Are White Knights Scalable? 5 Ways to Share the Knowledge (and Glory)

I am always surprised how work gets done. Sometimes teams have detailed implementation plans and follow them to the letter with proper resource management and contingencies built in. But, unfortunately, I see more and more work being accomplished on the backs of the few…the heroes…the white knights atop their horses coming to save the day as only they know how.

You know these people. They are the ones everyone calls. They serve on every cross-functional committee. They may be on the company’s HiPo list. They wear more hats than the Mad Hatter.

For Knowledge Management professionals, we like to identify these white knights and feverishly document what they know or how they approach problems in hopes of spreading that know-how to others so that we become less dependent on them and more productive across levels and departmental lines.

But, what happens when they don’t want to share because they love their “hero” status? Or, they are recognized and rewarded for being the best time and time again?  Or, what do you do when an organization grows dependent on their heroes and doesn’t know any other way of doing things?

  1. Put them center stage. Yes. You heard me correctly. Celebrate knighthood by recognizing them and asking them to share their stories and secrets. Some knights like to talk about themselves so put that PR skill to good use. Get them on video, on stage, on a webcast/podcast to talk about their keys to success.
  2. Change the game. Sometimes we reward our knights with more committees, more special projects. This has always confused me. Instead of burying them in more work, ask them what they would like to do or how they would like to contribute. You may be surprised. They may want to sit out a round and give someone else an opportunity. Or, they may want to pick the cross-functional efforts that they help. Or, they may want a weekend off.
  3. Share the love. We like to hold up our stars for high achievement, and we should. But, we should think about if the success we are rewarding was truly an individual effort. Did the best salesperson do this alone? There was no sales engineer behind her helping? Did the customer service manager turn his team around single-handedly? The answer might be yes but rewarding teams of people can be very effective to inspire great results and change the “hero” into “heroes”.
  4. Give someone else a chance. Next time you are staffing a committee, think about someone else other than the usual suspects. Who else could fulfill this role or stretch to fulfill the role? People get burnt out on committees. Even white knights get tired of coming to the rescue all the time. If you give someone else a chance, they may consider it a privilege, a reward in and of itself, and bring fresh energy….and knowledge!
  5. Go from knighthood to mentorship. Put your knights to work mentoring instead of sitting on the next task force. Ask them to share what they know. Allow them to pick 1 – 2 people they feel comfortable mentoring. This is a great way to share the knowledge of knights without the KM professional imposing on them with a camera or a notepad with a list of open-ended questions.

Ever Feel Like You’re Being Squeezed? 7 Tips for Managing from the Middle

Kermit the Frog sang: It’s Not Easy Being Green.  I have found myself on my own lily pad – the cushioned chair in my office – once or twice strumming my banjo singing: It’s not that easy being in middle management (hopefully, on key).

Being in the middle is hard. No one likes to say it but it’s true. Being in the middle means someone, or in a lot of cases, someones (plural), from the top delegates projects and tasks to you and expects great things. Being in the middle means your staff may bring you obstacles to overcome so they can do their jobs effectively.

Being in the middle is a state of constant problem solving. Your schedule is never the same every day. You better be a great listener, have some empathy and a knack for managing conflict. Sometimes, we folks in the middle leave our place of work at 6 (or 7 or 8) saying to ourselves: What did I get done today?

Now, being in the middle can also be a very rewarding place as you have the ability to exceed the demands of the top and help your staff achieve their best every day. When conflicts get negotiated and tough nuts get cracked open, there can be nothing more fulfilling.

I am the last of 3 children. My middle brother always lamented to me that I didn’t understand how hard it was to be the middle child. Heck, they even have an official name for it – middle child syndrome. Now that I have been a middle manager for a number of years, I think I get it.

Our older brother would dump all of his chores on him, unfairly, so he could go be with his girlfriend, and I would whine to him about my dollhouse not having enough furniture or about the fact that I wanted to watch Bugs Bunny not Johnny Quest. Clearly, a tough place to be.

So, how can we make being in the middle easier? Here are 7 Tips I have learned over the years for making it a good place to be:

  1. Block Time Every Day. This may not be a popular choice but having at least one hour of non-meeting time a day is critical for thinking, listening to a team member or handling emergencies. These come up so better be prepared for them. When we don’t have time, the situation can get more stressful.
  2. Be Visible. This is one I still struggle with but believe it is important. In today’s virtual world, it is very easy to work from home and hide behind your IM account. However, I make sure to be in the office at least once or twice a week so I can be seen and not just heard. It goes a long way in helping people when interactions can be face-to-face.
  3. Clarify Expectations. Something that took me years to figure out was it is okay to clarify expectations from the top. Sometimes, we want to be so eager and accommodating to accept any challenge that we simply say “yes” and then realize we’re not entirely sure what the objective is. Time with the top is challenging but I have found asking a few checking questions is critical.
  4. Don’t Be a “Yes” Person. One of the hardest things I had to learn was how to say “No”. No matter how high up you are in the organization, a leader still needs help prioritizing. I think the best way to engage a C-Level Person is to ask him/her to review the list of projects/objectives on your dance card and ask that person to star the top 5 – anything over 5 will not be quality.
  5. Be a Human Mirror. The most liberating action for a middle manager is to not position yourself to be the only problem solver. When your team brings you problems, the first question I ask is: What do you think? Or, what do you recommend? This is a basic psychology method to help people work through their own problems. Chances have it, they have something to say even though they don’t share it to begin with.
  6. Don’t Accept Monkeys. One of my managers used to have a sign on her desk that read: “No Monkeys Accepted Here.” So, if you walked in to her office with a monkey, or burden, on your back she would help you think it through but she refused to take it on as her own problem. As managers, it is difficult to not want to help your team but taking on all of their burdens will only burn you out, which won’t help them in the long run.
  7. Dis Your Banjo. Channeling Kermit and sulking in our isolated offices doesn’t always help us find our way through a difficult situation. Occasionally, it’s okay to commiserate with a confidant at work. I know…this may not be the professional thing to do but sharing challenges with 1 – 2 people can help you to know that you’re not alone and they may even have been there themselves and have a solution for you.

When Does Leadership Support Become Saturation? 5 Ways to Engage Leaders Effectively in Change.

Every change management expert will tell you that Leadership support and sponsorship is key to effecting true change. But, how much is too much? Do very vocal leaders inspire eye rolls instead of compliance? Do they tune people in or tune them out?

There is a sweet spot between active leadership sponsorship and leadership saturation. For most of us, this is never a question. We strive very hard to get leaders on board, get their buy-in, get them to integrate key messages into all-employee venues, team meetings and corporate updates. But, sometimes, messages get delivered too often or just too often by the same person. People can start to ignore the message.

Most of us in the Communication profession would rather have over-communication than under-communication. I, personally, would rather have someone tell me: “OK. OK. I got it,” than “Wow. This is the first time I am hearing about this!”

But who delivers the message is critical to successful change. If the message only comes from the top then that’s when the sighs, furrowed brows and cynicism can come about. But, when messages are delivered from the top and reinforced at every level of the organization, then it becomes healthy saturation.

Below are 5 tips for engaging and leveraging leaders in change communication:

  1. Kick it off. Having a leader send an initial email, announce during a corporate event or share during employee focus groups is the best way to engage the executive level in change. Having an executive set the stage initially improves the credibility in why we are making the change.
  2. Say it Quarterly. Asking executives to reinforce quarterly until adoption is realized will help keep the message/initiative alive. “One and done” messaging doesn’t work.  However, monthly tends to become a stale, broken record if the same executive and only this executive does all the talking.
  3. Give shout-outs. During quarterly updates, a great way to reinforce is to recognize those adopters – teams or individuals. It is important to ensure that the recognition is around real business value and that the “same people” do not get recognized. You know who these people are. The ones that are always on stage getting the gold medal. Try and encourage the recognition of new people – teams that may not always get in the spotlight. This will help dispel any thoughts of this being an executive’s “pet project”.
  4. Pass the torch. Asking executives to inform their teams to reinforce the message is critical. If the message is only from the top, you may get skepticism. When all leaders down the line are saying the same thing, people will start to get it. Fresh voices help keep the message fresh!
  5. DIY – Do It Yourself. This may be trite but it is true. The quickest path to cynicism is when a leader expects something of the team but doesn’t comply him/herself. This may be simple but it is the single most important step a leader can take to ensure successful change.