Moving From Full-Service to Self-Service KM

If you work with billable employees, you know there is a constant struggle between how much time they should spend searching for information vs. doing actual billable work. Finding and leveraging past work could increase the firm’s profitability if the re-use can drive down operational time and drive up margin.

From an expense standpoint, do you employ a full-time search specialist to search and retrieve content for consultants, or should the firm invest in technology to enable better, faster self-service?

The numbers are in and self-service should win. Why? Investing in technology does have an upfront investment component to make information more findable but relying on a search specialist leaves the organization vulnerable if that person should move on and take all the intimate knowledge of our work with him/her.

The more billable employees can get their hands directly on content, the more knowledge they have about our previous work, the better equipped they are to present our collective stories in a compelling manner to clients and the more connected they will be to other employees.

The former model connects them to one person; creating a self-service model connects them to many.

Moving from a full-service to a self-service model is a challenging exercise in change management. One that requires the following:

  • Visible sponsorship: A leader’s endorsement is appreciated but visibly promoting and expecting people to engage in new work models and tools goes above just a behind-closed-doors “good idea” compliment.
  • Easy technology: So many platforms exist to enable easy uploading, tagging, commenting and sharing of information. Whatever your platform, it must make people’s jobs easier. Remember that nothing is easier than emailing a search specialist to request they spend time finding and retrieving something you need. But, in the long run, self-service pays back in other ways so demonstrating the simplicity of the process is essential for adoption.
  • Courage (and support) to say “no”: It’s not easy telling someone that instead of searching for them that I will tell you how to do it yourself. Squeaky wheels get the grease, and leadership may be inclined to give in to that person who refuses to post or find information on their own. We must change our behavior to help them change theirs.
  • Reinforce Behavior (again and again and again): Dipping people into one training session and then releasing them into the new frontier doesn’t cut it when changing behavior. In addition to driving people one-on-one to new tools and processes, show success.
    • Try spotlighting a monthly search success to reinforce how easy it is on your intranet.
    • Get champions to live and breath and offer to help those who are having difficulty following the self-service model.
    • Equip managers to hold people accountable for adoption.
    • Be careful with incentives. Incentives sometimes require upping the ante every year to sustain and that, in and of itself, is unsustainable.
    • Appeal to emotion. This is a last resort if stubbornness prevails. Communicate that the new normal is connecting and sharing. If you don’t connect, you’ll be missing the bus!

Congratulations on your success! You’re no longer needed.

After a number of years in the knowledge management space, I have come to realize that I know I am successful when I am no longer needed in the role I was hired to play. KM professionals generally get hired to “fix” things – better content management or search capabilities; better processes for storytelling and sharing; better mechanisms to capture tacit knowledge or connect people to people.

Once these systems, processes and expectations have been communicated and integrated into the way people work, what then? The goal for every KM professional is to work yourself out of a job.

KM professionals are like organizational SWAT team members – they come in, assess the situation, set up culture-appropriate processes, measure success and move on to the next opportunity whether it be within the same organization or a different one.

This is a scary proposition in a down economy…the fact that if I do my job right, I won’t have one in the future. But, I think it is the true test of success. Having KM processes and systems part of a culture and a way of doing business really ought to be our ultimate goal.

Now, this can take years…especially if leadership desires change that may not be indicative of the current culture but of a future state they envision. So, we can probably relax a little as we all certainly have work to do. However, we should always be looking for future opportunities to fix and depart from.

Knowledge Management and Marketing: “Sharing” a Link

It used to be that Knowledge Management and Marketing are too very disparate functions with clear training and education needed to differentiate one professional from another. I think there is a lot of overlap between these two jobs, specifically in two areas:

  1. The use of social media to capture, share and create interaction over content
  2. One can directly feed the other

I’m not going to focus on social media so much in this entry but the second point. For consulting firms especially the process of internal knowledge management to capture and leverage intellectual capital can directly be reused for marketing purposes.

A large part of consulting firm’s Marketing/PR strategy is based on case studies – what have you done for XYZ company, what were the results and how can that help my company. A consulting firm’s KM strategy should focus a lot on story capturing and storytelling to help make selling more powerful and creation of client deliverables more efficient.

These same stories captured for internal use can be used for external marketing purposes provided you have permission from the client. Here is a potential flow of what I call the SHARE concept:

Storytelling to Help Acquire (our knowledge), Recognize (our employees) and Expand (our business)

SHARE

“Switch” Your Thinking

Just recently, I attended a presentation by Dan Heath covering the tenets of his new book: Switch. Focused solely on how to make change happen, I was struck by the simplicity of the methods. Heath spoke about balancing appealing to the rational and emotional sides of the brain as well as ensuring one’s environment is clear of obstacles.

Simple but powerful. This got me to think about appealing to emotion in the workplace to inspire change. I agree with Heath that we make change decisions, generally, with our emotions not necessarily through logic.

If we were totally rational, then none of us would drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes because, logically, we know they are bad for us. My father is a borderline diabetic and when the doctor told him he was not allowed to eat doughnuts because of their lack of nutritional value, my father quickly countered with: “But, what about their emotional value.”

In the workplace, would appealing to emotion work on enterprise-wide changes, like technology implementations? How would we appeal to emotion to get people to submit stories to our knowledgebase?

I think for years I’ve been trying to rationally sell people on the benefits of sharing – reuse, saves time, better quality product, more collaborative, even increased sales but I wonder about selling on emotion. What would that look like?

Heath relayed a purchasing story where the company’s new head of procurement gathered all the 350 different kind of gloves their plants were independently buying and brought them to a leadership meeting. This was his argument for centralizing purchasing. When the leaders saw all the different gloves and the fact that they were paying different prices for the same glove, they make the switch.

COuld we do the same with storytelling and sharing content? Could we gather all the disparate selling techniques and products we produce to demonstrate how one could have benefited from the other? Would this convince people to start sharing? Hmmm….that might be something I try.

Can KM and AR work together?

I love to read – Harvard Business Review and Fast Company being my favorite business reads; FBI crime thrillers my favorite leisure read. Sandra Brown and Catherine Coulter really know how to write engaging dialogue! I used to just skim Fast Company for big ideas but I have been reading most of the articles now because while they may not be completely related to my profession as a communicator, I find that in every technology, innovation and green article, there is something I can take away about what the future may hold. And, I challenge myself to draw connections and be forward-thinking.

In November’s issue, an article on Augmented Reality (AR) caught my eye, and I put my futurist hat on to think about the link between Knowledge Management and AR. AR is the technology concept where you can be visiting Paris, walking by the Eiffel Tower and your device will know where you are based on GPS and display historical information about the Eiffel Tower. I would be nervous if I was a tour guide.

What an astounding concept for knowledge management! Imagine if we could retrieve information about people that way…the new augmented expertise locator! Or, embed information about a system, process or experience this way. It wouldn’t depend on GPS because these are not tangible items like the Eiffel Tower but if they could depend on simple inputs like voice instead of GPS.

I could say: “Close deal with UPS.” And, videos of people telling stories could be downloaded to my mobile device telling me how to do that, a screen listing hot buttons about UPS, bios of decision-makers, and the list goes on and on.

What we can’t avoid is even with the convenience of AR, there still has to be someone who creates content. The ease in which we access that information can be aided by mobile devices, cloud computing and other technology but content will continue to be king.

Should Knowledge Management be Defined Consistently?

This is a tough question to answer and my response may be met with some criticism. To gain a firm foothold in business…the answer should be yes. We should pick a direction and vision and go with it. That is what we SHOULD do but that may not be the best strategy.

I have held two “defined” Knowledge Management (KM) positions in my career (after spending 10 years in Training & Development) and while they had similarities, there were definite differences. I think KM is whatever the organization needs it to be.

Now, this is frustrating for KM and business leaders because we all can’t give the same elevator speech about what we do. Some may argue, if we can’t define ourselves as an industry, aren’t we vulnerable to cuts in a downturn? Not necessarily…I think by not having a consistent definition, we allow ourselves flexibility. And, in times like these, I believe that’s an important attribute to have.

As a KM Practitioner, under the KM umbrella, I have managed, at various times, the following activities:

CONTENT

Company Intranet / Web site; Document Management Technology, Processes and Policies; Information Security Policies; Records Management; SharePoint Technology Implementation and Support

COLLABORATION

Social Media (Blogs, Microblogs, Wikis, RSS Feeds, Social Bookmarking, etc.); Innovation and Idea Sharing; Communities of Practice; Best-Practice Sharing

COMMUNICATION

Internal Employee Communication; PR and Marketing; IM, Email, Blogs and other Communication Technology Tools

FACILITATION

Process Improvement; Performance Management; Strategic Planning; Learning & Development

So, is KM the “Miscellaneous” in an organization’s org chart? Sometimes yes; sometimes no. And, we, as KM Practitioners, need to embrace the ambiguity. Isn’t our tolerance for the “gray” and love of diversity the reason we choose this amorphous field?