How To Unlock Your Organization’s REAL Knowledge

How To Unlock Your Organization’s REAL Knowledge

Author: Anthony Onesto

It was a couple of years back. I was head of HR for a hybrid services and technology company. I was responsible for both the recruiting and HR functions for an organization built by piecing together different groups into one (all with different cultures, people, and processes). It was a tall order, but I was excited because it was also a global company. In this role, I had a great head of recruiting and good support system in HR. I spent most of my days coaching the CEO and leaders of the departments, but mostly in operations, not HR. Yep, an HR guy coaching operations. We talked about profit and loss, margins, scoping work, all those things you would see a COO doing. I did this a lot in all my HR roles, and always had a passion for it. While working closely with ops and marketing folks at FreshDirect, I saw the impact talent had on the actual activities of the company. They were all tied very closely. So why am I telling you this? Well, I was promoted to Chief Operating Officer within the same company, and it wasn’t because someone had looked at my title or my work history, in fact, I was promoted in spite of that information. The only reason I was promoted into the COO role, was because the CEO saw the passion and potential I brought to the job.

My story is not unique; this happens within organizations all the time. Talent is somehow hidden deep within organizations. Talent surfaces based on very nontechnical ways – transfer or promotion conversations are originated based on wrong information or in some groups close friendships. There are perceptions we have of our organizations that typically don’t match the realities. We believe there to be a hierarchy because HR and onboarding documents illustrate that there is, but in reality, organizations are made up of teams of people, not boxes in an org chart. Within those teams, there is an enormous amount of unlocked talent and knowledge. This talent hides behind job descriptions and titles and needs instead to be “tagged” because that talent exponentially gets lost as the company scales. Talent and knowledge need to be fluid, unbridled, and innovative within our organizations or anyone could wind up like Kodak.

Businesses must stop relying on old world structures and methodologies to find and unlock knowledge and talent within their organizations. A title and hierarchical organization structure hide talent and information behind job descriptions, outdated performance reviews, communication tools like email, poorly designed intranets, and legacy learning management systems. Time will tell if Tony Hsieh is right about Holacracy, but we know moving into the next phase of business, CEOs and organizations MUST find new ways to unlock their companies’ knowledge. Wikis, Intranets, and even learning management systems (LMS) have failed teams and must be scraped. I will let you in on a little a secret; no one uses your intranet or wiki. The experience is awful, and it’s incredibly hard to find information. Learning Management Systems are purely made to capture data, profiles, but rarely help organizations to unlock knowledge and talent. Even newer solutions have made holy-grail promises, but come up short.

I suggest thinking about learning and knowledge in a very different way. Ways to ensure your talent is learning, and your organization is unlocking the knowledge hidden behind titles and org structures. Here are a few ways I think organizations can unlock knowledge and expertise:

  • Support Passion – find what gets people up in the morning and let them explore these topics in a democratic way. When people get to express their Real Knowledge, they will be more engaged, and you’ll unlock hidden talent.
  • Unlock Knowledge – when you democratize learning and allow anyone anywhere to learn and create content, you will find the Real Knowledge of your organization. Employees will create content that they are passionate about and may not relate to their day to day jobs.
  • Make It Brief (no bs)Josh Bernoff wrote a book “Writing Without Bullshit.” He instructs the reader to remove jargon and get to the point. Learning needs to be the same way. Employees don’t have time to read long-form content; content must be bite-sized and engaging. There must be a consumer-like format to content.
  • Surface Talent – when you democratize content and knowledge you will find hidden talent in your organization.
  • Make It Fun – content MUST be fun and engaging. There is a flood of information being thrown at your employees these days, so they must be able to consume quick content in a fun and engaging way.
  • Consumer Experience – it’s the “consumerization” of learning. When employees walk through the office door, their expectations don’t change when it comes to products they use at work. The same consumer apps that provide a beautiful and engaging experience need to transcend into the enterprise space.

How will you unlock the true knowledge in your organization? When you do, the human capital you’ll find will be priceless.


Anthony Onesto is a business leader with more than 18 years of strategy, product, recruiting, and human resources experience. Reach out to him at or 347.744.9070.

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