What incentives work for Knowledge Management?

There are a number of ways to incentivise KM, but which ones work?

I blogged yesterday about an article which confirms that financial incentives for sharing knowledge can easily backfire, but which incentives actually work?
We can answer this question with data from the Knoco KM surveys in 2014, 2017 and 2020. One of the questions provided respondents with a list if possible incentives, and asked the participants to rank how powerful they have been in influencing behaviour. The graph below shows the answers (approx 700 people answered the question).
The chart shows these incentives in order of value from left to right, as a stacked bar chart, with the weighted value shown as a blue line (this line would be at 100% if all the participants that used this incentive said it was “very powerful” and at 0 they all claimed it was of no use). The top of the dark grey area represents the usage percentage for these incentives, as the light grey area above represents people who do not use this incentive. The top of the green area represents the percentage of people who said this incentive was “very powerful”.

The most powerful incentives are clear management directive for KM, KM embedded within normal job descriptions, a centrally organised recognition shceme, and peer recognition schemes. Finanacial incentives are judged the least useful.

The usage of these incentives increases with KM maturity, as shown below.

Each of the incentives shows a greater level of application as KM matures, with the exception of financial incentives, where usage decreases slightly in the most mature organisations.

We can also look at the how the perceived value of these incentives changes with maturity.

Several of the incentives are judged to increase in power as KM matures, especially the clear management directive, embedding KM in job descriptions, adding KM to exected competences, and the use of peer recognition schemes. All of these represent the embedding of KM within the expected work behaviours.

Monetary incentives, gamification and the central recognition scheme, on the other hand – where KM is incentivised separately – are judged to decrease in power as KM matures, even though the previous figure shows they increase in usage.

The message seems to be clear – incentivise KM as part of the job, rather than incentivise it separately.

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

"It’s not about the money" – why financial incentives for KM dont work

On the topic of  incentives for Knowledge Management, there are some interesting observations in this article from HR magazine in 2004

The article is a high level overview of KM, which although warning that KM is not about technology, still talks mostly about technology solutions (and which immediately equates knowledge management with information sharing). However there is this interesting couple of paragraphs on incentives.

Incentives must be used prudently. One international high-tech firm used contributions [to a knowledge base] to determine raises. Just before year-end evaluations, the system broke down with an overload of hastily composed submissions, many of them meaningless. 

There are less expensive and more effective ways to encourage information sharing. For example, 25,000 Xerox field service technicians around the world contribute to the company’s Eureka database of maintenance tips. The incentive is “to become known as a thought leader” or expert in the field, says [Carol Kinsey Goman, president of Kinsey Consulting Services, a human capital consulting firm in Berkeley, Calif]

Sandy Mauceli, a spokesman for Xerox, says: “Although financial rewards were tried by various organizations early in the Eureka program, that generally did not drive the intended result. The motivation for employees to submit Eureka tips is really the recognition by their peers of being able to solve the really difficult problems.”

This reinforces the message that linking financial rewards directly to knowledge publication results in an overload of poor quality material.

I was reminded of this a while ago, where someone from a large company told me of the effect of including the target of “contribute 10 items to the knowledge base” in each employees appraisal. In a company of over 100,000 staff this has led to the publication of a million items every year. With no system of knowledge synthesis, this surge of (usually irrelevant) material has totally swamped the system, with the result that nobody can find anything useful.

Financial incentives may have some merit in the very earliest stages of  KM, but very soon, paying people to publish knowledge will flood your system with trivia.

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

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.

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

How benchmarking and KM make a powerful combination

One of the main barriers to knowledge transfer and re-use is complacency. Benchmarking (internal and external) can help remove this complacency.

not invented here - BINGO
Not invented here Bingo, by Ramon Vullings on Flickr

One of the biggest barriers to overcome in Knowledge Management is a lack of desire to learn from others, and therefore a lack of demand for knowledge re-use. You can create the best communities of practice, the best knowledge bases, you can publish all sorts of ideas and knowledge, but if nobody is interested in this knowledge, you have wasted your time.

Some of the phrases you will hear from those complacent people who are not interested in knowledge, are shown in the “Not Invented Here” bingo card to the right.

Behind the reluctance to re-use is the “Not Invented Here” syndrome, and behind “Not Invented Here” are two things

1. People are comfortable and familiar with their own performance, and with the way they currently do things
2. Change involves risk and effort. “If my way works” they think, “why risk changing it? Why change horses in midstream? Why ditch a perfectly good approach, for something unfamiliar?”

The way to break this cycle is to help people realise that “my way” is not the best way, and that the improvement they would get outweighs the effort and change. And the best way to help people realise this, is to show that others are already doing better. In other words, to use benchmark data. 

Benchmark data helps people out of their comfort zone

We see this very very clearly in our Bird Island exercise, where people were comfortable building an 80cm tower, and think they might be able to stretch it to 120cm. Then we show them benchmark data where the record is over 3m, the mean is 285cm, and even a bunch of American lawyers achieved 250cm. And we show them a picture of the record tower, so they can see this is not a joke.

What happens, is that the people are shaken out of their comfort zone, They realise their own performance was pretty poor. They become very open to learning. And they DO learn, and in the next round of tower building they also turn in a top quartile performance.

I also have a story from the Peruvian asparagus trade, which tells how publishing data about aircraft loading procedures among Peruvian asparagus producers motivated the poor performers to learn from the good performers, for the benefit of all. The authors of the study I quoted claimed

Objective proof of superior performance helps overcome a principal barrier to
convincing experienced professionals to adopt new practices – that is, the
belief that they are already doing the right thing and that their current
results are the best that anyone can expect

The great thing about good performance data, and good benchmark data, is that people then often come to realise that their approach is not “perfectly good”, that their way may “work”, but it works pretty badly. They become uncomfortable with their own performance, and become open to learning. “Not Invented here” disappears, because they realise that “Invented Here” is not actually very good!

The driving forces here are two-fold – embarrassment at current poor performance, and competition – to get up there with the leaders. The old motivation, to be safe and secure with a known approach, is replaced by a new motivation. The new motivation is “To do a decent job”. (And they often feel that if they are being soundly beaten by a group of US Lawyers, or if they are loading Asparagus in 10 hours when others do it in 4, they aren’t doing a decent job!)

When you think about it, most people are professionals. They have pride in their work. They don’t like to put in a poor performance.  So the existence of benchmarking data or performance data makes people aware if their performance is bad, they become dissatisfied with their approach, and are open to learning something better, hence creating a market for knowledge, and an incentive for re-use.

Benchmark data

  • Shows you your poor performance, and that you need knowledge;
  • Shows you which knowledge you lack;
  • Shows you who does it better.

KM without benchmarking can backfire.

KM without benchmarking is difficult, as there is no objective way to tell which knowledge is better. Therefore, as we have argued, there can be a big supply of knowledge (everyone thinks their own way of doing things is best) but no demand for knowledge (everyone thinks their own way of doing things is best). Therefore, despite much KM activity, there is no impact to the organisation, as everyone merely reinforces what they are already doing. 

Benchmarking without KM can backfire

The key here is to combine benchmarking with two other things; Knowledge Management and collective target setting.

If you just say to people “other teams are doing this twice as well as you – I want you to be able to match this performance”, this could be met by demotivation. People think “we are working our butts off – how can we do this twice as fast? Those other teams must have better managers, or newer equipment, or we working in an easier market”.

Instead you need to say “other teams may have some secrets we can apply here which would allow us to catch up with the winners. Let’s learn from them, and let’s see how well we think we would perform if we used the best of the best ideas”

Benchmarking and KM are mutually supportive. As the classic book “Benchmarking: A tool for continuous improvement” says;

“If you want to maintain the status quo, then don’t benchmark. If you want to remain where you are, secure in the knowledge that you are doing the best that you can, don’t benchmark. If reality checks are not your cup of tea, don’t benchmark. Benchmarking will open an organization to change, and to humility. Benchmarking provides the stones for building a path toward competitive excellence and long run success.”(McNair and Leibfried, 1992).

Pair the drive to change (benchmarking) with the ability to learn (KM) and you have the recipe for long term success.

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

Forget knowledge sharing, let’s encourage knowledge seeking instead

People often ask us “how do we incentivise  knowledge sharing?” I often answer “don’t bother. Incentivise knowledge seeking and re-use instead”.

I give this answer, because knowledge sharing in itself achieves nothing. Knowledge needs to be sought and re-used before any value has been added, and re-use is often a far bigger barrier than knowledge sharing. The Not Invented Here syndrome is far more prevalent than Knowledge Hoarding.

As an analogue, think of a driver in a car in a strange city, looking for a building which is not on the satnav.  They need knowledge, people on the sidewalk have the knowledge, but why doesn’t the knowledge reach the driver? It’s usually not because people won’t share, but because the driver doesn’t ask.

Knowledge needs supply and demand – sharing is the supply, seeking and re-use is the demand. Supply without demand devalues a commodity. Demand without supply increases a commodities value. Supply and demand need to be in balance, but the best way to kick off a market is to stimulate demand. 

Without an appetite for knowledge re-use, knowledge sharing can actually be counter-productive, resulting in the feeling of the “knowledge firehose”.  Better to incentivise knowledge seeking first then knowledge sharing later, create the appetite for knowledge before you create the access, and create the demand before you create the supply.

There will naturally be SOME supply already, as there are people who naturally like to publish. They like to share, they like to write, they were given two ears, one mouth and ten fingers and use them in that proportion.  If you create the demand and create the channel, the supply will follow. As David Snowden pointed out,

“In the context of real need few people will withhold their knowledge. A genuine request for help is not often refused unless there is literally no time or a previous history of distrust. On the other hand ask people to codify all that they know in advance of a contextual enquiry and it will be refused (in practice its impossible anyway). Linking and connecting people is more important than storing their artifacts”.

Create the need, connect the people, and the sharing will follow.

And how do you create the need for knowledge?  There are a number of ways;

So don’t incentivise knowledge sharing – incentivise knowledge seeking first. The sharing will follow.

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

What it really means when people say "I don’t have time for KM"

Very often people will say to you “we don’t have the time for Knowledge Management”. But what does this really signify?

“We are busy” they might say;  “We have lots of real project tasks to do – we can’t take time off for an After Action Review, or a Retrospect or a Community of Practice meeting. That’s just another thin to do no top of the day job.”

But in fact, it’s not a question of time, it’s a question of priority. They have time to

  • do their timesheets
  • prepare reports for management
  • attend teambuilding events
  • listen to senior management briefings
  • attend appraisal meetings
  • go to risk workshops
  • go to safety workshops

and none of these are any more “real project tasks” than Knowledge Management.

The difference is that these activities are prioritised. They are treated as priority activities; things that it is valid to spend time on. They are seen as part of the day job. Risk, safety, accounting for time, supporting management, building the team, are all priority activities that are part of doing a good job.

So when I hear people say “we don’t have the time for Knowledge Management”, I know that this really means “we don’t prioritise Knowledge Management” and “we haven’t made it part of the day job”.

If you meet this rebuttal, you need to work on making KM a priority. Get clear on the business driver, and the core purpose of KM, figure out what its worth, and use that value figure to make the case to management that KM should be a priority. Ask management to cascade this downwards. Get them to ask the two driving questions. Get KM into the job descriptions and appraisal conversations.

If people say they have no time for KM, then work on making KM an organisational priority.

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

3 reasons why people don’t share knowledge

A recent article from HBR identifies three reasons why people don’t share knowledge. 

Share the love
Image from meco 6925 on Flickr

There are many reasons why people don’t seek or share knowledge; the 3 most basic being that they don’t think of it, they don’t know how, or they don’t want to (Unaware, Unable, Unwilling).

From an HBR article earlier this month, named Why Employees Don’t Share Knowledge with Each Other, comes another analysis, and the identification of three factors which inhibit knowledge sharing.  These are as follows:

People are more strongly influenced by internal incentives (the authors call these “autonomous motivation”) than external incentives (“controlled motivation”). Examples of both these can be found in my blog post “20 incentives to swing the KM behaviour balance“. We can also see the strength of internal vs external incentives in  Shell’s analysis of incentives, and NASA’s approach to incentives. This particular issue is related to the Willingness to share. As the HBR authors say:

Our results showed that knowledge sharing is more likely when employees are autonomously motivated (for example, they’d agree with the statements “It’s important to share what I know with colleagues” or “It’s fun to talk about things I know”). In contrast, people are more likely to hide their knowledge when their motivation is driven by external pressures (“I don’t want to be criticized” or “I could lose my job”). This means that pressuring people to share knowledge rather than making them see the value of it doesn’t work very well…  Interestingly, in the Chinese sample, controlled motivation was associated with increased frequency of knowledge sharing but not with greater usefulness of what was shared.

People share more readily if they are involved in Knowledge work (what the HBR authors call “cognitively demanding work”). This is probably more related to Awareness of the need to seek and share, rather than Willingness or Ability. As the HBR authors say;

“Because cognitively demanding work can be more interesting and stimulating, and also more difficult and challenging, we expected that people would both enjoy sharing information more and see a greater need to share. Similarly, because having more autonomy in one’s work leads to finding it more meaningful, we’d expect to see the same propensity for sharing”. 

Knowledge work requires knowledge, knowledge becomes a precious commodity, people become aware of its value, and knowledge sharing and seeking emerge as behaviours which drive a knowledge marketplace within the organisation.

Finally, people are less willing to share if others are relying on them. This is counterintuitive. The HBR authors say that;

We expected that if respondents perceived their colleagues to be dependent on them, they would be more willing to share knowledge and less likely to hide it. Much to our surprise, we found the opposite. When people perceived that others depended on them, they felt pressured into sharing knowledge (the controlled type of motivation), and this in turn promoted knowledge hiding. This could be because frequent requests from colleagues created more demands on their time — quite a rare commodity these days. People often chose to prioritize their own tasks over sharing knowledge and even pretended not to have the information being requested.

Notice the assumption in the last paragraph – that “their own tasks” do not include “knowledge sharing”. This is a typical factor where KM is not yet treated as “part of the job” and instead is seen as something separate and different. KM is then seen as competing for your time against the “real job” rather than being part of the real job.  This was the sort of thing that Elon Musk was trying to counter in his email of last year.

So the conclusions from this are, for knowledge work, ensure that knowledge seeking and sharing are seen as part of the job, and incentivise them wherever possible using internal incentives – the desire to be recognised, the desire to help, and the desire to do a Good Job.

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

Two simple management questions that drive a KM culture

KM behaviours can be influenced quite easily by two simple questions from line management

Image from wikipedia

I posted on Monday about “What’s in it for me” in KM, and how implementing Knowledge Management relies on identifying the local value. Part of the local value can be driven by the local manager, as “fulfilling managers expectations” is generally a valuable thing for people to do!

It is surprisingly easy for managers to set KM expectations. All they/you have to do is ask two questions.

Who have you learned from?
Who have you shared this with?

Who have you learned from?

If you are a leader, then every time someone comes to you with a proposed solution to a problem, or a proposed course of action, you ask “Who have you learned from”?  Through this question, you are implying that they should have learned from others before proposing a solution – that they should have “learned before doing”.

Who have you shared with?

Also, every time someone comes to you to report a problem solved or a process improved, or a new pitfall or challenged addressed, you ask “Who have you shared this with”? Through this question, you are implying that they should share any new learnings with others.

The great thing about leaders’ questions, is they drive behaviour. People start to anticipate them, and to do the learning before, and the sharing afterwards. People hate to be asked these two questions, and having to answer “umm, well, nobody actually”. They would much rather say “we have learned from X and Y, and have a Peer Assist planned with Z”, “We have shared with the A community, and are holding a Knowledge Handover next week with B project”. And once you drive the behaviours, the transfer of knowledge will happen, the value will be delivered, and the system will reinforce itself.

But the moment you stop asking the questions, people realise that you, as a leader, are no longer interested in KM, so they will stop bothering.

There’s an old saying – “What interests my manager fascinates me”, so managers should make sure they are interested, and ask the questions.

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

What would it take, to get you to share more of your knowledge?

“What would it take, to get you to share more of your knowledge

Image from wikimedia commons

This was a question Shell asked in an internal survey, several years ago, in order to understand the incentives and barriers for knowledge sharing. The top 6 answers were as follows

  1. More time 
  2. More feedback on use of the knowledge 
  3. Recognition from peers 
  4. Knowing that it made an impact 
  5. An easier way to do it 
  6. Thank you from colleagues
What was missing from the list of answers were

  • Money 
  • Prizes
  • Badges
  • Hard incentives, and 
  • Directives from management. 
If you want people to share, then make it easy, free up some time from them, and give them feedback on the difference it made (including some “thank-you”s)
That “making a difference” piece is important, and sits behind factors 2,3,4 and 6. Make sure this is built into your Knowledge Management system, so people don’t feel that they are just dropping their knowledge into a black hole, with no idea of where it’s going, or who is benefiting.

If you want people to share more knowledge, show them that it makes a difference when they do.

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

Expectation, metrics, rewards, support – the KM Governance quartet

Four elements make up Knowledge Management Governance. Expectations, metrics, rewards and support.

Governance is often the missing element in Knowledge Management, and although it is one of the four legs on the KM table, it is the one that gets least attention.  This is partly because governance is not easy, and partly because there is no clear published model for KM governance.

Governance represents the things that the organisation does, and the management of the organisation does, that drive the KM behaviours and adoption of the KM Framework. We see four elements to governance – expectations, metrics, rewards and support.

Knowledge Management Expectations.

The first thing management needs to do in terms of governance is to set the expectations for KM. This requires a set of clear corporate expectations for how knowledge will be managed in the organization, including accountabilities for the ownership of key knowledge areas, and the definition of corporate KM standards, KM principles and KM policies. These documents should tell everyone what is expected of them in Knowledge Management terms.

Different departments can then add to these expectations, and individuals with KM roles will have KM expectations written into their job description (see examples here).  Within a project, the expectations are set by the Knowledge Management Plan.  Expectations may also be set using the competency framework.

If there are no clear expectations, nobody will know what they should be doing in KM terms.

Knowledge Management Metrics.

If standards and expectations have been set, then the organisation needs to measure against these expectations. For example, if the corporate expectation is that every project will conduct a lesson learned session, and every knowledge topic has an owner, then you should measure whether this is happening.
There are other types of KM metric as well – see these blog posts for more discussion.

If there are no metrics, then nobody will know what people are actually doing in KM.

KM rewards and recognition.

If you are measuring people’s performance against the expectations, then this needs to be linked to rewards and recognition. If people do what they are expected to, this should be reflected in their rewards. If they don’t do what is expected, then there should be a sanction. See these blog posts for a wider discussion of incentives.

If there are no links between metrics and reward/recognition, then nobody will care about the metrics. Particularly important are the sanctions for not doing KM. If people can dodge their expectations and get away with it, then this sends a strong message that the expectations are actually options, and not expectations at all.

Knowledge Management support

It is unfair to set expectations, measure people against them, and then reward people based on these measures, unless you make the expectations achievable in the first place. Therefore you need to set up the systems, the training, the coaching, reference materials and so on, that make it possible for people to meet their expectations.

If there is no support, then you have set up an unfair system which people will resent.

Together, the quartet of Expectations, Metrics, Reward/recognition and Support form the basis of an effective Knowledge Management governance system.

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.