Clients often ask me how to make Knowledge Management (KM) a seamless part of their workforce’s day-to-day operations. They want to know how to shift people’s perceptions from KM as “another thing I have to do in addition to my daily workload” to something that is done naturally as part of their everyday workflow. The idea that there is no immediate, one size fits all solution to effortlessly integrating KM into their culture and work may seem daunting. This goal, however, is no different than getting fit for the summer.
All too often, I am the type of person who jumps on a scale after one workout and wonders, “am I fit for summer yet?!” Having said this, the only times in my life when I’ve ever truly lost weight, gained muscle, or felt more energetic were when I spent months building new habits, like exercising daily, eating a plant-based diet, drinking tons of water, and making time to do yoga and meditation. In a similar sense, within days of implementing a KM solution like a search tool, content strategy, or taxonomy design, stakeholders want to know how these solutions have positively impacted the organization. In order to truly derive this value, however, your organization needs to design KM approaches with your employees in mind. To make KM stick, you have to:
- Motivate your employees to learn and embody new habits;
- Measure the effectiveness of your efforts in a meaningful way; and
- Reward good behavior using incentives that cater towards what drives your employees.
While this won’t happen overnight, investing in a proper integrated change effort will enable you and your organization to be well on your way to making KM stick. Ultimately, you will start to see your knowledge workers creating, sharing, and making good use of their own and one another’s knowledge and information and eventually it becomes an unconscious part of your company’s daily operations.
I’m a big proponent of design thinking approaches because they’re based on the fundamental principle that not everything works for everyone, so you have to understand people’s needs, desires, goals, feelings, thoughts, etc. before developing a solution to help them address their daily challenges.
When it comes to fitness, some people prefer individual workouts vs. group classes, designing their own workout program vs. getting a personal trainer, or working out at home vs. going to a gym. When you’re designing KM solutions, ask and observe your end users to determine what would work best for them. Questions to ask could include:
- How tech savvy are they? Do they naturally create, share, and manage content digitally or are they still more paper-based?
- Does their work involve more individual-focused activities, such as research, or are they more collaborative in nature because they’re focused on brainstorming and developing solutions as a team?
- Do they mostly work in the same office or are they physically dispersed with people working from home? Are they part of a local, domestic, or global team?
- How long have they been with the organization? How long have they been in the workforce? How long have they been in their given field?
Understanding the people that you want to adopt the KM solutions is always the starting point for helping them begin to work differently.
Motivation is critical for making KM solutions stick because often times people know what to do, but lack the incentive or drive to do it. I know that if I exercised daily and ate like a celebrity, I would probably look like one… or at least look and feel like a better version of myself. What’s prevented me from doing what I should do? Doing what I want to do can feel more rewarding.
Change is hard, so it’s always easier for knowledge workers to revert back to their natural ways of doing things when they are introduced to a new process or technology. For instance, knowledge workers may be accustomed to shared drives with folders within folders within folders, but shifting over to a site that can leverage metadata, as opposed to folder structures, can be challenging, even though it dramatically increases the findability of knowledge and information. Even if the proposed solution or updated process will derive value and save time, well-ingrained habits are often hard to break.
Motivation comes in many forms and different people react to different things. Having said this, taking the time to figure out whether individuals are driven by learning and mastering new skills, recognition for doing good work, or cold, hard cash can help you experiment with ways to incentivize people to practice good KM behaviors. How about offering a reward for the person who creates the most new content in a month or the person who cleans up and archives and deletes the most obsolete information from the intranet or shared drive? When people are rewarded for doing things, it teaches them what to keep doing as well as what’s important to do in order to help their organization succeed.
I can watch tons of YouTube videos and read fitness magazines all day, but unless I work out and eat right, I won’t see any results. Similarly, people need to engage in the KM processes in order to mature from a KM standpoint. At EK, whenever we roll out a taxonomy design or content strategy for a client, we almost always design a governance plan to go along with it. Having a governance plan will help ensure that the solution is sustainable, and not just a superficial quick fix. Run through the maintenance workflows, facilitate the governance meetings, update the design based on what you learn from analytics and end-user feedback, use the new enterprise search tools, facilitate the community of practice meeting– just do it! You have to continuously do these things and encourage others to do so in order to get accustomed to doing it.
Sometimes the number on the scale isn’t very telling. Knowing that I ran a combined 15 miles this week and feeling my pants fit a little looser could better validate that whatever I’m doing is working. This is the difference between lead and lag measures. Lag measures are metrics that capture the impact of your actions, whereas lead measures track your actions themselves. A combination of both can give you the full picture of the rate at which your KM solutions are being adopted along with the effect they’re having.
- Number of new articles published.
- Number of Communities of Practice meetings held.
- Time spent transferring knowledge to another team member.
- Number of unique views on an intranet page.
- Reduced time searching for information.
- Lower bounce back or drop offs from a page due to not finding the right information.
You can capture these metrics directly from the KM systems you use (Content Management Systems, Enterprise Search Tools, Taxonomy Management Tools, etc.), and you can also deploy surveys gauging your end users’ overall satisfaction with the new solutions that have been implemented to help them create, manage, store, and act on the information that they find. It is crucial to measure adoption because the numbers will help guide your future actions by telling you what’s working and not working.
Lastly, and most importantly, reward good behavior! I try not to celebrate good fitness outcomes by indulging in decadent meals, rather, I treat myself to a massage or a shopping spree for new outfits because it motivates me to keep going without negatively affecting the progress I’ve made.
Choose rewards that will increase your KM capabilities. Treat your employees to an event where they can share their ideas for new initiatives, invest in that technology that’ll help further automate their workload, or promote the individuals who have mastered a subject matter and shared their knowledge with others in a meaningful way.
When I am living my best life due to healthy habits, I have more energy, and I am spreading positive vibes. I’m more active and engaged with other people. What does it look like when an organization is adopting KM best practices?
- More people are producing higher quality, useful content.
- Communication is flowing and team members are working towards a common language.
- New technology is being seamlessly implemented.
- There’s a higher rate of social learning and sharing. Individuals are constantly learning and growing.
- Team members are encouraging each other to share knowledge and information without having to be told to do so from the top.
- There’s more creativity and innovation being used to proactively solve complex problems.
- Your workforce is positive, engaged, and envisioning themselves growing within the organizing in the near and long term.
Ditch those crash diets and quick fixes and reach out to EK to learn more about how to make KM stick for the long run.