Hoarders Hard at Work

I’d like to talk today about hoarding. It’s dirty. It’s nasty. It’s wrong…oh so wrong. And the worst thing about it? It’s a terribly selfish disease: it’s all about you, but it destroys everyone around you.

No I’m not talking about that silly hoarding disorder when throwing away your newspapers is quite simply out of the question. Some think this is crazy, but what’s not to like about having to carve a path through trash in your house just so you can get from the kitchen to the bathroom? No, I’m talking about a particularly nasty form of hoarding. One that rears its head in the workplace more than anyone cares to admit. That’s right, folks. I’m talking about the hoarding of institutional knowledge.

Here’s how it works. You’re new to a company. There are a bunch of other employees around you who aren’t. In fact, many of them have been there for a long long time. And they know lots of things about this new jungle you’ve just set foot in. They know the short cuts; they know the sacred cows; they know the clowns with the short fuse and they know the ones you want to share a brew with; they know how to win favors with him and they know what not to say to her; they know who to go to when you need this and who to stay away from when you need that; they know where all the bodies are buried. And yes, they know the secret handshake. They know all the things you can’t learn from an orientation session or an employee hand book. They acquired all this knowledge simply because they’ve been hanging around a hell of a lot longer than you have. And rather than share all of that rich knowledge – I mean this stuff is gold – with you, they keep it all boxed up in their personal safe. Ain’t no way they’re going to give you a leg up after all that time they’ve put in. Nope. This is how they keep their edge on you, this is how they make the new guys earn their stripes.

To all you deeply tenured employees out there who hold the institutional knowledge: give it up, yo. We all stand to gain something from your sharing your wisdom. In fact, it’s probably the most important thing you can do to advance your organization’s success. Be deliberate about it – go out of your way to give those nuggets away. I promise you – and your organization – will be repaid in spades for doing so. And if you can’t? You’re as dirty and as nasty and as wrong as those crazy nuts on that messed up reality TV show*.

*No offense meant to any of my readers who may struggle with (directly or indirectly) this very real and serious mental disorder. This blog is written with hyperbole, and most of this is just that.

Image Credit: Sarah Sitkin (via Compfight)

  • Anonymous

    I’m laughing because your post invoked the image of a Gollum-like employee clutching a personnel folder whilst saying, “NOT THE PRECIOUSSSS!!!”

    Wonderful post that really hits on the serious issue of knowledge sharing and transfer within an organization. An organization should create a forum or a mentorship program that would encourage these meaningful conversations.

  • http://twitter.com/HrRemix Melissa Fairman

    Great post. I’ve encountered many a new employee in the cafeteria who can’t find the plastic forks and plates or who is struggling with the coffee machine. It’s just as important to walk through the stuff that isn’t in the orientation…like how you have to jiggle the coffee maker just so to get the last drop out.
    It helps smooth the transition for new employee’s and reduces their personal stress level.

  • Anonymous

    jonathan – luv the gollum analogy. that’s exactly right! and i agree that the forum should be deliberate – let’s make sure this stuff gets shared. thanks for the comment!

  • Anonymous

    you’re so right, melissa. it comes down to the smallest of things that actually end up really making a difference in one’s employment experience. we don’t pay enough attention to those things. and the list you started could go on and on: how to work the copy machines, where to get a kleenex, etc. thx for your thoughts!

  • Buzz Rooney

    Word, Charlie!

    I think it is the fear of being replaceable or some other insecurity leads to this. Early on in my career, I asked my work team about cross-training. Someone said “I am not teaching you how to take my job!” That always stuck with me. It’s so twisted. Perhaps our organizational cultures breed that, but more often than not, I see it’s been individuals who take it upon themselves to hoard know-how in fear.

    Sharing knowledge and wisdom makes all of us better. ESPECIALLY the person who gives! Give it up, yo!

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