate appreciation and reward knowledge sharing.

Operationally, use your “platform” as a service center to appreciate and reward those who do share knowledge. Let it be known in the organization that you reward knowledge sharing with recognition and incentives.

Financial Incentives: The person with the knowledge is anticipating being hired back as a consultant.

Remove the Financial Incentives: Promote the idea that if the organization must bring someone back, bring them back to transfer the knowledge, not to continue to hoard it.

Operationally, use your service center resources to “buddy up” with the expert to facilitate knowledge transfer.

Identity and Standing: The person with the knowledge derives satisfaction from being the “go-to” person.

Change the Reward System: Assist stakeholders in establishing new norms where promotions, or choice project assignments, are granted based on team performance and knowledge sharing.

Operationally, use effective knowledge capture questioning and interviewing during the problem-solving activity to capture the knowledge.

Resource or Time Constraints: The person or group with the knowledge is over committed and resource constrained.

Make It Easy to Transfer Knowledge In: Have templates for writing knowledge articles, host brown-bag knowledge transfer lunches, and establish mentor arrangements with the expert sharing knowledge with up-and-comers.

Operationally, build the knowledge capture skills on your team so that each time they escalate a problem to an expert, they can also capture the knowledge and insert it into the F3EAD (Find, Fix Finish, Exploit, Analyze and Disseminate) cycle.


As Stewart Bertram explains in a Digital Shadows blog post, there is a cycle that is used in the context of tactical operations that we can adapt to our purposes—F3EAD cycle (Find, Fix, Finish, Exploit, Analyze and Disseminate). In the table below, I summarize the strategy and adapt it for our knowledge capturing mission and objective:


Tactical OperationsOvercoming Knowledge Hoarders
1. Find: Identify a target by using the “Who, What, When, Where, Why” questions. 1. Find: Have your analysts and your service managers constantly identifying knowledge that could improve the way a service is delivered. Analysts should be required to “flag and report” each instance where they had to seek knowledge that has not already been captured to solve a problem.
2. Fix: Verify the target(s) by gathering evidence for action in the next stage, using multiple points of triangulation. 2. Fix: Use your service definitions and your knowledge of the organization to identify all the stakeholders that have influence or interest in the quality of that service. Also, try to identify the root cause of the perceived knowledge hoarding (resentment, fear, financial incentive, over utilization, etc.).
3. Finish: Based on the evidence generated from the previous two stages, take action on the target. 3. Finish: Based on the evidence generated from the previous two phases, employ influence operations to capture the knowledge.
4. Exploit: Determine what evidence was generated by the Finish phase. 4. Exploit: Incorporate the new knowledge from the finish phase into your knowledge base.
5. Analyze: Synthesize the evidence with the wider intelligence picture. 5. Analyze: Set up measurements to verify that the knowledge has improved the service, and analyze those measures for the next few measurement periods.
6. Disseminate: Publish the results of the action to key stakeholders. 6. Disseminate: Publish the results of the measurements to key stakeholders (so that you can encourage future knowledge sharing).

Make It Easy to Transfer Knowledge In

It is foundational to facilitate the capture of knowledge because knowledge management is at the heart of a service manager’s capability to manage process adherence and to design and implement continuous improvements.

Service managers should analyze their service demand to identify opportunities to improve service quality by capturing, structuring, reusing, and improving knowledge. Don’t fall into the trap of prioritizing your improvement efforts only by the volume or frequency of certain types of services. Pay close attention to the services that take the longest to deliver (by measuring work time) or those that more frequently miss their resolution target (by measuring SLA attainment and re-opened tickets).

Also, service managers should visibly demonstrate the value of knowledge management by measuring its benefits. Metrics based on resolution times, re-opened incidents, escalations, knowledge management link rate, and service quality are all specifically called for in the current version of the HDI Support Center Standard. They are also all correlated to knowledge management. These are the metrics that can serve in stages 2 through 5 of the F3EAD cycle.

Using the overcoming knowledge hoarders F3EAD techniques should be an effective way to unstick your KCS cycle when there are barriers to capturing knowledge. But whether there are barriers or not, it is critical to make it easy for others to transfer knowledge into your service organization using these additional tips:

  • Have templates for capturing different kinds of knowledge, but keep the format consistent for ease of use.
  • Include your knowledge management templates in any service package templates (if you’re working in a highly mature ITIL environment); if the organization is not that mature in service design and transition, then work with your business analysts, developers, and engineers to include the templates in their project management documentation standards.
  • Offer your people as testers and/or support transition resources in the appropriate phases of projects as you support the professional development of your staff through stretch assignments. For example, application teams might know the operating system or browser version requirements for their application to work, but they seldom do what is called “negative testing” for when the minimum system standards are not met. But, your desktop technician with engineering career goals is the perfect person to capture the error messages or application errors that happen, based on common (but incorrect) configurations in your environment, and get them into knowledge base.
  • If you can’t afford a full-time knowledge manager, rotate the role through your teams. You’ll drive more use of your knowledge base and get more contributions. When possible, set goals to improve the metrics listed above for specific services or technologies.

By understanding some common barriers to knowledge transfer, leveraging techniques borrowed from tactical operations, and making it easy to transfer knowledge into your service organization, service managers should see and be able to measure the benefits of breaking through knowledge transfer barriers.

Bill Payne is a results-driven IT leader and an expert in the design and delivery of cost-effective IT solutions that deliver quantifiable business benefits. His more than 30 years of experience at companies such as Pepsi-Cola, Whole Foods Market, and Dell, includes data communications consulting, messaging systems analyst, managing multiple infrastructure support and engineering teams, medical information systems deployment, retail and infrastructure systems management, organizational change management, and IT service management consulting. Leveraging his experience in leading, managing, and executing both technical and organizational transformation projects in numerous industries, Bill currently leads his own service management consulting company. Find him on LinkedIn, and follow him on Twitter @ITSMConsultant.
Tag(s): supportworld, knowledge management, KCS, service management, workforce enablement, workforce enablement


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