20 incentives to "swing the KM balance"

People will engage with KM if the benefit to them outweighs the cost. Here are 20 ways to tip the scales in favour of Benefit. 

balance scale
Balance scale, by winnifredxoxo on Flickr

At a purely individual level, people will decide how to spend their time and energy based on an equation of personal value, namely “what I get out of this must exceed what I put into it, otherwise I won’t bother”. The same is true for Knowledge Management activities – people will do them if they believe the value outweighs the effort or risk. Our job, as KMers, is to weight the scales on the “benefit” side. This is seldom a conscious decision, and they seldom write the equation on a whiteboard, but it’s still there in people’s minds.

If we think of the personal value equation as a balance …

  •  On one side of the balance is the personal investment, which will consist of factors such as Time, Effort, Exposure, Change, Peer Disapproval and Management Disapproval.
  • On the other side are the personal reward factors which may include More Money, Less Risk, Less Stress, Peer Approval, Sense of Community, Sense of “Doing the Right Thing”, Management Approval, Formal Recognition, the Chance to be Heard, and the Chance to Make a Difference

The corporate culture, and the personal and organisational incentives, can help swing this balance.

Incentives that swing the balance

Lets think about some of the incentives for people to seek knowledge before starting a new piece of work. There are internal incentives, things that drive you from within, and there are external incentives, incentives which management can apply to reinforce the correct behaviour.

Some of the internal incentives for knowledge seeking include

  1. Payback — if people seek for knowledge, and find useful knowledge easily which they can apply to help them in their work, then this is a very powerful incentive to seek again next time.  In fact this is the number one incentive.
  2. Curiosity — some people are much more inclined to look for alternative ideas and new approaches than others. Work with these people in the early stages of implementation. 
  3. Familiarity — if people are familiar with the process for seeking knowledge, the technology to use, or the community to ask, then they are much more likely to do it, so this is where training and awareness raising helps. 
  4. Trust — if people trust the knowledge source, and trust the process of asking for help (in other words, they trust that they will not be ridiculed or criticised for seeking knowledge or asking for help) they are more likely to seek for knowledge. 
  5. Habit — eventually, once the culture is firmly embedded, knowledge seeking becomes a habit – something people do without thinking.

Some of the external incentives for knowledge seeking include

  1. Management expectation – people are very good at sensing (and doing) what is expected of them, and management can explicitly set the expectation that people will look for knowledge before starting something new (see “the two questions” management can ask to set the expectation
  2. Management encouragement — management can reinforce the expectation by encouraging, recognising and rewarding the behaviours of knowledge seeking. 
  3. Example – people follow the example of others. If they see others successfully seeking knowledge, and being recognised for this, they are more likely to follow suit (see blog posts on social proof). 
  4. Mandate – later in the process of embedding knowledge management, or earlier in the process if the softer incentives fail, management can make knowledge seeking mandatory (see how NASA make compliance to their KM policy mandatory).

Lets think about some of the incentives for people to share knowledge after completing new piece of work. This is harder to incentivise than knowledge seeking, because it requires an investment of effort on behalf of others.

Some of the internal incentives for knowledge sharing include

  1. Reciprocity — people are more likely to share knowledge with others when they expect to get knowledge back again at some time in the future (or have already benefited from the knowledge of others). 
  2. Pride and recognition — people are more likely to share knowledge when they are proud of what they have accomplished. They are also more likely to share knowledge if the knowledge “travels with their name on it”. Nobody likes to contribute knowledge which somebody else will claim credit for. 
  3. Friendship and Loyalty — people are more likely to share knowledge when they have built relationships within the community of practice, and feel that the knowledge will be used by people they know, respect and like. 
  4. Altruism — let’s face it, some people are just naturally more helpful, and more willing to share what they know, than others. Work with these people in the early stages of implementation.  
  5. Habit — eventually, once the culture is firmly embedded, knowledge sharing becomes a habit – something people do without thinking.

Some of the external incentives for knowledge sharing include

  1. Management expectation — management can set the expectation that people will capture and share knowledge after a significant piece of work (see the two questions again). 
  2. Example – people follow the example of others. If they see others taking time out to capture and share knowledge, especially from projects that may not have gone well and where there may traditionally have been a reluctance to “wash dirty linen”, they are more likely to follow suit (see social proof again)
  3. Management encouragement — management can reinforce the expectation by encouraging, recognising and rewarding the behaviours of knowledge seeking. 
  4. Recognition – good behaviours in terms of capturing and sharing knowledge can be recognised through awards, through mentions from senior management, or via articles in internal publications. 
  5. Rewards – good behaviours in terms of capturing and sharing knowledge can be rewarded through financial or other material incentives 
  6. Mandate – management can make knowledge sharing mandatory. For example many organisations are now building the retrospect process into their mandated project management framework (see the NASA mandate again).

Not all of these incentives will be appropriate at all stages of your KM journey.  Start with encouragement, use early successes as examples to drive social proof, once KM is defined, use management expectation, and to cement the culture, if you are serious enough about KM, use mandate.  the more you apply these external incentives, the more people will begin to develop the internal incentives as well.

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