Encouraging Collaboration and Knowledge Sharing

According to McKinsey,  knowledge workers are an expensive asset, typically earning a wage premium that ranges from 55 percent to 75 percent over the pay of task workers who perform more basic production and transaction tasks. The nature of the collaborative work performed by these knowledge workers ranges from high levels of abstract thinking on the part of scientists to day-to-day improved decision-making and problem solving.

A big challenge is measuring the productivity of knowledge workers, these measures are at best difficult to quantify in traditional terms where as for production workers, productivity can be easily measured in terms of units of output and for transaction workers they can be measured in terms of operations per hour etc. But for knowledge workers, the degree of collaboration productivity depends on the quality and quantity of knowledge and document sharing that happens.

Having spent a significant amount of time and money investing in a system to help knowledge workers by enabling collaboration, document & knowledge sharing, how do you actually get people to use it and continue to use it beyond the honeymoon period? Not everyone is a natural collaborator, this can be either deliberate or just a natural feature of someone’s personality.

This is a BIG issue and there is no real easy answer, I don’t claim to have a silver bullet, but, the approach I suggest might give you some ideas.

I suggest adopting a two-pronged approach which aims to encourage someone to collaborate and discourage them from withholding. This approach is very straightforward, but the trick is how to find an effective way of encouraging and discouraging a typical information worker so that they become (and remain) effective collaborators.

One approach I like is to adopt tactics that both give and take, for example in order to encourage someone you should give them something they want or value and/or take away from them something they don’t want, conversely, in order to discourage someone you should give them something they don’t want or take away something they do want and value. Now this seems a bit harsh but as a strategy and if implemented in the right way, it can be effective.

So here is an example to illustrate my point:

Scenario: A document library has been setup using new technology (such as SharePoint) in order to store project related document, best practices, advice, lessons learned etc, The goal for this document library is to help people avoid re-inventing the wheel and to improve the efficiency and quality of projects by re-using what has been proven to work well in other projects.

The system has been in place for 3 months and after the initial “hype of expectation” (honeymoon!), hardly any new documents are being uploaded and the usage statistics suggest that many users who should be contributing and using the shared resources have reverted back to the old ways of “hoarding” information. As a result of this, projects are starting to suffer again from not re-using what is already known in the organisation and people get frustrated (or give up) trying to find in-house examples of best practice.

Challenge 1: How should you motivate people to contribute project collateral so that others can use it. Using the Encourage/Discourage/GIVE/TAKE strategy mentioned above, you might want to structure some approaches as follows:

  • Encourage –GIVE
    • Give recognition to those that contribute (name the top contributors)
    • Find a way to give regular contributors status amongst peers
    • Give recognition to actual content shared (use some form or rating system good –> excellent)
    • Give small but tangible reward (small gifts, extra time off work etc)
  • Encourage – TAKE
    • Remove any obstacles to use, i.e. make sure the systems are as easy and effortless as possible to collaborate and share documents
    • Remove the need to positively take action, i.e. make it the default that public documents are shared automatically unless you override and mark content as private
  • Discourage-GIVE
    • Ask people to document (in a monthly status report) reasons for not collaborating
    • Give non contributors the additional job responsibility or reviewing other peoples content
  • Discourage-TAKE
    • Remove unfiltered internet access (block certain public networking sites)

There are many others tactics apart from the examples I have listed above, hopefully you get the idea.

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