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Who Are Your Users?

When we’re helping organizations with their knowledge management strategy, we always begin with an assessment of the Current State to identify their unique KM challenges and opportunities, mapping what’s working and what has the potential for improvement. A significant portion of this work involves conducting interviews, focus groups, and workshops. When we begin this assessment process, identifying the “right” people – or end users – to participate is a critical success factor.

To accomplish this task, we may have to identify these individuals from a team of fifty, five hundred, or five thousand people. These individuals may stretch across different departments and offices (perhaps even in different countries), and represent senior, mid, and junior level staff.

Any KM strategy starts and ends with a clear understanding of your end users and their wants, needs, pain points, and goals. Without a full understanding of the complete cross-section of end users, proposed KM solutions will not address their needs, and will therefore have a greater likelihood of failure.

There are any number of factors that you may consider when identifying who those individuals are. Below are four factors that we always consider when supporting our clients in these efforts.

Area of Focus

We recognize the importance of speaking with a range of individuals across an organization’s departments, especially when we are designing an enterprise-wide KM strategy. This is critical, as an individual in Marketing and Communications will inevitably offer a different perspective than someone who works in Finance.

Oftentimes, you’ll find that people are experiencing similar, if not identical issues when it comes to KM (finding what they need, poor quality content, etc.). As a result, you can get a better sense of the organization-wide issues which, if addressed in the KM strategy, will reap benefits for all departments, not just some.

Level of Seniority

Similarly, it’s critical to speak with individuals who span different levels of seniority in an organization. A senior, executive-level employee will most likely possess a strategic level understanding of needs and challenges, whereas junior level staff will have a stronger grasp of the actual reality of day-to-day work.

Likewise, seniority typically has a major impact on whether one is more a consumer or producer of knowledge and information. It is important to note, however, that seniority is not a direct correlation to knowledge. Depending on the topic, more junior employees will often possess deeper and operational day-to-day knowledge, specifically regarding how information flows and what the typical information needs are.

Level of seniority is also a differentiator for hands-on usage of information systems as well. In many cases, junior employees interact more, and more frequently, with the information systems.

Both are important perspectives to gather as part of an assessment. Speaking with senior staff will offer a clear, high-level understanding of the broader strategic efforts current in motion, or on the horizon, which will influence the KM strategy and initiatives. Engaging with junior employees, will provide a complementary sense of how clearly the aforementioned strategies are understood and practiced, and if not, where the disconnect exists. In short, engaging with both types of users will allow you to see the proposed strategy versus the reality.

Tenure

While some may group tenure and seniority together, we recognize there isn’t always a direct correlation between these two factors.

We always speak with well-tenured staff as they’ve been with the organization long enough to have extensive insight around the tangible knowledge – for instance how processes work and where certain content “lives.” However, and perhaps more importantly, they also possess an innate understanding of the organization’s culture and people, which is critical, especially when considering how people will respond to proposed KM solutions.

It’s just as essential to speak with less-tenured staff, ideally the newer the better.

The benefit of speaking with those who’ve just started within the organization is that they haven’t had the chance to become fully integrated into the organization’s mindset. They can more easily identify what’s working and what’s not, and not simply accept the answer, “this is how we do things.” They are also adept at sharing their own challenges regarding learning new systems, processes, and navigation.

Early Adopters and Blockers

At EK, we know that any successful KM strategy has change management efforts woven throughout the process from the very start. As a result, we always seek out those who may be early adopters of the KM changes, as well as those who may be more resistant to the changes. Speaking to both groups is equally important. By engaging with these individuals from the very start and hearing their wants and needs, we ensure they feel engaged and part of the process. That sense of ownership is powerful when working to achieve buy-in to make your proposed changes stick.

Blockers are especially critical to engage, as they can undermine and even derail efforts to improve KM in your organization. Involve blockers from the start, listen to their concerns and fears, and arm them with all of the information that they need to fully understand how KM efforts will improve their day-to-day work. When all else fails however, it’s essential to minimize the impact of blockers as much as possible. Create a safe space for blockers to try something new, and provide multiple opportunities for blockers to not only observe others modelling the new behaviors, but to practice doing so themselves. 

Bringing It All Together

While each of these individual factors are important to consider when identifying your end users, it’s much more powerful and effective to layer the aforementioned factors together to ensure a full picture. Below is an example of a matrix we’ve developed, which allows us to identify if we’re addressing all of these needs:

How EK compiles different interviewee factors

It can also be effective to use these factors to prioritize end users to speak with, especially if you have a longer list and can’t engage with everyone. For example, if you know you’ve got a full representation of senior Finance staff, you should know to focus your remaining efforts to speak with junior Finance staff to achieve balance.

Closing

Just as each KM strategy is going to be unique and reflective of the nuances and factors of that specific organization, so will the people (or end users) that are essential to speak with. Doing so will ensure that you have a solid understanding of end users to drive future recommendations to address their needs, which will go a long way in ensuring buy-in and adoption.

Need help with kicking off your KM strategy with the right people? Contact us, we would be happy to help.

Claire Brawdy Claire Brawdy Claire Brawdy focuses on agile delivery for knowledge management strategy and taxonomy design efforts. She enjoys leveraging the best of design thinking to collaborate with her clients and deliver user-centric solutions reflective of an organization's unique needs and goals. More from Claire Brawdy »