In his most excellent book Collaboration, Morten T. Hansen identifies several barriers to good collaboration. One of these barriers is cultural in nature and is called hoarding.

Hoarding is where an individual or team keeps knowledge to themselves. This means that others have to ask them to ask them to do something for them, or to they’ll tell them how to do it with minimal information. I am constantly surprised that when I share this barrier to collaboration with customers, how many of them look at each other and say “That’s Dick” or “That’s Jane.” It’s then followed immediately with “They call it job security.”

You’re Not That Important
In the words of my mother “Eat a Twinkie and get over it.”  

If you’re one of these people hoarding information and not collaborating, trust me on this, that little bit of information you control is not the linchpin of the company success. If you are abducted by aliens tomorrow, the company won’t fold without you.  Your coworkers won’t be happy and they may struggle with a few things. But in the end, they’ll figure it out and things will progress.

Ironically, this will actually force them to collaborate. They’ll collaborate with vendors. They’ll collaborate with teammates. They’ll collaborate with coworkers in other departments. In the end, not only will they learn what you were hoarding, but chances are pretty good that they’ll learn even more — and use that knowledge to better the overall system and processes.

You’re Not Quality Control
Most often, the reason people hoard information isn’t bad intent nor “job security,” it’s a matter of pride because of expertise. It’s because you have become the de facto Subject Matter Expert (SME) and it’s always flowed through you. Nobody can do it as good as you. This scenario is typical throughout enterprise organizations where expertise is prized. The problem is it won’t scale. Sooner or later there’s an inflection point between the number of requests for information and how many you can handle.

Instead of being the quality-control checkpoint, you’ve become the chokepoint. This is where you might put in a request for headcount, hire, and train people on the information and duties you continue to hoard. Having that fiefdom doesn’t remove the chokepoint nor improve quality, it stalls growth and development.

You’re Not Going to Advance
You may believe that hoarding knowledge creates job security such that management doesn’t want to deal with losing you and your knowledge. I would advise against putting too much faith in that philosophy. And, if you do, you have just provided yourself with job security for that role and only for that role. You’ve become too valuable as the checkpoint to ever see your career path advance beyond management of your fiefdom. You’d better hope new technology or company acquisition doesn’t make you redundant.

Become a Practitioner of Best Practices
What’s the opposite approach? Demonstrate more value to the company by sharing your knowledge with more people. This will:

  • Provide you with more time to advance your knowledge
  • Expand your skill set into other ancillary areas that support your primary duties
  • Elevate your status from SME to Trusted Advisor

This will ensure that you have educated personnel to support your efforts when needed.  You’ll have the opportunity to move into adjacent areas, or oversee the merger of departments. You’ll be leading the organization in your areas of expertise instead of holding it hostage with your hoarding.

There are many ways to share the knowledge and best practices you’ve developed:

  • Participate in team meetings. Request time in other team meetings that rely on your services.  Tell them what you do and why. Tell them how they can help. Answer any questions they have.
  • Use internal vehicles such as web pages, blogs, team workspaces, online meetings, etc. to bring together different teams and people of interest to further your outreach and Transfer of Information (TOI).
  • Use those same vehicles for external communications, along with social media activities. Simply dropping tips and tricks to other like-minded individuals can elevate you from trusted advisor within your company to a trusted advisor within the industry.

These practices will gain visibility for you internally. People will look to you as a trusted advisor who is proactively delivering value to the company. Once you gain trusted advisor status in the industry, not only have you elevated your visibility, but you’ve elevated the visibility of your company. You will be associated as the person who is behind the best practices for the leading-edge company in your industry. Now that is what I call job security.

Are you hoarding information now and why?

Were you a hoarder who has seen the light and is now in a better position?

Do you have to deal with knowledge hoarders at work? How is that experience for you?

Tell us your story here.


John Gaudin

No Longer with Cisco