KM/Knowledge Services Success Depends on Staff Motivation
For every knowledge services director, there comes a time when enthusiasm turns to something akin to frustration. You know you have made progress in bringing the organization toward (if not yet to) recognition as a knowledge culture, and you have in place a number of initiatives that – while not making any particular headway – are understood to be “good for the company.”
But something’s missing, and you know what it is. The enthusiasm that you and some of your colleagues in the organization bring to the knowledge development and knowledge sharing (KD/KS) process seems not to be shared. Not always, and there are “pockets” where you might be making a little headway, you’re happy to note. Yet you sometimes get the impression that while the people you work with are very willing to follow direction, to hear what you have to say, and, indeed, might sometimes come up with an idea or an objective or two, they are not especially excited about KM/knowledge services.
The spark isn’t there, and you need to figure out how to get people involved. You want them to be as committed to KD/KS as an organizational objective and you and a few other colleagues are, and they need to understand (or at least recognize) that strategic knowledge is something the organization cannot succeed without.
What should you do? How can you motivate people to get interested in what you and your staff are trying to accomplish with KM/knowledge services? How about a few tips from SMR International’s workbook?
1. WIIFM. Start with the basics. While the more idealistic of us might like to think about our workplace interactions from a “higher-level” perspective (e.g., everyone who works with us is as committed to the successful achievement of the organizational mission as we are), let’s get real here. Most people don’t come to work to “change the world.” They want to do their work – which they hope is interesting and rewarding (at least that’s what they tell the HR staff when they fill in those career-development forms) – but when they get right down to it, they’re not very interested in performing a task that they cannot connect to their own interests and their own advancement.
The answer is obvious: if “what’s-in-it-for-me?” is the driver for these employees, identify some low-hanging fruit (excuse the cliché) and find a KM/knowledge services solution that matches their success in their work with a problem that others have as well. Do you know a staff member who is continually forced to request information or forms from another department, but cannot get into the other department’s database to obtain the information? And is the problem such that people in both departments speak about how much time they waste going back and forth? Put them together, create a tiny working group to look at the problem and come up with a solution. When you’re finished, make sure all parties understand that what they’ve come up with is a KD/KS solution that – using the same types of activities – can be applied to other problems.
2. Convey the costs. Another useful step is to ensure that the KM/knowledge services commitment is part of the planning that takes place for any new endeavor, program, or product development scheme being considered. All of us have experienced the “catch-up” knowledge-sharing crisis that comes about when “what-we’ll-need-to-know” is left out of early discussions. The most well-known of these is the situation where program managers are surprised to learn that research costs for a proposed idea are going to knock a hole in the program budget, to say nothing of time and labor costs when the research team has to start paying to acquire essential information to pass on to the program team. Talk with staff early on to be sure they convey to their customers that research doesn’t come free. At the same time, work with program managers and others in positions of responsibility (and influence) to see if KM/knowledge services requirements cannot be incorporated into basic planning discussions. Talk about costs from the get-go. [And this technique, not so incidentally, sends a very strong message about the value of KM/knowledge services.]
3. MBWA to MBL. Managing-by-walking-about continues to be the knowledge services director’s most effective communications tool, and it comes in pretty handy for performance evaluation as well. But if we really want to get a handle on what people in the organization think about the KD/KS process, listen to what they are saying. In conversations about research issues, tools, techniques, knowledge services staff, or whatever other topics come up, take the initiative and slant the conversation so you – as the knowledge services director – can get a “snapshot” of what’s going on. Do you need more information? Is there a “tone” or an underlying reticence for entering into new programs because of some perceived barrier with respect to strategic knowledge? You can find out by listening, and if you add what you hear to what you observe when you’re walking about, you’re going to come away with more than a snapshot. You’ll have a good picture and, more important, you will now have enough information to take action.
4. Sponsorship. In every consultancy we undertake, Dale Stanley and I look first at the relationships in place in the organization. We particularly focus on senior management and the commitment of people at the senior management level to the KD/KS process. When you meet up with organizational leaders (casually or formally), what’s your take on their understanding of the role of strategic knowledge in the organization? Do they understand the value of strategic knowledge? Are they in tune with the organization as a knowledge culture? Does their understanding of organizational strategy include a reference point for knowledge strategy? If so, does the knowledge strategy match the business strategy?
Dale and I make a point of trying to get enterprise leaders to work with the knowledge services director to, as Dale puts it, “express, model, and reinforce” an organizational commitment to excellence in KM/knowledge services. We try to pin senior management (or even a single senior manager) down not only to saying they support good KM/knowledge services. We look for more, and we encourage them to take on a particular KM/knowledge services tool or technique and spread the word that they are using it (or support its use, if direct use of the tool isn’t germane to their work). Finally, we invite them to put some strength into their commitment, to let the word out that not taking advantage of good KM/knowledge services opportunities will influence their judgment about professional performance.
5. Organizational effectiveness. In the long run, it is organizational effectiveness that we’re going for, and that quest just might be the best motivational tool we bring to the organization. Today’s enterprise leaders are naturally interested in organizational development and in strengthening the organization – after all, it’s what we seem to be working on most of the time, and what we’ve been doing for over forty years now. But the true focus in the 21st century workplace is on organizational effectiveness. Effectiveness is our new organizational purpose. How well is our company (organization, agency) doing what it is supposed to be doing? How successful are we in delivering on our organization’s desired effects? This is a very powerful paradigm in today’s workplace, and knowledge workers know it and relate to it. If we can bring to our people a desire to commit to the effectiveness of the larger organization, their commitment to KD/KS will fall into place.
Deb Hunt says
Wow, Guy, you have summed this up so well. Every knowledge and information professional needs to read this. It's a roadmap to success by getting "C" suite buy-in and support, staff understanding what's in it for them, being upfront with costs AND value, and dealing with organizational cultural attitudes. We need to take the initiative and get to work. Only then will our organizations realize their full potential.
Thanks for sharing!