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Generational Leadership

Knowledge Sharing and Handling Across the Generations

Knowledge Sharing and Handling Across the Generations

Knowledge and information are probably the top two commodities of any business. Without that, your organization will quickly crumble. Failing to share information will immediately put a company at risk. However, because different generations have different expectations for knowledge sharing, it may be important to consider a few strategic points for handling the situation.

Traditionalists – are known for keeping information organized in hard copies and keeping documents just in case they will need them. For that reason, Traditionalists have valuable information that others do not. Some will hold on to information that it is tied to their jobs, which they don’t want to lose. Others will hold on to their hard copies because they are concerned that others don’t value the information enough and that it therefore could be lost. Tie information sharing to positive job metrics so that Traditionalists feel value in sharing their knowledge and establish systems ensuring that hard copies to be scanned are returned safely to the original owner.

Boomers – use both hard copies and soft copies, although they will often prefer to print out the soft copies so that they can write on them. A significant challenge that busy Boomers face are programs for knowledge and information sharing that frustrates them because they don’t work properly or take too long to learn. Determine what your needs are and choose a straightforward program that doesn’t take time away from important tasks. Boomers look to the value of knowledge as a pawn to be played, so include knowledge sharing in performance evaluations as a way to motivate. They are also very protective of information, and may be less inclined to move data to remote digital storage than younger generations.

Generation X – see value in knowledge that supports their careers as well as the projects that they are working on. They often see the impact of existing gaps unearthed in information, like a missing piece of client history. Many Generation X:ers worry that retiring Boomers will take knowledge with them that the X:ers don’t yet have, so they are ready to go the extra mile to learn from their older colleagues. They will cautiously reach out to their busy older peers, limiting the amount of time that they are asking for. Generation X:ers prefer information sharing in digital form, making it easy to transport should they choose to work from home at night. Many Generation X:ers are also concerned about file sharing and network vulnerabilities and want to make sure that steps are taken to ensure data encryption.

Millennials or Generation Y – are ready to learn and grow, but how they share information may get in the way of their ability to interact with older colleagues. Millennials want immediate access to information and get frustrated when it’s not available or when they can’t access information on the Internet because of digital firewalls. Once they have access, many Millennials expertly share digital files and have expectations that run counter to those of other generations. Millennials need to know what files and information is appropriately shared (or not) with friends and family, in addition to colleagues. Any confidentiality clauses may need to be restated to that effect. That is not because the Millennials don’t understand but because their thinking is different. Many Millennials value immediate access to key people who have the information that they need, but they may need help and guidance in how to appropriately share outside your company.

Knowledge transfer is key to running organizations but could also provide a block for cultural cohesion. Recognize how different generations tend to approach information sharing and know where to set in training programs or other efforts to make it smooth. The result will be a tighter stronghold on your key assets, information and people, which in turn will place your company at the forefront of success.

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About Dr. Annika Hylmö

Dr. Annika Hylmö is an Organizational Strategy Consultant and Executive and Leadership Coach with The Insight Generation. Annika has a Ph.D. in Organizational Communication and a M.A. in International Communication. She can be contacted at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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