Originally published May 6, 2016

A common concern of knowledge management programs is how to get people to contribute, share, and reuse knowledge. Objections include:

  • I don’t have any time.
  • I don’t know what is expected of me.
  • What’s in it for me?

If people won’t spend time sharing, innovating, reusing, collaborating, and learning in the ways promoted by a knowledge management program, it will fail. How can you get people to share and reuse knowledge? Motivating people to demonstrate desired behaviors can be attempted in many different ways, and there is considerable disagreement on the best ways of doing so.

The best way is through inspirational leadership — communicating regularly, setting clear expectations, monitoring performance, regularly thanking and praising, and most important, leading by example. But you can also motivate people through goals and measurements, recognition and rewards, gamification and badging, and positive incentives and negative incentives.

6 of the 16 reasons people don’t share knowledge involve goals, recognition, and rewards:

  • They don’t know what they are supposed to do. Leadership has not established and communicated clear goals for knowledge sharing, and has not modeled the desired behaviors. Solution: Establish and communicate clear knowledge-sharing goals, and have leaders regularly demonstrate knowledge sharing so others can follow their example.
  • They think something else is more important. They believe that there are higher-priority tasks than knowledge sharing. Solution: Get all first-level managers to model knowledge-sharing behavior for their employees, and to inspect compliance to knowledge-sharing goals with the same fervor as they inspect other goals.
  • There is no positive consequence to them for doing it. They receive no rewards, recognition, promotions, or other benefits for sharing knowledge. Solution: Implement rewards and recognition programs for those who share their knowledge. For example, award points to those who share knowledge, and then give desirable rewards to those with the top point totals.
  • They are rewarded for not doing it. They hoard their knowledge and thus get people to beg for their help, or they receive rewards, recognition, or promotions based on doing other tasks. Solution: Work with all managers in the organization to encourage them to reinforce the desired behaviors and stop rewarding the wrong behaviors.
  • They are punished for doing it. As a result of spending time on knowledge sharing, they don’t achieve other goals which are more important to the organization, or chastised for wasting time. Solution: Align knowledge-sharing processes and goals with other critical processes and performance goals, and regularly communicate that time spent sharing knowledge is time well spent.
  • There is no negative consequence to them for not doing it. Knowledge sharing is not one of their performance goals, or it is a goal which is not enforced. Solution: Work with all first-level managers to get them to implement, inspect, and enforce knowledge-sharing goals. This needs to come from the top — if the leader of the organization insists on it and checks up on compliance, it will happen.

This article provides details on a number of approaches to motivating desired behaviors. I encourage you to comment with additional ideas and suggestions.


  • Goals: employee targets included in performance plans and communicated and inspected regularly
  • Measurements: numerical and visual tracking of performance against goals and operational indicators
  • Incentives: programs designed to encourage compliance with goals, improve performance against metrics, and increase participation in KM initiatives — includes points, badges, and competitive rankings
  • Recognition: praise, publicity and promotion
  • Rewards: financial and tangible awards
  • Gamification: application of typical elements of game playing (e.g., point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity to encourage engagement with a process or tool
  • Incentive points tracking: systems for awarding and tracking points for desired knowledge management behaviors, both automatically as triggered by events and manually through forms entry
  • Badging: offering validated indicators of accomplishment, skill, quality, or interest that can be earned; digital badges are a visual, short-term reward for completing an action, given to users for performing a certain number of actions of a given type

Motivation Strategy (one of 10 Types of KM strategies)

To enable knowledge-related actions, it is usually necessary to provide incentives and rewards to your targeted users to encourage the desired behaviors. Often, the first step will be a management of change program to align the culture and values of the organization to knowledge management. Setting goals and measurements which individuals and managers must achieve is also important. And establishing formal incentives and rewards will reinforce the goals and measurements.

The means of motivating employees include communicating to them, modeling expected behaviors, establishing standard goals to be included in all performance plans, monitoring and reporting on progress against organizational goals, recognizing those who demonstrate desired behaviors, providing incentives for meeting objectives, and rewarding outstanding performance.

Examples include town hall and coffee talk sessions conducted by senior leaders, notes from senior leaders to employees who contribute reusable content, standardized performance goals, monthly progress reports, and awards for those who set the best example of sharing their knowledge.

Goals and measurements: employee goals included in performance plans, and measurements to track performance against those goals and other operational indicators

Each member of the organization should have three simple knowledge-related goals that are easy to remember, straightforward to measure, and consistent with the Top 3 Objectives. You should define personal goals, organizational targets, how employees will be measured, and how progress will be reported.

Once you have defined three basic goals for employees, stick to them for at least a year. Have the senior executive communicate the goals to everyone in the organization. Report progress against the goals in all communication vehicles. Recognize and reward those who exemplify excellence in each goal.

Here are three sets of examples of knowledge goals tailored to individuals.

1. Software Company

  1. Contribute a reusable code module to the repository
  2. Publish a white paper
  3. Lead a community of practice

2. Research & Development Firm

  1. Reuse a proven practice
  2. Serve as an expert in the ask the expert program
  3. Submit a lesson learned

3. Consulting Firm

  1. Join a community of practice
  2. Reuse a proposal for a customer
  3. Collaborate using a team space

Here are examples of how these goals can be measured overall for the organization:

  • Contribute a reusable code module to the repository: number of modules submitted; number of unique contributors divided by number of employees.
  • Publish a white paper: number of white papers published; number of unique contributors divided by number of employees.
  • Lead a community of practice: number of community leaders; number of unique community leaders divided by number of senior-level employees.
  • Reuse a proven practice: number of proven practice documents downloaded; reported value of reused proven practices as reported in user surveys.
  • Serve as an expert in the ask the expert program: number of participating experts; number of unique experts divided by number of senior-level employees.
  • Submit a lesson learned: number of lessons learned submitted; number of unique contributors divided by number of employees.
  • Join a community of practice: number of unique community members; number of unique community members divided by number of employees.
  • Reuse a proposal for a customer: number of proposals downloaded; number of new proposals with reused content divided by number of new proposals.
  • Collaborate using a team space; number of team spaces created; number of unique team space users divided by number of employees.

When communicating the individual goals, spell out what each goal means in detail. Here is an example for a systems integration firm:

  • We’ve set individual goals for all of the employees in the company.
  • Everyone should have these goals in their annual performance plans.
  1. The first goal is capture, which means capturing the content and experience from the bids and projects which we work on. This includes such things as project summaries, lessons learned, proven practices, white papers, bid documents, and project deliverables.
  2. Goal number two is reuse, which means reusing content and experience from bids and projects, including sales collateral, service guides, project documents, software source code.
  3. And the third goal is participation, which means being an active member of at least one community and participating in that community’s threaded discussion. This means asking questions, answering questions, and otherwise sharing your insights with members of that community.

At the end of the performance review cycle, it’s useful to provide a tool for employees to use to gather data to use in their review discussions. It can prompt them to summarize their capture, reuse, and community activities. And it can link to online sources of data to back up their claims.

The following questions can be used as prompts for reviews:

  1. Did you have knowledge management goals for this past year? If yes, what where they?
  2. How many hours did you charge as KM time during the year, and what were the most important items you produced during those hours?
  3. Which communities did you participate in? For each community, were you a leader/co-leader, a frequent contributor, an occasional contributor, or a reader/listener?
  4. Which threaded discussions did you subscribe to? How many postings and replies did you contribute during the fiscal year?
  5. What content did you submit to repositories?
  6. What content did you reuse from repositories?
  7. Did you have other significant KM achievements during the year?
  8. How did your KM activity benefit you, the organization, and your clients?
  9. Are there colleagues whose knowledge sharing helped you and as a result you would like to acknowledge their help for their performance reviews?
  10. Are there colleagues who will acknowledge the help you provided to them through knowledge sharing?

Incentives and rewards: programs designed to encourage compliance with goals, improve performance against metrics, and increase participation in KM initiatives — includes tangible rewards, recognition, and competitive rankings

There are several differing schools of thought on whether or not to provide special rewards for desired knowledge behaviors. One school holds that incentives can yield short-term results when introducing a change initiative, but that the effects wear off over time. Another is that people will manipulate such programs to gain the rewards without achieving the desired results (e.g., submit lots of documents with low quality or no reuse benefit). And a third is that you need to provide incentives for people or else they won’t do what you want.

It’s worth testing these assumptions with pilots for different types of programs. Here are five types of incentives you can try.

1. Performance ratings and salary increases

In conjunction with goals and measurements, you can specify that those who excel in achieving their KM goals will receive higher performance ratings and associated salary increases. Another option is to require that individual KM goals must be achieved in order to receive an above-average rating or increase.

For example, if a firm has three levels of performance ratings — fails to meet expectations, meets expectations, and exceeds expectations — you can specify that only those who achieve their KM goals can receive the highest rating, despite what other great accomplishments they may have. This will likely get everyone’s attention.

2. Promotion requirement

For some job types, you can require that knowledge sharing behaviors be consistently demonstrated as a condition of advancement to higher-level positions. For example, technical experts, project managers, and people managers can be held accountable for providing examples of how they shared, collaborated, and innovated using components of the KM environment. If they don’t provide such evidence, they are not promoted.

Communications announcing promotions should be widely distributed, and should include details on how the individuals shared their knowledge. This will provide examples for others working toward career advancement and give them something to strive for.

3. Tangible rewards

With the approval of your human resources function, you can give money or prizes for the top contributors, top reusers, frequent contributors, frequent reusers, leaders, those who volunteer their time, those who achieve targets, or those selected by leaders or peers. Communicate the rules in advance so everyone will know how to win the awards.

Here are ten examples of different ways to offer rewards:

  1. The people who submit the proven practices which are the five most reused will each win a financial reward.
  2. The five top project teams in terms of content reused in their projects will be allowed to attend the industry conference of their choice.
  3. For every five lessons learned documents contributed which meet quality standards, an individual earns a gift certificate.
  4. Those who reuse content as part of three new proposals win the book of their choice.
  5. Those who lead a community of practice for one year win the latest in-demand piece of technology.
  6. Everyone who participates in a content creation initiative for three months or more wins a subscription to the journal of their choice.
  7. All members of a region which achieves its KM goals receive a bonus.
  8. Those who receive the top ten most votes from their peers for sharing the most win a weekend trip for two.
  9. Those who receive the top ten most votes from their leaders for outstanding knowledge-related behaviors are invited to attend a gala event.
  10. Those who receive the top ten most points in competitive rankings (see below) win a financial reward.

The value of rewards does not have to be great in order to motivate people. The desire to compete, earn something free, and be acknowledged as a winner can be powerful incentives.

People will do a lot in order to win free stuff, even if it is not all that valuable. Tom Evola, who worked for me at Digital Equipment Corporation in St. Louis, enlisted colleagues in helping to proof-read brochures that he created. For each error found, he offered to let the finder select the candy bar of their choice from the vending machine, and Tom would pay for it. Despite the fact that the value of a candy bar was small, this resulted in extraordinary efforts to find errors.

In a Seinfeld episode, Elaine buys 24 sub sandwiches just to earn a free sandwich, even though it is a bad one:

People will wait in long lines for free stuff, even if doing so may end up costing more than the value of the free item. For example, people have idled in their cars for hours to get free or low-cost gas, even though the gas they use while waiting costs them more than the value of what they hope to get for free. And people will stay at hotels just for the free breakfast, which is usually jammed with others taking advantage of this benefit, despite the crowds and questionable food quality.

Vanguard used to offer free TurboTax to its Flagship customers, which required maintaining $1 million in assets. Bank of America waives all ATM transaction fees for customers who maintain $100,000 in their accounts. So even though the value of these free services is low relative to the amount of money required to be committed, the appeal of what is free is irresistible to many people.

4. Recognition

Encourage collaboration, sharing, and reuse by recognizing those who perform in the desired ways. Every Thursday, praise your colleagues who share, ask, find, answer, recognize, inform, or suggest in your enterprise social network ESN. If your ESN has a praise function, use it, and tag it as Thankful Thursday. Especially recognize those who are posting for the first time or who were redirected from email to the ESN.

See “Recognize and Reward for Desired Behaviors” below for details on recognition.

5. Competitive rankings

Examples of how healthy competition can motivate people:

  • When people see where they stand in rankings, they often are motivated to move up in the standings. I used to manage a team of sales people. After I started producing a weekly ranking report for the team, every one of them achieved their goals.
  • The HP KM Stars program (see details below) resulted in a large number of winners from the UK. They had a friendly competition which frequently yielded monthly winners from the UK.
  • The competition does not have to be with other people — it can be against a target such as profile completion percentage. Some people obsess over achieving 100% completion as reflected in a visible badge, and this will yield desired results.

See the sections below for details on how to implement competitive rankings, incentive points tracking, and badging.

Try to combine as many of these five types of incentives as possible. For example, implement a competitive rankings system. Employees can use data from the system during performance reviews. They can submit details from the system when applying for promotions. The top point earners can be given tangible rewards. Those who exceed a targeted point threshold can be recognized as knowledge leaders. And communications vehicles can provide profiles of leaders and interviews with details on their success stories.

Do Incentives Work?

In 16 KM Myths Debunked, myth number 4 is “Incentives Don’t Work.”

We hear that incentives don’t work. I’ve heard this as long as I’ve been in the field. My own view is different. I think incentives do work, and I’ve developed incentive systems that have worked quite well and have been adopted by other companies, but the notion is that people will game the system.

We had a point system that I developed when I was at Hewlett-Packard that awarded points for knowledge-sharing behaviors and, theoretically, it could’ve been gamed. It would’ve been easy to game because you got a point for every time you posted in the threaded discussion board. We had one person who would tend to post in the discussion board with some trivial comment like “great, thanks,” just to run up the score, and eventually, I approached that person about that. After that, he was never seen in the forums again. It’s self-correcting. If people do this in the open, in enterprise social networks, everyone else is going to see that and they’re not going to appreciate it and you’ll hear back. In my experience, people gaming the system hasn’t proven a problem.

Another part of the incentive issue is that people aren’t really motivated. Intrinsic motivation is more important than extrinsic motivation; rewards wear out. There’s probably some truth to that. There was actually great response to when we added an incentive component to our point system. I think it’s not only because participants could earn some money, which everyone likes to do, but it also signaled the importance of the effort. When they saw that the chief executive was backing up this program financially they said, “This must be important. Therefore, I probably should be doing it.”

To me, knowledge management incentive programs have worked. If you want to see some examples of them working today, you can look at IBM and Accenture, both based on the KM Stars Program I developed at HP.

Set Goals and Establish Promotion Requirements

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:

  1. Everyone should be an active member of at least one community of practice.
  2. All new projects should be entered into the Project Profile Repository.
  3. 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.

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.

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.

Here are five steps to follow:

  1. Establish and communicate clear knowledge-sharing goals.
  2. Have the leader of the organization communicate regularly on knowledge-sharing expectations, goals, and rewards.
  3. Encourage all managers in the organization to reinforce the desired behaviors and stop rewarding the wrong behaviors. Work with all first-level managers to get them to implement, inspect, and enforce knowledge-sharing goals. They should inspect compliance to knowledge-sharing goals with the same fervor as they inspect other goals. This needs to come from the top — if the leader of the organization insists on it and checks up on compliance, it will happen.
  4. Align knowledge-sharing processes and goals with other critical processes and performance goals. For example, require proof of knowledge-sharing behavior as a condition of promotion.
  5. Implement rewards and recognition programs for those who share their knowledge. For example, award points to those who share knowledge, and then give desirable rewards to those with the top point totals.

Recognize and Reward for Desired Behaviors

Another way to motivate people is a formal recognition and rewards program. Benefits include:

  • Making explicit which behaviors are desired.
  • Demonstrating that the leaders of the organization view the program as being significant.
  • Providing concrete benefits to those who demonstrate the desired behaviors.

Incentives don’t have to cost anything to be effective. Just knowing that you have earned the attention, respect, and admiration of others, especially senior leaders, can be very gratifying. And you are more likely to repeat desired behaviors if you know that important people will take notice.

Among the ways to provide non-financial recognition are personal notes from leaders who notice contributions, newsletter articles about those who achieve success in using KM processes, success stories posted to web sites, invitations to attend prestigious events hosted by the senior executive, scheduling time with senior technical leaders for exchanges of ideas, and being praised and asked to talk about their efforts in conference calls or meetings.

To take advantage of the competitive nature of many individuals, an incentive points system can be implemented to award points for desired behaviors, rank those earning points, and report on weekly, monthly, yearly, and lifetime standings. The points awarded can be used for recognition, tangible rewards, or for demonstrating achievement of goals for performance reviews and promotions. The point totals and rankings can be reported on web sites, in newsletters, and via messages to employees and managers.

Each desired task has assigned to it a certain point value, which is granted automatically as a result of performing that task. The points earned are displayed on a web site to create a friendly competition among all users. They can visit the site to see how they stack up against their peers, the idea being to create some fun, to show that people are in fact spending some of their time on KM, and to recognize them for that.

For example, points can be granted for the following:

  • Contributing a document to a knowledge repository.
  • Posting or replying to a threaded discussion board.
  • Posting a story on the benefits of reusing content from a knowledge repository or a threaded discussion board.

Make sure that the tasks match the goals of your knowledge management program. If your goals are to increase document contributions, threaded discussion posts, and stories of successful content reuse, then assign points accordingly.

Employees can use data from the system during performance reviews. They can submit details from the system when applying for promotions. The top point earners can be given tangible rewards. Those who exceed a targeted point threshold can be recognized as knowledge leaders. And communications vehicles can provide profiles of leaders and interviews with details on their success stories.

You can use a points system with or without rewards. An example of one without rewards was HP’s IT Resource Center (ITRC) Forums which offered a points tracking system to recognize those who shared their knowledge. The “Submit Points” option allowed members to rate replies to their questions by assigning points to those members who provided replies or solutions to problems. On the web site, the Top 25 members and the Top 10 new members were listed prominently, and this helped encourage members to help each other and award points as a result.

Another example was the KM Stars program which was used at HP to track points and create rankings (see details below). Other companies, including Accenture, Cisco, and IBM, have implemented similar programs which are still in use.

If you tie tangible or financial rewards to the system, here is an approach you can try. Each month, select three winners to receive a reward, e.g., a gift certificate, book, or payment.

Criteria can include

  • A winner from three different geographic regions.
  • The participants with the top three point totals (but establish a rule that participants can only win once during any 12-month period).
  • A winner in each of three categories matching the goals of your KM program, for example:
  1. Top document contributor
  2. Top threaded discussion answer person
  3. Best reuse story author

Have the most senior leader possible announce the winners each month. Before sending the rewards to the winners, ask them to first write a brief story (at least two or three paragraphs) about the activities they performed in order to win the award. Publicize these stories widely.

Negative Consequences

There is also a possible negative side of recognition. People may think:

  • Why didn’t I get listed in the rankings?
  • Why does someone else always get rewarded?
  • I can’t win, so why should I bother?

To address these possible reactions, look for ways to ensure a diverse set of people are recognized and rewarded. For example:

  • People can only win once.
  • Include both quantitative and qualitative factors when selecting winners, including location, organization, and unusually-deserving circumstances.
  • Create multiple categories for winning, including the most points, the biggest improvement, the most creative, newcomer-of-the-month, against all odds, etc.

The Power of Pull

If you have to ask people to do something (e.g., complete their skills profile), rethink your approach to make it attractive. In other words, change it from push (you must do this) to pull (you will want to do this). Here are a few examples.

If you announce that something will only be available for a limited time, in a limited amount, or the cost will go up at a specified date, people will have an incentive to take immediate action.

Google has released tools that are only available by invitation, for example Google Wave, Google Buzz, and Google+. When this happened, there was a clamor by many people trying to get others to send them one of their limited number of invitations.

If you want someone to join and participate in a task force, instead of assigning them to it, or pleading with them, award them an exclusive designation such as Black Belt, Green Belt, or MVP. Now they will feel as though they are being recognized rather than victimized or exploited.

Travel providers and credit card issuers have long used tiered levels of privilege to confer status to their offerings. For example, silver/gold/platinum/diamond and elite/preferred/premier. To earn these exclusive designations, people will consume the offerings in greater amounts, e.g., fly just one airline, stay at one just hotel chain, use just one rental car agency. They will pay extra fees, e.g., higher annual credit card fees. Or they will maintain a higher balance in their accounts to receive preferred benefits.

Negative Incentives

Putting a scare into people gets their attention, and will frequently motivate them to take a desired action. Here are a few examples.

If you send out a notice requesting people to take an action, many will ignore it. But if you state that if they fail to take action, a specific negative consequence will result, you will get their attention. For example, if you send a message to all ESN group admins stating that inactive groups will be deleted, many of them will contact you to plead their case for retaining their group, even if their group is active and is not at risk of being deleted. The mere mention of possible deletion motivates them to respond, and may motivate others to take action to get their groups to be active.

In the early days of Internet humor mailing lists, one such list threatened subscribers with a tongue-in-cheek $5 fee if they unsubscribed. Despite the fact that this was actually impossible to accomplish, it generated a high volume of worried replies. For more, see “A HumourNet classic, the Unsubscription Fee Collages”

Whenever the topic of how to retire team sites that are no longer in use, or how to reduce the amount of storage consumed by such sites, I suggest that a bill for storage used be sent out to all site owners. Even if the bill is for a token amount, e.g., $25, many people will respond to such a bill by asking how to avoid the charge. So even if you have no way of actually collecting the money, and do not intend to even try to collect it, the effect of such a bill will cause many people to delete their sites, inform you that the sites are no longer needed, or ask how to reduce their storage to a minimum. This is the flip-side of the appeal of free stuff — when there is no perceived charge for something, people don’t worry about it, but once it is perceived as no longer free, they will jump through hoops to avoid a charge.


See Gamification Applications and Digital Badges for details.

My colleague, Lee Romero, and I created a proof-of-concept that pulls together several activities that are part of knowledge sharing. Each activity is assigned a weight and the tool pulls together an aggregate view.

  • Joining an ESN group
  • Posting in an ESN group
  • Rating or tagging content in the knowledge repository
  • Contributing content to the knowledge repository

When I was at HP, I worked with Andrew Gent to create the HP KM Stars Program. Here are the details.

  • Started with contribution and reuse
  1. 5 points for joining a community
  2. 1 point for posting to a discussion board
  3. 5 points for contributing a document
  4. 10 points for publishing a knowledge brief
  5. 5 points for filling in the reuse form
  • Removed reuse and replaced it with the Reuse Stories Forum: Created an online threaded discussion called the Reuse Stories Forum and encouraged people to post stories about how they benefited from reusing knowledge. Every month we selected one contributor who had posted such a story to be recognized as one of four monthly KM Stars.
  • Started with recognition only
  1. Rankings
  2. Publicity on intranet, newsletter, and blog
  • Added financial rewards
  1. Three winners per month initially, then four, when Reuse Stories Forum was added
  2. Required to write a story on how they became a KM Star
  3. Wide publicity
  4. Message to leadership team and management chain
  • Lively competition ensued, especially in the UK
  • One instance of gaming the system, which was addressed successfully
  • Added points to personal profiles

A KM Star is Born — Andrew Gent, as told Jerry Ash

For as long as I’ve known him, Stan Garfield has advocated a points system for encouraging KM activities. But we have never had the time or resources to implement such a system. We saw some third-party products along this line, but they involved a closed system of KM tools, and in our environment we knew we had to address multiple heterogeneous systems. So the challenge was, could we build one ourselves? After some discussions, some detailed design work, and back and forth, Stan finally asked what could be built in two weeks.

So we stripped the design down to its basics: a database, an entry form, a frequently asked questions (FAQ) page, and reports (perhaps the most important part, as the whole goal is to encourage participation through recognition). We took out all the automation of points so users must report on their own activities. And ‘KM Stars’ was born.

We also made two other important design decisions. The first was to make the system opt-in; users must register before their scores are included in the reports. This avoids any privacy concerns (important in Europe) and reinforces the ‘only if you want to’ aspect — there is no compulsion.

Of course, we give users an extra five points just for registering. The second important design decision was to limit the system to recognition; we decided not to associate any rewards with the points. This, again, simplified the design. Having been involved in other reward programs, I knew it would take months to get approval and to work through the details of anything involving payment of cash or gifts to employees. So, again, we offered KM Stars as a method of measuring individuals’ KM activity, but left it to the other organizations (which have the money) to grant awards based on KM Stars as they saw fit.

The response was as might be expected. There was interest, but many more concerns that users wouldn’t use the system if they had to report their own activities. It needed to be automated, which was true enough. Initial adoption was slow (around 800 individuals). But three things changed that situation:

  1. First, the reports. Remember I told you I am big on RSS [really simple syndication]? Well, the initial reports were written as RSS feeds. As a consequence, they are very easy to include in web pages. So we included the weekly top ten (reports are available as weekly, monthly, quarterly or lifetime views) on the KM and other web sites;
  2. After a few months, I finally found some more spare time to write a scheduled script to automate points for postings into the forums. Again, this is done by reading and interpreting an RSS feed from the forums;
  3. Finally, one of our advocates in Europe convinced her organization to grant a small award to the top point-scorers in their organization.

This last item was a major win: as an incentive for people to participate, as an advertisement of the system and as a source of the next major upgrade. To issue the awards, they had to read through the reports looking up each name to find their group members.

So the second major update to KM Stars was to build a monthly report that lets you sort/filter the reports by country, region, and reporting organization. Again, this was written in about three days. It is monthly because that was the quickest way to do it — it actually extracts the points and builds a separate database. This avoided serious testing and debugging if I tried to modify the existing database.

Now, several organizations are using KM Stars to grant awards. Registration is still low-ish (2,000+), but growing. And all with little or no financial investment.

KM Stars also demonstrates a few of the other characteristics of guerrilla KM projects, both good and bad. We receive many suggestions for new features. Perhaps the most frequent from management is a ‘detailed’ report listing what an individual got points for. One organization has stated it won’t use KM Stars as a basis for rewards because the organization cannot ‘trust’ it and only wants to grant awards for some of the activities for which points are granted.

Normally, all of these features would have to be considered in the original design. However, one of our basic design principles for the system is to recognize the cumulative effect from small day-to-day activities, not detailed reporting. So we have rejected this request. This causes some grumbling from management, but having a clear design goal is essential to keeping the system clean and simple. Besides, if they want to grant awards for specific activities, there are plenty of ways for them to count them themselves, if they want to spend the time.

Also, because of the preference for fast over perfect, sometimes seemingly simple changes can be almost impossible because of design decisions made to save time. To get this done in two weeks, no effort was spent on administrative interfaces, for example. So any maintenance had to be done through database hacking. Not good. We have limped along for a year-and-a-half this way. But I finally broke down and spent the last three days building an administrative interface to make management easier.


Here are examples of badges that can be given to people based on qualitative or quantitative factors.

Assigned Badges

  1. Contributor — based on contributions to knowledge repository
  2. Innovator — based on suggestions made in ESN and participation in innovation challenges
  3. Recycler — based on downloading and reusing knowledge repository content
  4. Collaborator — based on participation in ESN
  5. Learner — based on completion of learning activities
  6. Expert — based on keeping skills profile updated and responding to questions in ESN

Levels for each badge

  1. Bronze — some activity
  2. Silver — moderate activity
  3. Gold — frequent activity
  4. Platinum — extensive activity
  5. Diamond — exceptional activity

Earned Badges

1. Connector — based on people connections

2. Influencer — based on ESN Influence metric (see below for details)

3. Maven — based on votes

4. ESN leader — based on

  1. ESN actions liked
  2. Replies
  3. Posts
  4. Most-replied-to conversations
  5. Conversations with the most participants
  7. Times praised

5. SAFARIS Star — for ESN use

  1. Share — 1 point for each post sharing information, 2 points for each like or reply to such a post
  2. Ask — 2 points for each post asking a question
  3. Find — 2 points for each post finding a resource
  4. Answer — 5 points for each post answering a question, 5 additional points if the person asking the question acknowledges that the answer provided was helpful
  5. Recognize — 1 point for praising someone, 5 points for being praised by someone else
  6. Inform — 1 point for each post informing about activities, 2 points for each reply to such a post
  7. Suggest — 1 point for each post suggesting an idea, 10 points for each idea implemented by someone

6. CIRCLE of Excellence — for overall knowledge management behaviors

  1. Contributor — 5 points for each knowledge repository contribution, 10 points for each content rating of such a contribution (made by someone other than the contributor) with 3 or more stars
  2. Innovator — 2 points for each innovation challenge contribution
  3. Recycler — 5 points for each content rating for someone else’s knowledge repository contribution
  4. Collaborator — 5 points for joining an ESN group (one time per group), 5 points for turning on email notifications for a group (one time per group)
  5. Learner — 10 points for attending a KM-sponsored training event, 5 points for completing a self-paced instruction course
  6. Expert — 2 points for updating skills profile, 10 points or serving as a designated subject matter expert

ESN Influence: a quantitative measurement of an individual person’s overall impact on our network and ability to encourage others to interact using the following factors:

  • Number of posts by the person
  • Number of followers for the person
  • Number of direct replies to posts by the person
  • Number of posts in conversations started by the person
  • Number of likes received by the person’s posts
  • Number of distinct people who have liked a post by the person
  • The ratio of likes / post by the person
  • The ratio of likes / liker for posts by the person
  • Average lifespan of a conversation by the person

Health reports: You can produce and distribute regular reports including a list of specific elements with a rating for each (e.g., green/yellow/red). If the executive sponsors are included in the distribution, and they see that their site or community is shown as red, they may instigate corrective action. Examples include:

  • Intranet sites
  • Communities of practice
  • ESN groups


Lucidea Gamification Webinar and Blog Posts

Yammer and gamification webinar led by Scott Ward, notes by Wedge Black

  • Gamification is really about data, and storytelling with data.
  • The value of likes erodes very quickly.
  • Gamification incentives: SAPS
  1. Status — awards and visibility
  2. Access — to senior management or other perks
  3. Power — enable autonomy
  4. Stuff — prizes
  • Scott has used a ‘stock market’ report to show which departments and teams are making the best use of the tools. We’ve used a weather analogy to display stats — encouraging people to reduce rain clouds and increase the sunshine. Visual representation is clear and fun.
  • One idea — convert ‘praise’ into ‘beans’ that you can use with the coffee shop downstairs for coffee.
  • Further, we’ve found that key motivators are status and praise. Specifically, we’ve asked employees to nominate colleagues who have done something brilliant that exemplifies the company values. The kudos of making the nomination, and receiving nominations, was highly valued.
  • Different people, different cultures, like different incentives. Designers like badges, while IT people like levels — levelling up the leader board.
  • Badgeville’s motivation model (blue and green boxes)
  • When to use extrinsic motivation and real incentives? When the process you’re rewarding is dull or unpopular. But you’ll need to improve the reward over time, as prize value erodes for these unpopular tasks.
  • Negative incentives: take away their SAPS (see above) — reduce their status, remove their access, revoke their power, or take away their stuff. The carrot and stick debate rages on — negative incentives are a contentious matter, and may come across as punishment rather than discipline. Imagine the serious side — compliance matters. Using negative incentives to discourage dangerous or financially risky behavior may well be appropriate.
  • People learn how to game the game. So you have to find the goal that can’t be gamed.
  • Scott says he’s had complaints from people about the gamification criteria, and sometimes the complaints have been valid, and things have needed to be tweaked, but often the complaints come from people who need to improve their behavior if they’re to match company standards.
  • I am Ethicon awards and gamification
  • BJ Fogg says you need a motivator, the ability to act, and a trigger to start you off. If your gamification can provide the motivators and triggers, then all you need to ensure is that people have the access, skills, training, and general ability to perform.
  • Trigger? Think notifications, alerts, and internal communications. A trigger might only encourage a small behavior — further triggers are needed to continue the journey towards the strategic goal.

Gamification at Accenture: Thomas Hsu and Steve Kaukonen


Pros and cons of using gamification in communities




  1. Carrots and sticks are so last Century.
  2. For 21st century work, we need to upgrade to autonomy, mastery and purpose.
  1. Direct the Rider. What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity. So provide crystal-clear direction. (Think 1% milk.)
  2. Motivate the Elephant. What looks like laziness is often exhaustion. The Rider can’t get his way by force for very long. So it’s critical that you engage people’s emotional side — get their Elephants on the path and cooperative. (Think of the cookies and radishes study and the boardroom conference table full of gloves.)
  3. Shape the Path. What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem. We call the situation (including the surrounding environment) the “Path.” When you shape the Path, you make change more likely, no matter what’s happening with the Rider and Elephant. (Think of the effect of shrinking movie popcorn buckets.)



Stan Garfield

Knowledge Management Author and Speaker, Founder of SIKM Leaders Community, Community Evangelist, Knowledge Manager https://sites.google.com/site/stangarfield/