Very impressed with the thinking of Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff and the concept they identify as “groundswell.” In fact, it’s the name of their book from last year (Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies). Published by Harvard Business Press, the book puts forward ideas (and explanations) about how leaders in companies and organizations (including ourselves as knowledge thought leaders) must think about the social media “groundswell” that seems to be affecting the way all of us do business and interact with one another. And it’s that interaction that companies and organizations must take note of.
Li and Bernoff define groundswell as “a social trend in which people use technologies to get the things they need from each other, rather than from traditional institutions like corporations.”And – not to put too fine a point on it – they make it clear that we are nowhere near realizing the potential of this trend. We’re not even near how we are going to be applying it in the workplace (although Li and Bernoff offer some mighty useful case studies to demonstrate how some companies and organizations are succeeding in incorporating groundswell into their overall management structure).
Naturally, for me I want to take the groundswell concept into our work, into the development of knowledge strategy and the alignment of knowledge strategy with the company’s business strategy. Then I want to follow the groundswell along as I see things change – for the better, of course.
For some, the groundswell idea might seem like just one more practical management technique in a new dress, but I don’t think so. The different social media we’re all dealing with – combined with the whole framework of network value analysis – gives us incredibly fine opportunities for moving beyond what we’ve been doing in the management arena in the past. It’s a totally new management environment, and. I’m excited about it. I’m not sure I want to just sit back and watch.
So how might we use some of Li and Bernoff’s approach in the KM/knowledge services workplace?
I start with something the authors refer to as their POST method (and, yes, they’re as caught up in acronyms as all the rest of us!). Here’s what you get when you think about transitioning POST over into KM/knowledge services:
- People: What are your customers ready for? Li and Bernoff recommend creating a customer profile and asking yourself questions like “How will your customers engage, based on what they are already doing.” But be careful. They also caution about making guesses about what might work and what won’t.
- Objectives: What are your goals? Do you want people to come to you for consultations, for help-desk type queries, for in-depth research? What is your knowledge services business unit there for? Do you want to use the groundswell to help your own team work more efficiently? effectively? (see below for Li and Bernoff’s “most powerful objectives”)
- Strategy: How do you want relationships with your customers to change? Is it all really about change management? Probably, but before you can manage change, you need strategy. It’s required up front for planning changes. And of course strategy is also required for measuring desired changes once the strategy is under way.
- Technology: What applications should you build? Decide first on people, objectives, and strategy and then you can move on to determining whether you’re going to be looking at blogs, wikis, social networks, etc. (or whatever else has just come down the pike).
Then Li and Bernoff give us what they characterize as their five “most powerful objectives”:
- Listening – use the groundswell for research and for better understanding users’ needs
- Talking – use the groundswell for spreading messages about your business unit
- Energizing – find your most enthusiastic customers (and sponsors) and use groundswell to “supercharge” world of mouth
- Supporting – set up groundswell tools to help customers support each other (generally requires some support resources and customers who have an affinity for working and speaking with one another)
- Embracing – “integrate customers into the way the business works, including their help in designing products.” This is the most challenging of the five goals and, as Li and Bernoff acknowledge, best suited to companies that have already succeeded with the other four goals.
It makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? As we look at all the variations we’re dealing with in KM/knowledge services, our concerns with leadership, our need to measure and develop metrics, our attempts to strengthen the relationship between technology and knowledge, and our goal of devising a workable knowledge strategy for the larger organization so we can accomplish all this, it’s good to have this useful concept to think about. Congratulations (and thanks) to Li and Bernoff for introducing us to the “groundswell.”