Knowledge Management Institute

Knowledge Management is about mindset and people - not technology

Knowledge Management is about mindset and people - not technology

Mar 13, 2018   |  By
Rebecka Isaksson - Director, Knowledge Management Adoption - at Microsoft

This is an article that has been brewing at the back of my mind for a while. As I have engaged with more and more organisations, on the topic of “Knowledge Management Strategy”, it has been proven over and over again that most of us are making the same mistake: We tend to think that transforming our teams and our companies into a “Knowledge-centric organisation” is all about acquiring the latest collaboration tool, or (re-) defining our processes and scorecards. I can tell you with confidence that it is not.

True Knowledge Management is about attitude and mindset above all else. It is about the culture in your organization and whether you and your leadership are fostering an environment that allows people to be truly collaborative. Talking about “growth mindset”, “customer obsession” or having a “bias for action” is all well and good but do you, and more importantly, do your co-workers truly believe it? And are you all living it?

Are your leaders, on all levels, walking the talk? Is your performance management and reward systems set up to incentivize people for impact and results, as opposed to making the score card or blindly following the process? Does your organization and culture encourage people to follow their passions and be creative? Are they allowed to come up with crazy ideas, take risks, fail and learn from it without being punished, just as much as they are rewarded for meeting or exceeding the expectations that “the system” has defined for them? Is doing your job and doing it well more important than taking initiatives and running with your ideas?

Having your leaders demonstrate and live an open and honest, collaborative style, being approachable and open to new ideas and new ways of tackling problems, while recognizing that also a failed initiative has its benefits, is key. As is learning from your own and others’ mistakes.

So, let’s completely ignore the scorecards and incentive compensation models for a while and focus on a few fundamental questions, that may help you start thinking about what company culture you have today and where you want it to be tomorrow:

1.      Do the people in your organisation feel safe to be creative and collaborative? Do they feel safe to fail without being shamed?

2.      Do you understand what motivates people outside of the scorecards and incentive compensation models? On a personal level, not just on a professional level.

3.      Is there room for informal groups to form, address problems and create solutions, even if it is outside the formal company structure? Basically, is there room for taking initiatives?!

A safe environment

I find this is the most fundamental aspect in building a collaborative and knowledge-centric team. If people do not feel that it is OK to ask “stupid questions” or propose “crazy ideas”, you will never build and grow knowledge at an effective rate – you will regurgitate what is acceptable and established but you will not evolve. Classic, hierarchical structures where people feel they have to run everything up and down the chain, before taking action or starting an initiative, is very counter-productive to collaboration and innovation. 

Understanding what drives people

What makes your people tick? What makes them jump out of bed in the morning and be truly inspired to do their best? This is not necessarily all about allowing people to follow their passions (or overlook their day job) but it can be as simple as enabling them to work when and from where they feel the most inspired. Or when/how it best supports their family situation. As long as people do good work and make an impact, does it matter if they do it between 9 and 5 in the office or can they actually do more and better at another time or location? This is where modern workplace tools intersect and can make a difference in how you enable your workforce.

Informal vs formal teams

We talks so much about “diversity and inclusion” in corporate America, and around the world, today but what does that really mean? Does it mean we put quotas on hiring across gender, ethnicity and geography – or does it mean we allow and encourage people to connect and collaborate with people they think can help solve a specific business problem? Or take a “crazy idea” from being just an idea to something real? “Cross-team collaboration” is a common term these days but is it something that is pushed for the sake of pushing it, or does it happen spontaneously because your people recognize the value of connecting with people from other teams, geos or companies?

I realise this article probably raises more questions than it provides answers and that was exactly my intent.

I don’t have a silver bullet for you. I am not going to tell you that if you scrap your utilization-based incentive compensation model, and replace it by something else, it is going to solve everything. That may be an idea and something you want to consider but that all depends on what behaviours you see, and the behaviours you would like to see, in your organization. If you want to foster a truly collaborative environment that takes more than modernizing your performance management- or reward system.

You need to think about the culture you have and what culture you want. And hopefully this article will help you start that thinking process!

As always, I welcome your thoughts and your comments - and please remember that all of my thoughts and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be interpreted as official, or a reflection of, those of my employers - past or current.


About the Author - Ms. Isaksson has a 15+ year track record of thought leadership, leading change and driving continuous improvement for people and businesses, through assessment and analysis of business insights, human drivers and technology. She is currently Director of KM Strategy at Microsoft Enterprise Services.

Please note: The views and opinions expressed here are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.

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