Q: I own a new, growing company. Some employees are very reluctant to help each other with improving skills and sales. As a result, I'm concerned the company's long-term expansion goals will not be met. How can I encourage competitive employees, especially new hires, to share their information to benefit the company?
A: What you are talking about is corporate culture, a system of shared values about how the work gets done in your company and how people and things are treated in the process. Since you say the organization is new, you and others have a great opportunity to take action now to create the culture in a positive and productive way that will benefit individuals, revenue and the company's future.
First, you need to share your vision that assisting others in skill-building and sharing information and knowledge is both a good idea and an admirable value. Others need to agree that this new way of conducting business is an effective, productive and worthy process to implement. Then, you need to ensure that all employees fully understand and are willing to implement such a positive program.
Next, that process of working together needs to be clearly reinforced. Managers throughout the company need to provide concrete rewards--including praise, recognition, raises and public announcements at meetings--whenever this new cultural value and behavior occurs. By reinforcing and rewarding people, the top administrators concretely show by their actions that they support and reinforce a specific aspect of the new company culture. After all, the best way to ensure that a certain behavior or action gets repeated is to reinforce it.
Another way to establish and reward a new aspect of your company's culture is to make sharing and assisting others an important and integral part of what the company does. This can occur in several different ways. For instance, knowledge transfer or skill-building can become a formal part of in-house training. If your company has a tight budget, then make sure you rely on in-house employees to do the teaching. Typically, this plan leads to the "teacher" feeling increased self-esteem and receiving praise from his or her students. Furthermore, the students regard their teacher in a more positive light and are more willing to work with and for him! In any case, it is a clear win-win.
Yet another method of sharing this information is through brown bag lunches. While colleagues and subordinates sit around a table, someone informally shares ideas or methods of addressing and resolving challenges that others are facing. Again, there is praise and recognition for the problem-solvers, and other employees are able to learn new ideas in a low-stress, low-risk environment. This clearly results in another win-win situation. (You can go one step further by rewarding the presenters with warm praise and appreciation, as well as a token gift.)
Mentoring is another successful means of transferring skills and knowledge that can address the question you raise of competition between employees. When a new employee is hired, assign him or her (or let them choose) someone higher up in the organizational ladder who will assist that employee in learning the ropes, learning "how the work gets done around here," and learning to build individual skills, abilities and knowledge. Mentors can act in a nonpunitive way to take this employee under his or her wings until the latter is fully ready to dive into the corporate culture and be a productive, successful and contributing member of the organization.
Good luck with these simple, easy-to-implement steps for positively improving your corporate culture and your company's future!