Who Does Your Knowledge Belong To?

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My latest post got some interesting replies on a KM LinkedIn group, out of which I would like to debate the proprietary knowledge ownership topic. I don’t think that the subject in question can get an exact and absolute answer, but there are some relevant points that I would like to talk about.

First of all let me present the employee-employer proprietary rights that people listed and some that I added:

Knowledge belongs to the employer because:

  • he pays for trainings, professional certifications, documentations
  • he gives you access to company’s customers, procedures and management
  • he provides the instruments that support you in your everyday activities

Knowledge belongs to the employee because:

  • he gets schooled, but he is the one applying the knowledge
  • the implicit knowledge (know-how) is individual
  • he takes it with him when he leaves the company

For me this is not really a debate, but rather a confirmation of the joint property of knowledge. I believe in both the individual know-how value and organization’s support (including explicit knowledge, supportive colleagues and managers). As I already stated, our knowledge is crowdsourced, so though you own it, you also owe it to more than just you.

Which brings me again to the sharing concept. There are some voices suggesting mandatory sharing intellectual assets activities (like stipulating it in employment contracts), but I personally believe this won’t exactly trigger the mindset we’d like employees to have for collaborative actions. If it will have a negative pressure effect, employees engagament will be affected, thus becoming counter productive. The way I see it, for sharing to be successful (read natural), it has to be driven by voluntary beliefs.

Contributing to a common knowledge base is believing that building on each other’s competences is more effective than building on a self-centered knowledge platform.

It’s about the future of work, about the hidden perks of collaboration and about the value of tribal knowledge.

Happy Knowledge Sharing!

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One Response to “Who Does Your Knowledge Belong To?”

  1. c.c. to your Linkedin posting …….

    I like your post on Quandora, the pros and cons being put very fairly. I await the invited comments.

    In the meantime I can only transmit our experience, which – admittedly – was obtained without any contractual obligation via my suggested contracts of employment. In all cases (except with dismissals and most redundancies, where we determined it was useless to ask) all subjects agreed without reservation, with most being flattered to have been asked. In all cases, the argument was such that the institution thought the knowledge and experience important enough to preserve for future use.

    The approach is typically made at several key-point occasions, for example after a critical incident such as a product recall, an important event such as a new product launch or the opening of a new store, et al., or when a key individual is leaving. With really senior individuals, oral debriefings are conducted at regular intervals, usually around Xmas time.

    The suggestion to include such commitment to capture in a formalized way via contracts of employment is made as a culture-change measure if employees are deemed to be resistant. I would suggest that the voluntary approach is certainly preferable but formalizing it would provide a way to overcome the conventional wisdom of knowledge being the sole preserve of the employee. Perhaps a verbal mention at interview time would be sufficient but the situation remains that knowledge ownership is NOT exclusively owned for the reasons I – and you – have enunciated.

    If knowledge and experience is not deemed to be jointly owned, then the whole premise of KM, sharing and experiential learning is dead meat. When the flexible labor market wasn’t around, there was no issue (well, no big issue) with knowledge loss, etc., but with modern staff churn the problem of corporate amnesia and experiential NON-learning is writ very large indeed.