In a recent article, Jane Hart described two critical skill sets that today’s workplace professionals needs to master. One set is personal knowledge management (PKM) skills to manage the, “…constant stream of information that they encounter from social channels both inside and outside the organisation.” The other set is collaboration skills to share knowledge and, “to work and learn productively in teams, communities of practice, and social networks.” Shortly after, Mark Britz wrote about how it’s not enough to simply have social platforms that employees engage in, that they need to also learn to effectively use external social networks. Each of these articles made me think again about workplace networks and how they differ from public social networks.

The Workplace Network is Highly Structured

Most workplaces are highly structured. In addition to hierarchical levels of authority, the workplace is often organized into distinct work groups with defined roles, responsibilities, interests, and areas of expertise. That hierarchy becomes an inherent characteristic of workplace networks. A number of individuals reach outside their organizations and interact with others, building and expanding their workplace network–they are internally connected workers. But despite the best efforts of any individual, the nature of the workplace network will likely never have the informal peer-to-peer nature that we enjoy in our public social spaces.

Simply introducing a social platform into the workplace doesn’t change this dramatically. The hierarchies and organizations all remain in place, only the speed and ease with which individuals communicate improves. I also argue that the ability to reach any other employee, however senior in the organization, hasn’t changed either: email was likely sufficient to accomplish this. So, other than unique cross-organizational communities of individuals (such as groups of newly hired employees becoming acculturated into their new environment), what incentives are there for workers to actively engage in a manner different from what they were doing without the social platform?

The Workplace Network is Limited

It may go without saying that a given workplace is only as large as it’s total employee population: there’s a limit to the number of first, second, and third-hand connections any individual can have, even in the largest organization. This still could yield a thriving workplace knowledge-sharing network, but the underlying organizational structure remains intact: the number of others who share common work interests, roles, and responsibilities is often small in all but the largest organizations. The ability to develop formal or informal communities of practice is severely limited, not to mention lacking in diversity.

The Power of the Connected Worker

Representation of the individual connecting internal teams and networks with external networks and communities of practice.I previously created the diagram at the right to describe the power of the “connected worker,” represented in the diagram as “I” (individual), who serves as a node on both the workplace network and on external networks and in communities. That individual has the power to reach through the vast social networks and selectively bring valuable information back into the workplace using the collaboration and PKM skills described by Jane Hart.

This reach can empower the individual to perform better, but the real power of the connected worker results from sharing what knowledge he or she acquires. I see these skills as part of the PKM skill set for today’s worker: internally blogging, curating, sharing using whatever social tools exist, and even simply telling others is critical. It can also go a long way toward nudging the culture shift needed in many organizations today where knowledge hoarding remains an effective strategy for success.

How transparent is your organization? Is open knowledge sharing abundant or rewarded? Leave a comment below or let’s discuss it on Google+.

Thanks for reading!


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