By Sophie Jardine Career This is what you need to do to be an empowering leader 31 Aug 2017 The age-old belief that knowledge is power no longer holds. These days, it’s sharing knowledge with the right people that matters most. For accountants, distributing expertise both within and outside of your firm can mean the difference between surviving and thriving. But what does it mean to share knowledge in a business context? While structured training days and induction sessions keep employees in the know, knowledge sharing is about making a cultural commitment to transparency. Businesses across all sectors must ensure they don’t fall into a “silo mentality”, a mindset in which departments or individuals refuse to share knowledge with others in their organisation. As the accountancy sector is experiencing a technological transformation, accountants must look outside of their work environment to understand how they can provide a better service. Leaders who are generous with their time, feedback, praise and trust have been shown to motivate their teams by making them feel confident and included. Financial rewards have been shown to be rarely as effective in creating a committed and inspire workforce. Leaders who share knowledge, provide resources and praise their employees create environments that foster collaboration and loyalty. Reaching out to move up Elizabeth Claxton of Rostrons makes a point of connecting with her local business community to understand how she can better serve them. “The phrase that we’re using at the moment is ‘bringing the outside in’,” Claxton says. “If you don’t connect with the outside world, you have no idea what’s going on out there. Pretty soon you’ll realise you’re not providing what somebody needs because you’ve lost touch.” For Claxton and Rostrons, reaching out involves playing an active role in Norfolk Network, an organisation founded in 2003 to give business people who are experts in their own field the opportunity to develop broader entrepreneurial skills. Since then, the community has grown to over a hundred individual members from a variety of backgrounds who meet every month for guest lectures, workshops or working lunches. “We have between 20 and 30 local businesses as part of our network,” Claxton explains. “We’ve connected with like-minded companies from around Norwich and Norfolk who want to share their experiences and what they’ve learned. They are not other firms of accountants, they are other professional firms or creative firms. We find out what is going on in the local community from them and in return we share what’s going on in our community and our clients.” The team at Rostrons uses the knowledge gained through Norfolk Network to reflect on their business from an outsider perspective. Regularly taking a step back from everyday work makes it easier to share tacit skills and expert knowledge across the organisation. An important aspect is identifying knowledge gaps and connecting with suitable business partners to resolve them. “We know we don’t know everything, we don’t try to know everything, and we don’t try to be the answer for everything,” says Claxton. “We have a very clear idea about where our expertise stops and where other experts needs to come in.” Say no to the silo Claxton argues that knowledge sharing is no longer optional. In fact, she believes that it’s the only way to stay on top of the local market, learn about new opportunities and figure out how to overcome obstacles. “We’re in such a fast moving area and environment in general with technology,” she says. “If you don’t go and find out what other people are doing, you’re going to get left behind. It can happen really quickly, you could wake up one day and find that you haven’t got a business anymore. It’s that extreme.” To ensure that Rostrons remains a healthy business, Claxton is keen to share her knowledge with the next generation. The company regularly takes on apprentices: staff who earn while they learn. Claxton is aware of the challenges facing people new to the field and points out the benefits of formal training to provide the necessary groundwork. “It’s like doing a jigsaw when you don’t know what the picture on the box is and it’s in a foreign language. It’s almost impossible,” she says. “So if you can introduce young people with a very basic set of training exercises you can give them a good grounding to succeed.” No matter how positive Claxton feels about apprenticeships, she is keen to place them within a larger framework. Knowledge sharing isn’t just about sharing your own knowledge with others, it also means that networking and a willingness to learn are more important than ever before. In a sector that’s always evolving, it’s the best way to keep your business up to date and ready to face any challenges that come its way. Five reasons to start knowledge sharing 1. Delegate effectively. If leaders and managers keep all of their insights to themselves, they will never be able to delegate tasks to junior employees. Sharing knowledge means sharing responsibility — and giving staff members the chance to shine. 2. Learn how to overcome obstacles. Talking to colleagues and industry peers about pain points in your business can help you figure out how to move past them. When it comes to problem solving, two heads are always better than one. 3. Keep your finger on the pulse. Technology changes quickly, and it’s easy to be left behind using the wrong tools. Keeping in touch with other businesses means that you’re able to learn which new software is worth investing in. 4. Make the most of your community. Engaging in knowledge sharing allows you to be deeply connected to the local market and stay attuned to your clients’ needs. 5. Support the next generation. Sharing your expertise with interns and apprentices means that there will be no shortage of capable young people at your business. And it’s important to remember that younger employees have knowledge they can share with you, too. Read about how Claxton became the director of Rostrons and how their entrepreneurship academy is building invaluable networks. Sophie Jardine is an editorial assistant at Flibl. She writes, researches and reports stories about finance and technology.