Not long ago, I was the guest presenter — thanks to the blessings of Skype — for a webinar with colleagues in Australia. The topic was mostly about ideas I’ve put forward in recent publications (the webinar was announced as such), and among the topics covered in the webinar and in my recent book and a recently published article was the “distance” — we might call it — between the organization’s knowledge workers and senior management.
We ended the program with the usual Q&A and I was very pleased to hear one of the participants focus on one critical challenge we all face. In my presentation I had talked about knowledge services and the importance of enterprise-wide knowledge sharing, about the knowledge strategist’s responsibility for raising awareness, about the value of managing intellectual capital in the organization and, as awareness is raised, about how stakeholders throughout the enterprise can benefit from knowledge sharing. I had referred to the sometimes lack of interest or commitment among colleagues about knowledge sharing, and I had raised the issue — perhaps rhetorically — of how the knowledge strategist can ensure that knowledge sharing and knowledge services are taken seriously.
One attendee had an immediate response: “Reward it!” he said, and then he continued. “When team members share their knowledge, what are the most effective ways of rewarding it? In particular, how can we ensure that contributors are not left feeling less valuable because they have shared?”
As we think about recognition and rewards in knowledge services, there are, it seems to me, two ways to look at the subject. We must first ask how we reward those knowledge professionals working with knowledge services, as they do their best to move knowledge services forward in the enterprise. And we must think about others in the organization — people who are not specifically part of the knowledge services function or operational unit — but nevertheless who can be recognized for their efforts.
So as I say we begin by giving attention to the knowledge strategist’s point of view since — in my opinion (and as I state often) — the knowledge strategist is a manager and leader. In that role the knowledge strategist undertakes the responsibilities of any manager and leader and four of these responsibilities apply specifically to recognizing knowledge workers:
- The knowledge strategist understands that employees would rather participate than follow orders. When bringing up a new or different approach to a knowledge-sharing situation, the knowledge strategist asks for their help: “Would you like to work on this?” Or “How would you handle this?” Taking this approach enables the knowledge strategist to bring the knowledge worker or several knowledge workers into the process, opening the door to their contribution as thinking about solutions moves forward.
- The knowledge strategist keeps in mind that learning is a critical goal for committed knowledge workers, and they want to learn as they participate. As the knowledge strategist leads members of the knowledge-services team in discussing a knowledge-sharing opportunity or solving a knowledge-sharing problem, the strategist sets himself or herself up as a coach, advisor, or mentor. The strategist’s job is to work closely with the team but — at the same time — the knowledge strategist is careful to make sure team members understand that their own contributions are necessary and important. And the key idea here is “works with“— not bossing, not command-and-control — but working with knowledge services team members and, indeed, in many cases even learning with or from team members as they proceed together. When a team member says, for example, that he has no experience in what needs to be done, one knowledge strategist I know deals with this by simply saying, “Me, too. Let’s learn together.”
- The knowledge strategist connects to the idea and keeps in mind that if knowledge workers are serious about their work, they have a strong desire to be seen as part of the larger enterprise and its success. The knowledge strategist acknowledges that seriousness and speaks about the knowledge workers’ role — or the success of several of the knowledge services professionals if that’s appropriate — with other managers and at every opportunity (whether in something as simple as a comment in a corporate newsletter or in serious conversations with the strategist’s own colleagues and superiors). In doing so, the knowledge strategist makes it clear that the knowledge services team excels in its performance. That attention in itself is valuable recognition to the members of the team.
- The knowledge strategist accepts that recognition and reward are part of what managers do. And while there is a certain amount of pushback these days about MBO, many of the principles of Management by Objectives continue to be applied in today’s management situations. For one thing, the basic thrust of MBO was made pretty clear when Peter Drucker introduced the concept. It builds on one specific idea: managers and employees establish mutual objectives and share feedback and analysis on results. That effort in itself brings a certain level of recognition into the picture, since the employee is being asked to participate at a pretty serious level. And while some management specialists didn’t go along with MBO (W. Edwards Deming famously advocated replacing objectives with leadership), one notable principle of Management by Objectives continues to be effective: that rewards such as recognition, appreciation and/or performance-related pay for achieving the intended objectives is required. So in this respect rewarding knowledge services excellence continues to be expected. And the rewards go to both the members of the knowledge services team who make it happen and — in a neat segue to the knowledge-sharing expertise of other enterprise stakeholders as they come on board with knowledge services — giving attention to rewarding them for their success as well (those “contributors” our participant mentioned in the webinar). As I say, it’s part of how we work as knowledge strategists.
So beyond the efforts of knowledge professionals whose workplace function includes dealing with the knowledge-sharing process, we also give attention to other organizational stakeholders. One of the jobs of the knowledge strategist and the knowledge services team is to raise overall awareness about the value of knowledge, and while it might take some effort, once the enterprise has begun to move further in the direction of performing as a knowledge culture (moving deeper into “knowledge culturing,” perhaps?), other business units and departments will see the advantage of incorporating knowledge-sharing actions and tasks into their own performance expectations. Especially if “goals-and-objectives” statements or similar planning methodologies are required at the beginning of any reporting period, unit leaders will invite employees to describe knowledge sharing or knowledge services activities they expect to undertake. The reward comes in the review, after the work is completed, when the employee is recognized for having succeeded.
Another thought relates to enterprise-wide stakeholders who don’t work professionally with knowledge services as part of their workplace routine. They are not specifically employed in the knowledge services function, and these other workers (all knowledge workers themselves, remember, even if they do not characterize themselves as such) should also be recognized when they make advances in knowledge sharing. For these employees, recognition expert Bob Nelson notes that “making recognition happen is iterative, so try to build on and expand from your successes.” I agree. When a colleague working in another business unit reveals that he and his group are very satisfied with what they’ve learned from the knowledge services team and some project or activity has succeeded particularly well because of the group’s new thinking about knowledge sharing, the knowledge strategist — the knowledge services team manager — sees that everyone who helped deliver the message to colleagues in the other business unit is praised and, when possible, offers some sort of recognition for the knowledge services team members (even if the recognition must be limited to their immediate workplace). That kind of recognition necessarily leads to pride in the efforts being implemented with knowledge services.
So there are approaches we can take as we try to work with the recognition and rewards question. But in every case we ourselves must understand that much of any movement in this direction is going to depend on how recognition and rewards are managed in the specific workplace. And throughout the overall enterprise. Similarly, the way managers think about recognition and rewards (or don’t think about it) is bound to have some effect. We often here, for example, that “we don’t have time for that.” Or “we don’t want to build up expectations.” In most situations, though, when there are opportunities for praising employees for applying knowledge-sharing principles in organizations where knowledge sharing and knowledge services aren’t talked about a lot, the effort — one step at a time — makes sense and an overall understanding about knowledge value moves forward.