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?
Dale Stanley says
I wouldn’t work too hard at trying to find something unique.
I’m sure that you don’t mean to imply that these people who are not “educated” or at “higher levels” in the organization may not be able to share knowledge (“can he do it?”). All people are naturally able to tell stories with the purpose of sharing and collaborating. We’ve been doing it since the changes in our environment forced our ancestor’s brains to evolve to ones with language.
As with any of our groups, if the purpose of the activity is clear, if there is someone there to keep things reasonably on-track towards that purpose, and there are next actions captured and followed-up on, great things will happen.
Getting them enthused about talking about what they do all day? — shouldn’t be a problem. As usual with any group, it starts slow, requires some initial encouragement and assurances of “safety”, and then necessitates getting out of the way when the floodgates of stories open up.
Good thinking, Dale, and thanks for sharing. I think the three criteria you list (clear purpose, staying on track, and capturing and sharing what comes after) give us a good formula to work with.
Agree that we all can tell stories, but some folks, I think, become a little intimidated (and some people are just naturally quiet and not given to lots of talk and sharing). But if our young strategic learning professional follows your suggested steps, he should be able to succeed with this assignment.
Michelle Dollinger says
Great question! You’re dealing with a population that doesn’t have computer access most of the day and probably aren’t using smart phones at a high rate.
If there’s a kiosk or two in the break room, they may not want to log in/out each time and privacy could be an issue.
So, if they are expected to be doing this after hours from home, what’s the incentive if it’s time they’re not getting paid for? Sounds like there would have to be some kind of points system for contributions and a reward as well.
Otherwise, it’s scheduling small, in-person pow-wows to examine specific areas. Or using printed materials to capture knowledge and share ideas. It would be interesting to look at how some of the Japanese auto companies involved plant workers.