A colleague finds himself in a strange professional situation, perhaps a classic management conflict.
In the forward-thinking company where he works, he has been assigned to take knowledge development and knowledge sharing to “the floor.” His colleagues who manage strategic learning feel that it’s time for KD/KS to go live, so to speak, and everyone in the company should be in position to benefit from the firm’s well-developed knowledge strategy.
Our friend’s job is to work with HR (which has responsibility for strategic learning) in organizing and implementing training programs for staff, and things have been going pretty well. Most middle-management folks respond positively when a new learning opportunity is offered, and even if there are reasons why the training product isn’t necessarily a “hit,” enough interest is shown that he and HR management are encouraged and keep pumping out useful and – for the most part – well attended courses, programs, brown-bag discussions, management knowledge-sharing sessions, “what-I-learned-at-the-conference” presentations, and the like.
Now this professional-development novice is challenged. For his new assignment, he is to go to support staff and work with them on how they can learn from one another and, if he is successful, get them interested in creating that famous knowledge culture at the “other end” of the company’s labor force. HR’s strategic learning team has been successful with senior management and with middle management, but now they want to go all the way. They are serious when they say their knowledge strategy is “enterprise-wide,” and they want everyone in the company involved.
And he’s not dealing with the so-called “educated” support staff, our new knowledge services professional. The people he has been asked to work with are not the secretaries, personal assistants, and others who – despite being in support positions – work with computers, have nice little desk arrangements in their cubicles, and qualify as knowledge workers. For this assignment, our friend has been assigned to work with the men and women on the factory floor, the people who pack (and unpack) the boxes, who keep the office machinery working, and who, without being very high up in the operational structure, are nevertheless critical to the company’s success and can benefit (from management’s perspective) from learning basic KD/KS skills.
Can he do it? Asking around in some of the communities of practice in the company – especially in some of the groups that focus on KM/knowledge services – has not produced any very solid recommendations. It seems the best this crowd can come up with (and it works with higher-level employees) is to invite workers to talk about how they do their work and, in the conversation, try to identify opportunities where they can share something they’ve learned with co-workers who could use what they know.
Can’t they do better than that? How else can our friend from HR get the company’s so-called “manual workers” enthusiastic about knowledge sharing? Isn’t knowledge sharing as important for blue-collar workers as it is for everyone else? If so, how do we bring them around to KD/KS?