Originally published on October 16, 2017
I presented 13 Years in KM: A Baker’s Dozen Insights at KMWorld 2009, and again at KM Australia 2010 (see the end of this article for the slides). I later wrote individual articles based on some of the insights, with plans to write more about the rest. I have finally gotten around to writing about all 13 of them in this article.
1. Collect content; connect people
- Link to repositories within discussions
- Collect basic details in repositories; connect for more
- Enable search for content, discussions, and people; use formal taxonomy, social tags, and best bets
Collect Content and Connect People
Knowledge Management programs have frequently started out by focusing on collecting content: “Let’s gather all documents ever created and publish them in the official knowledge repository.” This approach didn’t work well and resulted in backlash, leading to a new movement to focus instead on connecting people: “Let’s create communities of practice and social networks, and then everyone can share content at the time of need and in context.”
Both collection and connection are valuable, and neither one should be emphasized over the other. Without context, content is not very useful. But without content which can be referenced and reused, communities and social networks will continually need to share information stored on personal hard drives or web sites.
In The Wealth of Knowledge Tom Stewart writes: “Connection, not collection: That’s the essence of knowledge management. The purpose of projects, therefore, is to get knowledge moving, not to freeze it; to distribute it, not to shelve it.”
In Volunteer not conscript Dave Snowden writes: “If you ask someone, or a body for specific knowledge in the context of a real need it will never be refused. If you ask them to give you your knowledge on the basis that you may need it in the future, then you will never receive it.”
Collection includes processes and repositories for capturing explicit knowledge. Collection provides the supply side of knowledge. Explicit knowledge is formal knowledge that can be conveyed from one person to another in systematic ways. Examples include books, documents, white papers, databases, policy manuals, email messages, spreadsheets, methodologies, multimedia, and other types of files.
Connection includes collaboration, communities and enterprise social networks for sharing tacit knowledge. Connection supports the demand side of knowledge. It enables demand-driven or just-in-time knowledge management. Examples include threaded discussions, blogs, wikis, social networking profiles, social bookmarking, tagging, recommendations, ratings, and other social business tools.
Based on the points made by Tom Stewart and Dave Snowden, it is reasonable to question the value of devoting significant energy to document collection in advance of a need. But there is still value in capturing some information in easily-retrievable repositories.
Enabling, promoting, and supporting both collection and connection will help both tacit and explicit knowledge to flow. Looking for ways to link connection and collection will help a KM initiative to succeed.
Before beginning a new project, it is useful to ask the question “has anyone ever done anything like this before?” If information on all prior projects has been collected in a searchable repository, then this question can be answered. Not all of the documents created by previous projects may have been captured, but if the names of the project team members are available, then it is possible to contact them to find out more and to request any relevant documents. This is an example of how collection and connection can work together to deliver important knowledge at the time of need.
Another example of how collection and connection complement one another is asking a community for help. In responding to a request from one community member, another member can point to a previously-stored document which meets the needs of the first member.
One way of minimizing the need for collection is to use connection to identify a need and then respond with a document only upon such a request. Another way is to use information from existing databases such that additional collection is not required. For example, if information on previous projects is automatically captured as part of the organization’s business management system, then it can be retrieved without the need for additional data entry.
Methods for bridging collection and connection include social tagging, recommendations, and a “like” feature. Finding collected content can be enhanced through people-centric features such as search best bets, folksonomies, and upvoting. Enterprise search can be extended beyond content to include threaded discussions, blogs, wikis, social networking profiles, and other social business tools.
The Midwest KM Community is mostly about connection. It holds an annual face-to-face symposium. The SIKM Leaders Community combines connection and collection. It holds monthly con calls, supports threaded discussions, and stores presentations and recordings that can be referenced by members at any time.
At HP, communities of practice offered structured content in practice portals and threaded discussions in HP Forums. Sales, pursuit, and delivery templates and kits in the practice portals were essential to the consulting business. But so were the questions and answers in the HP Forums. Often the answer to a question was a link to a document in a practice portal. And frequently, the most useful results in HP enterprise searches were found in the HP Forums.
2. Try things out; improve and iterate
- Implement sooner, not later
- Solicit feedback
- Make improvements; repeat the cycle
Try things out by quickly implementing, continuously improving, and iterating
Knowledge management programs can use a wide variety of people, process, and technology components. It’s important for KM program leaders to gain direct experience with as many of these components as possible, to evaluate their possible application, and to lead the way in implementing new ones to fill current and future needs.
Classic software development projects included lengthy time allocations for analysis, design, and development before users ever had a chance to try out the results. Given that it is difficult to know exactly what features users want and how they should actually work before using a new program, the “finished product” would often be unsatisfactory to the users for which it was developed, despite the fact that it met their specifications.
A more useful approach involved rapidly developing a prototype, letting users try it out, capturing their feedback, and then improving it accordingly. My colleague at both Washington University and St. Louis University, Dave Bridger, used to say that a software program should be measured not by how closely it met its design specifications, but rather by how useful it was during its development. As a trained computer scientist, I initially dismissed “primitive” programming languages like MUMPS, preferring “powerful” languages like PL/I. Dave showed me that using a simple, interpreted language like MUMPS allowed programmers to rapidly develop/try/refine as opposed to having to design/code/compile/link/load/debug/test using a compiled language like PL/I. This saved time, involved the users more continuously, and produced better results in a much shorter time.
Knowledge Management programs and intranet systems often make the same mistakes as software development projects. Lengthy designs or redesigns are followed by big launches and then by users disliking or ignoring the touted offerings. I call this the “big bang” approach, such as when a new or revised web site is unveiled after six months of development, only to miss the mark as judged by its intended audience. What are the users supposed to do during the time prior to launch? It’s much better to quickly launch a simple site serving up the most important content (as defined by the users) and then continue to improve the site and add more content on an ongoing basis. This results in a site which is both immediately useful and which is also perceived as being continuously improved.
As soon as you have a potentially good idea for a people, process, or technology innovation, try it out as soon as possible. Start by discussing it with a group of trusted colleagues, fellow members of a community of practice, or insightful friends and family. Mock up a simple picture, screen shot, or process flow. Encourage candid comments and suggestions, and incorporate as much of this feedback as possible in your initial design.
Implement your idea directly, through a colleague, or through a team good at development. Do this sooner, rather than later. Publicize your initial implementation through a relevant community of practice, your social network, and your work team. Solicit feedback for improving functionality, usability, and effectiveness. Then quickly make improvements and repeat the cycle. Continue this process indefinitely, with longer cycle times as functionality better aligns with user requirements.
At HP, the KM team followed this principle in implementing new tools. The technology lead, Andrew Gent, has been interviewed and has written about three of them:
- KM Stars — a recognition and rewards program and system
- me@hp — a social networking profile, similar to Facebook or LinkedIn
- Searchable — a single search platform which connects to multiple domains
After coming up with the idea for KM Stars, I asked Andrew to develop a prototype. I gave him the initial design, the team discussed it, and Andrew implemented it. He then announced it to the HP KM Community in the threaded discussion, presented it on one of the community’s biweekly conference calls, and solicited suggested improvements. He repeated this cycle several times, and the result was a system which was widely adopted and used. Andrew took a similar approach with me@hp and Searchable.
New social business and KM tools are being developed and made available at an increasing frequency. For the ones which have great personal appeal, relevance to your organization’s needs, or the potential to be widely adopted, it’s a good idea to get out in front of future demand and try them out. This is learning by doing, leading by example, and modeling desired behavior.
3. Lead by example; model behaviors
- Practice what you preach
- Post, reply, like and praise in ESN
- Use a KM Community to show how to lead a community
Lead by example, practice what you preach, and model desired behaviors
Many knowledge management programs and social business initiatives begin as grassroots efforts or skunk works projects, gaining users from the ground up. Others are launched by top executives through formal communications imploring members of the organization to participate. The most successful implementations combine both of these methods, while adding one more: the executives and their staffs not only communicate about the initiative, they actually participate themselves in a visible manner.
Employees are used to receiving messages asking them to use some new process or tool. They tend to ignore these requests unless there is some obvious benefit to them, they expect to be directly measured on compliance or punished for non-compliance, or they have a personal interest or emotional connection to the topic. Another way to get the attention of employees is if they see top management directly using the process or tool.
You can read about new technology, attend seminars about it, and receive advice from analysts and consultants recommending that your organization adopt it. But the best way to learn about a new technology is to use it yourself. You have to try out technology in order to manage it effectively, so don’t delegate it to a task force or steering committee — jump in and start using it.
Members of the organization will watch the actions of their leaders and supervisors. If they perceive that the message is “do as I say, not as I do,” they will be unlikely to do what is requested of them. But if employees observe management actually taking its own advice, they are much more likely to follow suit.
“Practice what you preach” is a good motto. If you tell employees to join communities, you should visibly be an active community leader or member. If you want people to start blogging, you should blog regularly and let everyone know about it. To get users to edit wiki pages, you should create and edit some pages yourself.
KM program leaders should be leading the way in blogging, posting and replying to threaded discussion boards, creating and editing wiki pages, contributing documents and videos to repositories, podcasting, sharing links, and using social software. They should create or help lead a knowledge management community to set an example of how to lead a community of practice.
Knowledge management leaders should be core members of external KM communities, active users of social media tools such as Facebook and LinkedIn, and regular bloggers and tweeters. They should post and reply to KM discussions, present on KM conference calls and at industry conferences, and publish articles in periodicals.
If the leader of a KM program is known to be an expert user of all the tools promoted by the program, members of the organization are much more likely to respect that person and follow their example. If the leader of an organization is seen to be posting in the enterprise social network (ESN), many members of the organization will reply and start posting on their own. If the manager of a specialty is an active member of the community of practice for that specialty, others will also join and participate in the community.
Model the behaviors you want others to demonstrate. Share, innovate, reuse, collaborate, and learn in an open and visible way. If you span boundaries, build networks, and communicate openly, others will follow your example, and you will get the results you want.
At HP, an internal blog platform was created as a skunk works project in the imaging and printing group. Initial participation was limited to a few early adopters. Then the executive vice president of the group started an internal blog, and it was obvious that he was actually writing and posting himself, not through a ghost blogger. This triggered many members of the group to comment on his blog, create their own blog posts, and comment on each other’s posts. Morale increased, since employees could see that their senior leader was soliciting their advice and reading and replying to their comments.
Also at HP, a social networking profile called me@hp was launched and gained a small number of users each week. When the senior vice president of the consulting business posted her profile and sent out a note to the entire organization about it, there was an immediate spike in new profile creation.
As a KM leader both inside and outside of the companies where I worked, I have led KM communities, run regular conference calls, published newsletters and blogs, maintained social networking profiles, used Twitter and Yammer, edited wiki pages, used collaborative team spaces, posted to threaded discussion boards and ESNs, presented on calls and at conferences, hosted speakers from other companies and presented to their companies, created and managed web sites, and published articles and books.
As a result, I know first-hand the ins and outs and pros and cons of using these tools. I can offer credible advice to others, I have a strong network of colleagues to call on for help, and I have helped build a good reputation for the organizations I represented. If I suggest that someone should join a community, post in an ESN, write a blog post, or use a wiki, I can say that I have done so and offer to help them get started.
4. Set goals; recognize and reward
- Set 3 goals; make them simple, fundamental, measurable
- Consistently communicate and leverage the 3 goals
- Recognize and reward those who achieve the goals
Set Goals, Establish Promotion Requirements, and Recognize and Reward
To get people to behave differently, participate in a knowledge management initiative, and share what they know with others, it is helpful to set formal goals and establish requirements for advancement.
Identify objectives for your KM initiative. These will become the basis of the goals you set. An example of the three goals we used at HP:
- Everyone should be an active member of at least one community of practice.
- All new projects should be entered into the Project Profile Repository.
- Before any new project is started, the project team should reuse as much content as possible from previous projects and formal content portals.
When creating annual performance plans, a common problem is defining too many different goals. For a KM program, set three goals which are simple, fundamental, and measurable. These goals should be tied to the most important objectives of the organization.
Consistently communicate and leverage the three goals. Any communication or new initiative should be tied to one or more of the three established goals so employees will clearly see the connection. Prepare and distribute a monthly metrics report which shows performance on all three goals and by whatever organizational views are most appropriate.
Require that employees who wish to be promoted must demonstrate that they have consistently achieved their KM goals, shared their knowledge, and set a good example for others. Regularly and widely communicate this.
At HP, the Technical Career Path and the Project Management Career Path required that in order to be promoted to the highest possible levels, individuals had to provide evidence of how they had shared their knowledge. Those who could not do so were not promoted. Stories of those who were denied promotions because of this requirement were spread throughout the organization, and helped support the formal goals.
Recognize and reward those who achieve the goals. Send them letters from the most senior executive, copying the senior management team and their management hierarchy. Solicit stories from those who achieve their goals on how they did so, and distribute these to the entire organization. Publish the names of everyone achieving the goals, and if you use a points system, publish the rankings to showcase the top point winners.
An example of a recognition and rewards program was the KM Stars program used at HP to track points and create rankings. Other companies, including Accenture, Cisco, and IBM, implemented similar programs.
5. Tell your stories; get others to tell theirs
- Engage listeners
- Provide real examples
- Demonstrate value
Tell your stories, and get others to tell theirs
We have all had to endure endless talking heads giving PowerPoint presentations filled with text bullets, clichés, and charts that can’t be read. Rather than continuing this sad tradition, tell stories that engage your listeners instead of boring them to death.
When my daughters were sophomores at Michigan State University, I was asked to give a presentation on knowledge management as a possible career choice. I drafted a detailed slide deck with lots of bullet points and details on KM and sent it to my host, the chairman of the advertising and public relations department.
He provided very helpful feedback to the effect that 400 students in a lecture hall on a spring afternoon would quickly lose interest in such a presentation. Taking his advice to heart, I started over and created slides with more images that enabled me to tell stories instead of reading bulleted text. This led to a successful session.
When telling stories, don’t pontificate. Leave out jargon, buzzwords, and corporate speak. Avoid wishful thinking, offering practical ideas instead. Provide real examples, rather than just metrics, statistics, and analytics.
One type of content that should be a priority for many of your communication vehicles is the success story. These should be requested regularly from users in one of three ways.
- Ask all KM leaders to submit them each month and include them in the monthly newsletter.
- If you have a KM incentive system, request success story content as part of giving out points for desired behaviors.
- Monitor the community threaded discussions for testimonials of how the community helped a member in a time of need.
When capturing success stories, ask the following questions:
- What challenges did you face?
- What knowledge resources did you use?
- How did you use these resources to address these challenges?
- What was the outcome?
- What benefits did you realize from using the resources? (time saved, costs avoided, new business won, incremental revenue, problems avoided, increased customer satisfaction, accelerated delivery, innovation, process improvement, etc.)
- What benefits did you and your organization derive?
- Did anyone else benefit as well (e.g., a community)?
- What alternatives (instead of using the knowledge resources) did you consider?
- Which alternatives did you try?
- If you had not used the knowledge resources, how do you think the outcome would have been different?
Demonstrate value by collecting and telling reuse stories, not by trying to compute the return on investment (ROI) of a KM program. Ask those who reuse knowledge to tell those who contributed it how their content was useful, not by rating it with one to five stars.
Communities can be nurtured by having members tell stories of who they are and knowledge-sharing stories about what they have learned. The effectiveness of training and communications will be enhanced by using narratives rather than dry bullet points. For example, instead of creating the usual PowerPoint slides to present the KM program, tell the stories of some typical users and how they apply the components of the KM program to help them do their jobs.
Lessons learned can be captured and reused with greater impact if they are told as stories rather than captured as imperatives in text format. Proven practices captured as pictures, video, and audio telling the story of how to apply them will be easier to replicate than if they are in a written document. Collaboration can be stimulated by using narrative to get others working together.
According to Steve Denning, almost all forms of narrative are useful in the management of change, including motivating others to action, building trust, transmitting values, getting others working together, taming the grapevine, and creating and sharing a vision.
Appreciative Inquiry is based on storytelling. In Five Theories of Change Embedded in Appreciative Inquiry Gervase Bushe writes “The key data collection innovation of appreciative inquiry is the collection of people’s stories of something at its best. If we are interested in team development, we collect stories of people’s best team experiences. If we are interested in the development of an organization we ask about their peak experience in that organization. If enhanced leadership is our goal, we collect stories of leadership at its best. These stories are collectively discussed in order to create new, generative ideas or images that aid in developmental change of the collectivity discussing them.” He continues “There is something about telling one’s story of peak organizational experiences, and listening to others, that can make a group ready to be open about deeply-held desires and yearnings.”
For more, see Storytelling, Business Narrative, and Anecdote Circles.
6. Use the right tool for the job; build good examples
- Recommend uses for each tool
- Enable use of tools
- Create prototypes, mockups, and initial examples
Provide examples to help people use the right tool for the job
Instead of rolling out tools by telling everyone to start using them, recommend specific uses for each tool. For example, rather than saying “Start collaborating,” provide ESN users with SAFARIS:
To help people choose which tool to use, provide KM users with a simple guide:
For social business tools, provide details on when to use each one, and when NOT to use them:
Knowledge management encompasses many technology components. To enable the effective use of tools, provide details for each one, such as:
- User Interface, User Experience, and Usability for Knowledge Management
- Intranets for Knowledge Management
- Team Spaces for Collaboration Using SharePoint or Other Platforms
- Virtual Meeting Rooms, Web/Video/Audio Conferencing, and Telepresence
- Portals, Digital Experience Portals, and Digital Workplace
- Repositories and Knowledge Bases
- Threaded Discussions and Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs)
- Expertise Locators and Ask the Expert
- Metadata and Tags
- Search Engines and Enterprise Search
- Archiving, Document Management, and Records Management
- Blogs and Blogging
- Podcasts and Videos
- Syndication, Aggregation, and Subscription Management Systems
- Social Software and Social Media
- External Access and Extranets
- Workflow Applications
- Process Automation
- Gamification Applications and Digital Badges
- E-learning (or if you prefer, eLearning)
- Analytics and Business Intelligence
- Cognitive Computing and Artificial Intelligence
Create prototypes, mockups, and initial examples so that users can try out tools, provide feedback to improve them, and not have to start from scratch. For example, HP created prototypes in a skunk works. Deloitte provided community mockups for new communities of practice, and templates for collaboration spaces for the most common uses. And the Deloitte KM Community served as an example of how knowledge sharing works in a community of practice
7. Enable innovation; support integration
- Don’t require a single platform
- Encourage innovation, not redundancy
- Use APIs, RSS, search, and web parts to integrate tools
Enable innovation while supporting integration
It’s tempting to use a single platform for all office, collaboration, and knowledge management applications. A common example is “we’re a Microsoft shop,” meaning that non-Microsoft applications are not considered, acquired, or installed. Microsoft Office 365 is good at a lot of office, collaboration, and KM tasks, so it’s a logical choice for a single platform.
Other companies have standardized on Google, IBM, Salesforce.com, Oracle, SAP, and other vendors, each of which is better at some tasks than others. Instead of rigidly locking into one vendor while locking out others, it’s a good idea to standardize on open interfaces that allow diverse tools to be readily integrated. This allows mixing and matching software components that are ideally suited for each key task.
The intent of using open interfaces and a variety of components is to encourage new and better ways of accomplishing key tasks. Watch out for an unintended consequence: different groups creating their own versions of software for the same purpose. It’s better to choose one application for each task, and avoid redundant versions. This avoids user confusion, focuses effort on extending functionality instead of replicating it, and results in a more comprehensive portfolio of integrated technology.
You can use APIs, RSS, search, and web parts to integrate tools that are both homegrown and purchased:
- APIs (Application Programming Interface) are subroutine definitions, protocols, and tools for building application software — a set of clearly defined methods of communication between various software components.
- RSS (Really Simply Syndication or Rich Site Summary) enables syndication (a way of providing content such that it can be subscribed to using a feed reader, integrated into a web site as a subset of that site, or aggregated with similar content) and aggregation (a way of collecting multiple syndicated feeds into a single feed or as part of a unified web site).
- Search can be used to find content in different sites and repositories and return it to a single user screen.
- Web parts are server-side controls that run inside a web part page; they’re the building blocks of pages that appear on a web site. They can be used to embed one application into another, for example, a Yammer group into a SharePoint site.
Integration enables a variety of independently-developed tools to be interconnected. For example, at HP, these innovative tools were created as skunk works projects: KM Stars, me@hp, HPedia, blogs, social bookmarking, videos, podcasts, and a Digg-like tool. They were then connected by the Knowledge Network, WaterCooler, and Searchable.
Another example from HP was the Manufacturing Practice Portal, which integrated different content sources using posts via email, RSS feeds, and APIs. It used SharePoint to provide different views of same list, making each view appear as if it were a unique page.
For more on how KM tools were integrated at HP, see the following presentation and related blog post from Andrew Gent:
8. Stay inclusive; span boundaries
- Set the tone for a community
- The wider and more open, the better
- Don’t exclude people (except pontificators, spammers, trolls)
Be open and inclusive to connect people across organizational boundaries
Different communities have different cultures. It’s important for community leaders to set the right tone for theirs. For example, the SIKM Leaders Community is a “community of knowledge management leaders from around the world. It is open to all KM practitioners. Diverse opinions are welcome if expressed in a supportive and collaborative manner. Posts should be personal, relevant to KM, and not spam. Members should not send messages which are duplicates of those distributed through other channels. Instead, post one-time invitations to join other lists.” As a result, the community is positive, helpful, and insightful.
The wider and more open communities and enterprise social networks (ESNs) are, the better for knowledge sharing. Boundary spanning is building bridges across organizational boundaries to enable knowledge to flow between previously-isolated groups. Connecting otherwise unconnected networks makes available previously unknown sources of knowledge.
The more community and ESN members who are paying attention, the better. I’ve never found any reason why the size of a community needed to be limited. If you have 1,000 members in a community and then member 1,001 joins, that’s not going to cause any harm. Member 1,001 may begin learning and benefiting from the other 1,000 members. They may be able to answer questions and share useful information. There isn’t any harm in it. In the case of community membership, more is better.
Ask people if there would be any harm if people they don’t know join the group and are able to benefit from what is being shared, or if they are able to answer a question. The answer will likely be a reluctant “no,” which should help them realize the benefits of being more inclusive. And once outsiders join and contribute, they become trusted, and the original concern is reduced or eliminated.
I worked in an organization that had a private ESN group. After it had been in existence for over a year, I asked if there would be any harm if outsiders joined the group. The answer was no, so we opened it up. As a result, others were able to benefit from what was being shared. In the seven months since it was made open, it grew from 400 members to 1,250 members. No attempt was made to grow or promote the group, but there was obviously a lot of interest in what was being shared. The open group yielded benefits to 850 more people, with no additional effort.
The decision to make a community open or closed is often based on a perception of us versus them. Some people feel safe only with people they know. But when asked about the harm of an outsider joining, these people have difficulty providing a convincing answer.
As a general rule, don’t exclude people from communities and ESN groups. Exceptions can be made for pontificators, spammers, and trolls, but these are more common in Internet platforms where they can remain anonymous.
I lead the SIKM Leaders Community, which requires members to identify themselves when requesting membership. It started out as being just for KM practitioners in the systems integration industry, but we quickly opened it to all KM practitioners. Since its launch in 2005, I have only had to intervene twice based on posts in the discussion board.
A new member posted multiple times to promote his own community and events. I sent him a private email to remind him that members should not send messages which are duplicates of those distributed through other channels, and to post one-time invitations to join other lists instead. When he persisted, I removed him as a member. That was the only time I had to do so. He sent me a blistering attack in an email, which I ignored. When I later compared notes with other community managers, they told me that they had to do the same with this person.
Another new member replied to a couple of posts with harshly-worded criticisms. I sent him a private email to suggest that he take a more congenial approach to commenting. He replied to acknowledge my point, and shortly after, left the community voluntarily.
At HP, we supported the creation of boundary-spanning communities, not niche ones. At one time, there was a list of communities called K-Link that had thousands of redundant and overlapping entries. We replaced this with a Community Directory and restricted the creation of new discussion forums to prevent redundancy. For example, requests for new forums for Web 2.0 and Siebel were redirected to use existing forums for knowledge management and customer relationship management, respectively.
In the case of geography-specific communities, we encouraged the formation of local chapters rather than separate communities. For knowledge management, this resulted in local chapters for Italy and Spain that still used the global English-language discussion forum, but had subsites in SharePoint for local-language files and meeting calendars.
The HP KM community, called knowledge@hp, spanned all of HP. It had a discussion forum, biweekly calls, and a SharePoint team space open to all. Similarly, Deloitte had a global KM community, discussed in detail in Community of Practice: A Real Life Story.
For more about inclusiveness, see Open the gates and tear down the walls; moving from “need to know” to “need to share”.
9. Prime the pump; ask and answer questions
- Post questions on behalf of others
- Redirect one-to-one messages to one-to-many
- Pose questions to stimulate discussion
Prime the pump in threaded discussions by sharing tips, asking questions, and answering questions asked elsewhere
Threaded discussions and ESNs won’t start by themselves. Community managers need to act as catalysts by posting regularly to ask and answer questions, start discussions, and share useful information. They should post questions on behalf of others who are initially reluctant to do so themselves, redirect one-to-one messages to one-to-many, and think of questions likely to receive answers from others.
People often reply with “reach out to <name>” which results in private communication. If you see this in a discussion, ask them to communicate using the forum. You can send a private email to <name> with a link to the thread and a request to reply there.
Community managers should set a calendar reminder to post every week with a summary of a community event, a useful link (save these in a list and share one each week), or a thought-provoking topic to stimulate discussion. If they see relevant discussions taking place in email exchanges, distribution lists, or other collaboration channels or communities, they should redirect those to the community. If questions are asked via phone, email, or instant messaging that the entire community can benefit from, ask the requester to post in the discussion board and reply there.
Potential community members will check it out before joining. If they don’t see many posts, or if what they see is old or obsolete, they won’t join. So it’s especially important to seed new communities with good content before asking people to join. Once a community is running well, the community manager still needs to regularly monitor the level of activity, but will not need to post as often as in the early stages. The other members should help keep it active.
For more, see:
10. Network; pay it forward
- Meet in person whenever possible
- Share relentlessly
- Ask others to reciprocate
Build your network, share what you know, and pay it forward by helping others
If you have a chance to meet someone in person, do so. When you will be visiting a city or attending a conference, let people who live there or will also be attending that you will be available for a chat. If someone asks to meet with you, accept their invitation. When a colleague will be visiting your city, invite them to stay with you, or take them out for a meal.
Heed the following advice:
- Eric Ziegler: “Face-to-face meetings are an investment, not a cost. While people work remotely, meeting face-to-face is absolutely necessary to build stronger relationships, increase trust, and improve collaboration. This is an absolute must.”
- Bruce Karney: “Face-to-face knowledge sharing is not a luxury. The pity is that in many organizations it is perceived as being one. There are indeed examples of effective knowledge sharing in the absence of face-to-face, but these are far outnumbered by examples of ineffective computer-based and phone-based collaboration.”
Relentlessly share what you know and have learned. Publish articles, blog posts, and books about your experiences, philosophies, and insights. Post your ideas in communities of practice, solicit feedback and ask questions, and reply to the questions and comments of others. Present regularly within your organization, to other firms, and at industry conferences, and invite others to do the same. Compare your efforts to others, incorporate the good ideas of others, and evolve your thinking. Here are tips on doing so:
- How to Build Your Personal Digital Brand: 10 Helpful Lists
- Why share your knowledge?
- 8 reasons for working out loud and narrating your work
Paying it forward means to do good for others without expecting anything in return. If you do so, you will often receive benefits at later date when you most need them. When I was about to leave HP, the legal department contacted me about a job opening. It was too late for me to take it, so I recommended another KM practitioner who was looking for a job, and ended up being hired. I ended up working at Deloitte, partially as a result of having met Deloitte KM people at a KM conference at Babson College.
When asking for favors, reciprocating is expected and mutually beneficial. When I asked the head of proven practice replication at Ford to present to the HP KM community, he agreed. And then he asked me to present to Ford. I didn’t think I had anything that worthwhile to present, but I did so. Ford’s reaction was unexpectedly positive, and this gave me the confidence to share my experiences more widely, leading me to present and write on an ongoing basis.
Similarly, I gave presentations to Accenture, Cisco, and IBM, and they did the same for me at HP. They also developed KM recognition programs that built on what we had done at HP, When I later needed outside support for attempting a similar effort at Deloitte, they agreed to present to the KM leadership team.
I joined Deloitte in 2008 as the community evangelist. The first thing I did was to initiate a series of discussions with others who were interested or involved with communities and collaboration. My first call went well, and at the end, I asked my colleague if she would like to continue talking every other week. She agreed, so I scheduled a biweekly call with her. At the end of my second call, I repeated the offer to the next colleague, and he also agreed. It made more sense to have one biweekly call than to have two different ones, so I invited him to join us on a three-person call. This pattern continued as I talked to additional colleagues, all of whom agreed to join the biweekly call. I called this the Communities Interest Group call, and created an email distribution list to invite the members and remind them of the calls. By word of mouth, people contacted me and asked to be added to the list, which I did. For the full story, see Community of Practice: A Real Life Story.
For more about networking, see:
11. Let go of control; encourage and monitor
- Set guidelines, rely on existing codes of conduct
- Communicate, encourage, trust
- Monitor, garden, allow network to police itself
Let go of control, encourage participation, and monitor behavior
Social business implementation inside of corporations faces barriers to adoption. Business management may worry about allowing all employees to express themselves and post whatever they want. They are concerned about people posting negative comments, sharing confidential information, and not adhering to standards and guidelines imposed from the top down.
Over-regulation will just drive sharing elsewhere. It’s better to see what is going on than to drive it underground in skunk works, non-sanctioned sites, etc. Email can be used to share confidential information, and unless you plan to monitor and control all email, don’t worry about social media.
Let the users enforce guidelines or inform admins about potential problems. Provide a link to report inappropriate content or use to engage everyone in monitoring and policing social activity. Treat violations with force, but assume that everyone is to be trusted until they prove otherwise. For more, see The importance of trust in knowledge sharing.
Don’t spell everything out. Issue guidelines, not policies. Link to existing employee conduct policies, or tweak them to incorporate social media, rather than create separate ones for social media. Provide good examples to follow. take advantage of the fact that within an enterprise, each user’s identity should be known, so there is strong motivation to avoid inappropriate behavior.
Monitor social activity using wiki watch pages, RSS feeds, and email notifications to be alerted to new or modified content. Communicate regularly and clearly to encourage responsible participation. Above all else, use common sense.
There is one key exception where control is in fact warranted: creation of new communities, ESN groups, and ESNs. For more on this, see:
- To control or not to: only you can prevent redundant communities
- 5 questions to answer before starting a new community
- How to govern enterprise social network groups
12. Just say “yes;” be responsive
- Ask users what they want
- Don’t argue
- Deliver quickly
Try to give users what they want by asking, listening, and responding quickly
Any initiative will fail if it does not meet the needs of its intended audience or is perceived as being created in isolation. To prevent this from happening, treat your users as customers whom you are trying to acquire, satisfy, and keep. Use virtual teams and communities to continuously solicit, capture, and respond to the needs of the people in your organization. Establish ongoing methods for two-way communications. Interact in ESNs, conduct surveys, publish newsletters, and maintain web sites. And above all, listen to what your constituents tell you, and take timely action in response.
When you receive criticism, negative feedback, or suggested changes that may be difficult to implement, it’s natural to become defensive, responding with apparently reasonable explanations for the status quo or rejections of requests. It’s useful to pause before doing so, and instead, think about the reasons for the input being provided. The people offering it have what appear to them to be sound reasons. Look at it from their point of view, and if it is all possible, try to give them some or all of what they want. Avoid arguing with them, don’t try to persuade them with your superior reasoning, and instead, just say “yes” whenever you can. The same exception that applies to Insight 11 above (Let go of control) applies to this one. Say “yes” to requests for new communities, ESN groups, or ESNs only if they meet the tests described in 5 questions to answer before starting a new community.
Prototyping and piloting allow you to test out suggestions, gain experience, and make iterative refinements. Instead of telling people who ask for improvements that they will be added to a list for possible inclusion in a far-off future release, try making small incremental improvements based on all reasonable suggestions. Users will benefit immediately from the changes, and they will perceive your team as being dynamic and responsive instead of slow and plodding.
Examples of just saying “yes”
- At HP, I distributed a monthly KM newsletter (as a Word document) via email, and also posted each issue to the intranet. I received a request to add an RSS feed. My first reaction was that it would be difficult because the subscription service and the intranet did not offer RSS feeds. I was about to say “no” when I thought about another idea. In addition to posting the Word file, I could copy and paste it into a blog post, and this would generate an RSS feed. I did do, and not only was the requester pleased, but I now had another distribution channel through the HP blog aggregator that increased the reach of the newsletter.
- When I led the global KM program at HP, the European KM leaders held a meeting that I was unable to attend. At the end, they were gathered in a conference room, and called me to debrief me on the results. The regional KM lead used the occasion to repeat a request she had previously made to me to add the Contribution Wizard icon and link to the Community Directory. I had explained that this made no sense, as contributing documents (the purpose of the Contribution Wizard) had nothing to do with finding a community to join (the purpose of the Community Directory). I was about to repeat this, when I had an epiphany: this must really be important to the people in Europe. So instead of saying “no” again, I told them to hold on. I edited the intranet page to make the change, and told them to refresh the page they were displaying in the conference room. I then heard loud applause erupt, and this really proved to me the value of just saying “yes.” I have told this story to software providers, pleading with them to at least implement one suggestion from the user community. Unfortunately, this seldom happens, as the vendor believes that they know better than their customers who are actually using the software to run their organizations.
- When a new senior vice president took over HP Consulting & Integration, she formed an advisory council of practitioners. They provided lots of criticisms of the KM program, which she passed along to me. I was about to defensively respond, but I caught myself, and instead, talked individually with each of the critics. The most vocal of these complained that the user interface to the HP Knowledge Network was too complicated. We had already developed an adaptation of the home page that we called the Engagement Knowledge Map, of which we were quite proud. But taking the criticism to heart, we further simplified it into the Simple Guide to KM. This turned the critic into an enthusiastic supporter, and helped reverse the negative perception.
- Whenever we planned to introduce a new process or tool, we used the knowledge@hp KM community to help set priorities, make tradeoffs, and critique our plans. When the initial and subsequent versions were released, we used it to request feedback and suggested improvements. This resulted in greater acceptance and use than if we did this in a vacuum.
13. Meet less; deliver more
- Smaller teams are more effective
- Spend time doing, not meeting
- Communicate concisely and meaningfully in flexible formats
Meet less frequently and spend more time delivering useful results to users
Less is more with a KM team. I have worked in both small and large teams, and the small teams have produced more and better results in a much more timely fashion. While it is always tempting to have more team members, there are advantages to having a small central KM team. Less time is spent on coordinating and meeting, and more on actual planning and implementation. It forces the team to focus on doing only the most important things for the organization.
When I first visited the headquarters facilities of Digital Equipment Corporation, it struck me that the main work product there was the meeting. Everyone seemed to be in meetings most of the day, and there were thousands of different people to meet with in each building. People measured their relative worth by which meetings they were invited to attend, and when asked for a status report, they typically recounted the meetings they had attended. I suggested to the executives that giant tote boards, similar to a taxi meter, be installed in each conference room. As people arrived for a meeting, their badge would be scanned, and a computer program would look up their salary and fringe costs, add these up for all attendees, compute the hourly costs, and then display the total cost each minute of the people in the room. This would have been quite revealing, as the costs usually far exceeded any resultant benefits from the meeting. Alas, it this suggestion was not implemented, although if they had followed Insight 12, they would have just said “yes” and we could have greatly reduced the number of meetings, saving time and money. Whether the time saved would have actually been used to deliver useful work is another question.
Most people don’t view meetings positively. Here are two examples:
- Accenture — Nearly three-quarters of employees said they spent the majority of their time in meetings that lacked an agenda and that led to action less than 50 percent of the time.
- Harvard Business Review — Are your days full of rambling back-to-back meetings with no time to think? Too many companies have a meeting culture where participants come unprepared for meaningful discussion, surreptitiously check their mobile devices rather than contribute, or get pulled into contentious arguments immaterial to the topic of the meeting.
Instead of large meetings, it’s good to hold fewer, shorter, regular calls. Teams that are not located in the same place should meet in person once a year, and then collaborate virtually thereafter. When they do meet, follow these 10 Tips for Successful Face-to-Face Meetings.
Spend the time that is saved by meeting less often to deliver more results:
- Share — idea, document, link, tip, trick
- Improve — fix a problem, make something easier to use, add to something
- Respond — answer, solve, inform, explain
- Create — document, tool, process to meet a need
- Launch — initiative, program, community
Instead of meeting frequently, take advantage of 20 different communications vehicles that are available: Web sites, Team spaces, Portals, Wikis, Threaded discussions, Conference calls, Blogs, Newsletters, Podcasts, Videos, Distribution lists, Reports, Submissions, Links, Meetings, Internal presentations, External presentations, External publications, External conferences, and Audience surveys.
13 Things You Can Try Right Now
- Post to a community or ESN threaded discussion with a link to a document in a content repository that you contributed or reused.
- Implement an idea you have been thinking about trying out.
- Answer a question in a tweet chat.
- Praise or thank a contributor of content you used.
- Solicit stories of how reusing knowledge resulted in a business benefit.
- Create or edit a wiki page with a list of recommended resources.
- Connect two groups working on the same challenge or opportunity.
- Invite people from three different organizations to join a single community of practice.
- Take a question sent to you and post it to a community or ESN threaded discussion.
- Ask someone outside your organization to present on a community conference call.
- Write a blog post explaining how to use a new tool.
- Solicit suggested enhancements to an existing process or system and quickly implement one or more.
- Publish a newsletter that is exactly one page long.
13 Books to Read
- Organising Knowledge: Taxonomies, Knowledge and Organisational Effectiveness by Patrick Lambe
- Thinking for a Living: How to Get Better Performances and Results from Knowledge Workers by Thomas Davenport
- If Only We Knew What We Know: The Transfer of Internal Knowledge and Best Practice by Carla O’Dell and C Jackson Grayson
- Common Knowledge: How Companies Thrive by Sharing What They Know by Nancy M. Dixon
- Squirrel Inc.: A Fable of Leadership through Storytelling by Stephen Denning
- The Wealth of Knowledge: Intellectual Capital and the Twenty-first Century Organization by Thomas A. Stewart
- The Future of Knowledge: Increasing Prosperity through Value Networks by Verna Allee
- Working Knowledge: How Organizations Manage What They Know by Thomas Davenport and Laurence Prusak
- Cultivating Communities of Practice: A Guide to Managing Knowledge by Etienne Wenger, Richard McDermott, and William M. Snyder
- Leveraging Communities of Practice for Strategic Advantage by Hubert Saint-Onge and Debra Wallace
- Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations by Clay Shirky
- Learning to Fly: Practical Knowledge Management from Leading and Learning Organizations by Chris Collison and Geoff Parcell
- Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us by Seth Godin