I'm at a company with a lot of experts in their fields who are going to be retiring over the next few years, and my company is looking for ways to make it easier to transfer that knowledge to new hires and less experienced employees beyond individual mentoring. Most of this knowledge has to stay within the company. (And while some of it has to stay within teams, I believe general lessons learned and useful technical information can be shared throughout the company.)

A lot of the knowledge-sharing solutions out there (wikis, corporate social networks, random .pdfs buried in random internal websites) require a lot of commitment from contributors. I thought of the success at stack exchange, particularly the Question and Answer format and search-ability, and I thought something similar that we use internally would be useful.

Has anyone tried anything similar? Would this succeed in not only making knowledge transfer easier, but also nudging the company culture to value recording that knowledge?

  • 4
    Stack Exchange also requires a lot of commitment from contributors. There are just more of them.
    – Jane S
    Sep 17 '15 at 0:53
  • 3
    Yeah the problem with all of these knowledge-transfer solutions is that we actually need humans to contribute. It's a people problem more than a technology problem. A social engineering problem. Now, the company does have yearly requirements for training, etc. (they have great internal classes actually). Maybe they can monitor reputation/the number/quality of contributions? Tie knowledge transfer to performance?
    – Shelby
    Sep 17 '15 at 0:58
  • Two problems there: 1) incentivising people to rate the articles and 2) preventing people from gaming the system to stymie other people or artificially bloat their own reputation - like Jane S said, what makes SE successful is pure and simple numbers
    – HorusKol
    Sep 17 '15 at 1:12
  • Since we have to complete like four different ethics training courses a year I'm sure they'll figure out a way to prevent people from gaming the system. Also it's not that these experts don't want to share their knowledge, they'll happily teach junior colleagues when asked. It's translating that oral knowledge into something searchable and linkable.
    – Shelby
    Sep 17 '15 at 1:14
  • 1
    You'll discover this brings up corporate angst from places you wouldn't imagine. I worked at a major corp where this generated (unfounded) fears of wrong answers floating to the top and outdated information so intense that they made the new corporate wiki read only (seriously, I was the only one who thought it was funny)
    – prototype
    Mar 9 '16 at 3:47

Has anyone tried anything similar?

I've tried several versions of knowledgebases using wikis, SharePoint, Lotus Notes, etc. They were all successful to different extents.

Would this succeed in not only making knowledge transfer easier, but also nudging the company culture to value recording that knowledge?

It's an interesting idea.

I could see the gamification elements inherent in the Stackexchange model encouraging more employees to contribute questions and answers.

But I'd worry about moderation. And I'd worry about popular-but-incorrect answers leading to lots of confusion.

If you could get a stackexchange clone to use, it would certainly be worth a pilot project at least.

(BTW - lots of other solutions allow for a Question and Answer format, and full-text search, if those are your main attributes of interest.)

  • 1
    Thanks. This company values correct information beyond anything else. Over half the employees have master's degrees. I think if there's buy-in from the experts, we shouldn't have to worry about incorrect popular answers. These experts' jobs are to correct misinformation and mistakes other companies make, even if those companies are under tons of budget or deadline pressure.
    – Shelby
    Sep 17 '15 at 1:40
  • Also we're using SharePoint but we just switched a few months back so I'm still learning the features. How did you use it?
    – Shelby
    Sep 17 '15 at 1:42
  • But I'd worry about moderation. And I'd worry about popular-but-incorrect answers leading to lots of confusion. ah the bane of Stack Exchange... :)
    – enderland
    Sep 17 '15 at 14:02

Yes, I've implemented similar systems many times for different industries. Cheap and easy way to do it is just have your own search engine server, either have a big dump to put all the info into, or do it through shared folders and index all the computers. Both ways work and give good results. There is a lot of free search engine software that do a great job and can search using multiple criteria from keywords to metatags.

A very expensive way to do it which gave me my original idea is a google mini... which is a hardware device that basically gives you an internal google search.

The advantage of my way is it doesn't matter how messy the filing system is at the start. And you can always clean it up later if you want.


There are many Stack Exchange clones, see this meta answer for a list.

Alternatively, with a bit of thought you can take a standard collaboration system such as SharePoint, Yammer, or a generic Wiki and add either internally developed or 3rd party add-ons to provide the reputation and other gamification features.

However, you will encounter some problems.

Many people use Stack Overflow passively, only as a resource without asking or answering questions. Others just ask questions and don't answer. As everyone else has said Stack Overflow works on sheer weight of numbers, you can look at some of the smaller sites in the Stack Exchange Network to see what might happen with less users.

Secondly if you're setting this up in an established company you will already have information stored. Probably in more than one system. In order to maximize the value of your new tool you'll need to move all the data into it from the old systems and disable the old systems to prevent people using them. In all but the smallest and newest companies this is a massive task and will get a lot of pushback (I know, I've been involved in projects trying to do similar). You'll have to sell the 'why' of moving to the new system and argue that it offsets the effort.

And, again as others have mentioned, you need to make sure that the effort required in moderation is really paid off in the benefits that people get from the system.

Lastly, because you need to put everything together you may run into a problem of compartmentalization of information. It may not be possible to share all information with all employees either for legal or intellectual property reasons. So then you need some sort of access control but it also further reduces the number of people who can interact with the whole system making it less viable.

It's certainly possible to do, a lot will depend on how big and old the company is and what the culture is. It's work excellently for some companies while it'll die a death in others (and potentially take your career in that company with it if it's regarded as "your idea").

Like anything I'd take small steps, try and move to a single system for all the data first, then look at adding the extra features. Maybe run a trial on a smaller set of the data and get feedback.


The gamification aspect is actually a distraction/turn-off for those of us who "grew up" with newsgroups and FAQ collections or equivalent systems such as the IBM "forums". Reputation is a more direct reward, happens just fine without explicit tracking, and can have direct job benefits both in terms of opportunities ad in being able to get assistance from others.

  • 1
    I think since these experts would be sharing their knowledge to everyone in the company, they'll care more about real-life reputation than internet points. I probably wouldn't mimic Stack Exchange's reputation system.
    – Shelby
    Sep 17 '15 at 21:27
  • Also, activity points can cut both ways -- they can look good if you have a manager who understands the benefits of networking and cross-education, or bad if you've got a beancounter who wants to know why you aren't focused exclusively on your own project. Never invoke what thou canst not banish.
    – keshlam
    Sep 17 '15 at 22:21
  • Since everyone has their performance evaluated throughout the year and there are categories for leadership skills, communication skills, and a few others that knowledge transfer would fit under, I think we can motivate people to share that knowledge without scaring away the bean-counters too much. The company made a big push for mentoring over the past few years and a got a lot of people to buy into it, to the point they can make it one of their yearly goals. This can be another kind of yearly goal/mentoring goal. Probably.
    – Shelby
    Sep 17 '15 at 22:34

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .