How Knowledge Can Kill IT’s Value

IT people often intentionally withhold knowledge from those outside of IT. There are different reasons for this — some good and some very bad.

One reason IT folks withhold knowledge is that they believe the best way to learn is to teach yourself. After all, that’s how many of them learned. Unlike many others in business, most IT folks didn’t attain their skills through traditional education. They were self-starters when it came to their own education and taught themselves much of what they know. Such an approach has served them well, so they believe it will serve others well also.

While well-intentioned, this attitude is detrimental in business. Companies don’t hire IT people to mentor others to be like themselves. Rather, companies hire IT people to leverage their knowledge, skills, and expertise to achieve business objectives.

Contrast IT with the Legal department in this regard. People in Legal don’t withhold knowledge when asked. They are quick to “give the answer” and engage in discussion not only about Legal matters, but how those matters relate to the rest of the business. They aren’t threatened by sharing what they learned from their years in law school and real-world experience. But IT people often are reluctant, even averse to such self-exposure.

The reasons behind this apprehension when it comes to sharing knowledge aren’t important. It’s not your job to untrain this bad habit. What’s important is that the people you hire don’t try to hoard the “keys to the kingdom.” When you are interviewing candidates, make sure you find out whether a potential employee is willing to share his or her knowledge and expertise with others openly and candidly. If he’s not, politely show him the door.

An IT organization is only as good as the sum of its parts. Folks who hold tightly onto their knowledge like Frodo holding onto the One Ring are dragging your IT organization down and inhibiting the value it can provide. Don’t let that happen. Expect and demand open dialogue, widespread sharing, and consideration of the needs and objectives of the business. If IT can’t do that, it might as well not even be a part of the business.