a typewriter with a piece of paper that says: invest in knowledge

Time and again, a lack of specialist know-how and expertise are cited as hurdles to digitization. But what can companies do about it?

Create a knowledge matrix

Many companies don’t actually know exactly who knows what. This is often because company departments are sharply divided. Exchanges between colleagues rarely go beyond routine tasks. Therefore, it can be worthwhile to provide spaces for sharing knowledge. This also provides an overview of the types of expertise, the level and, correspondingly, the gaps in any company. Knowing these, it is much easier to work on ways to strengthen the overall know-how.

Aligning knowledge gaps with the corporate objective

Especially when trend topics are taken up by management, it’s not uncommon that immediate measures (trainings, workshops) are taken before the consideration whether that specific trend is actually relevant for the company’s strategy and goals.

It is significant that Gartner recommended for a long time that internal AI projects should only be initiated if the company already had experience with AI, since the effort often far exceeds the benefit, especially at the beginning and it might be much more sensible to evaluate and refer to external services (if needed).

Supporting interests

Often, certain areas of interest arise with a job and companies should support their employees in following up on them. That doesn’t mean that a marketing manager needs to be supported in learning the guitar. But if they show an interest in search engine optimization in order to optimize website presence, it may be worthwhile to allocate time and, if necessary, resources for further education.

Allocate resources

Experience shows that many employees are not averse to develop themselves and in fact want this be part of their jobs. But in their daily work they often lack the time to actually research, learn and practice. It’s not enough as a company to communicate that education and trainings are appreciated. Companies have to actively enable their employees by making resources available, like time and budget.

Provide incentives

Be it through gamification, development goals or even bonuses: Further development should be rewarded. It depends on the company and the needs of the employees to develop a rewarding system. This doesn’t always have to be a monetary reward. Since further training always helps employees as well with their portfolio, a badge system, that can be displayed on job platforms such as LinkedIn or Xing, for example, may be enough to provide motivation. Another idea might be to assign expert roles internally, so the employees act as sponsors or owners for their special topics within the company. That way, they can directly drive these topics forward and create their own projects.

Establish knowledge transfer as a cornerstone

Incentives should be provided not only for acquiring but also for sharing expertise. Nothing hinders knowledge sharing in companies more than the attitude that one’s own expertise is only valuable if no one else has it. Sharing knowledge should be one of the cornerstones of the corporate philosophy and should also be exemplified by managers. Accordingly, resources should be made available for imparting know-how (e.g., through special training days, workshops, mentorships, etc.).

Setting realistic expectations

In the article „Establish Expertise Inside Your Company“ in the Harvard Business Review (2015), Michael Leckie explains:

„First of all, it’s important to recognize that you don’t have to start out as a worldwide expert.“

In short, goals for training and development should be realistic and fit into everyday work. Ideally, employees should have the opportunity to set their own goals. If the goals are decided upon by management with no input by the employees, it can easily happen that the goals are set too high or do not fit to the available resources. Especially when it comes to the independent acquisition of know-how, it must be possible to develop step by step without immediately being expected to implement huge projects.

Using external consulting

Projects in collaboration with service providers can provide an enormous pool of know-how, especially if the service provider does not simply execute, but sets up and implements the project together with an internal team. In many technical areas, but also for strategic concepts, pilot projects are suitable for learning the first basics and applying them to follow-up projects. In addition, workshops and moderated training sessions can help to communicate new topics to teams or individual employees.

Providing testing grounds

Speaking of which, pilot projects are a good way to enable new knowledge in a space where mistakes are allowed. It helps to give employees options to apply their know-how practically and preferably without business-critical risks. In the Holacracy concept, there is a simple and very practical question to ask when proposing ideas: does it hurt the company?

Giving employees projects to try that are low-risk, but can positively impact business goals, gives everyone involved a stronger incentive.


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Exposing „Inconscious Incompetence“

This unflattering term refers to a lack of knowledge without being aware of it. For example, one tech company found that their average salespeople didn’t know one-fifth of product features, yet at the same time thought of themselves as 100% familiar with all products (source: HBR, 2017). Long-standing experts and executives, by the way, are particularly susceptible to this phenomenon. Their own perception as experts can hinder their willingness and urgency in learning new things (or refresh old things).

In the article, Ulrik Juul Christinsen identifies several ways to recognize and avoid Inconscious Incomepence. In summary, a culture of continuous learning helps, with individualizable tests that not only stubbornly ask for information, but also invite people to reflect on and justify their answers.

Building knowledge libraries

Especially  companies that operate an intranet or have digital channels where know-how is collected, can and should create digital knowledge libraries where instructions, presentations, videos and more can be offered. All employees should be able to view and add material.

Ideally, all employees should have access to resources for both training and access to knowledge, even beyond their own departments. Nothing strengthens a company more than employees who can and want to think outside the box.


A virtual platform can transform your company’s information management by providing communication channels, enabling the sharing of documents, collaboration as well as the exchange via chat, calls and video meetings. Find out more. 

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