Invite Participation and Offer Options for Engagement
Change that is imposed will always be opposed. How enthusiastic are we about doing things we are told to do versus those things we choose to do? A key motivational factor in a knowledge-centric environment is a sense of autonomy or control. When we require people to do things without their having any sense of control or choice, we are compromising one of the most valuable motivation factors: autonomy.
"All knowledge workers are volunteers." - Peter Drucker
In the early 1950's, Peter Drucker made some astute observations about the difference between physical work and intellectual work. Making things on a production line (where business value is created by people working with their hands) is profoundly different than intellectual work, where value is created by people working with their minds (making judgments and decisions based on knowledge). Drucker coined the term "knowledge worker" and made the observation that "all knowledge workers are volunteers." Years later, David Snowden reinforced this idea with the observation that "knowledge cannot be conscripted," meaning we cannot force someone to give up or contribute what they know. Sharing knowledge is always an act of volunteerism; while a company can forcibly take ownership of the product of physical work, that approach does not work with knowledge. Research shows that "sticks and carrots," while not particularly humane, are an effective way to influence behavior and results of physical work. When the work is intellectual in nature, sticks and carrots not only don't work but are hugely dysfunctional. After collecting research from numerous studies on what motivates people, author Daniel Pink outlines key motivational factors in his popular book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us as:
- mastery (the opportunity to become an expert)
- autonomy (a sense of control)
- purpose (understanding why)
If we have to resort to coercion - i.e., "your job requires that you do KCS," then we have failed as leaders. While knowledge work may be a requirement of the job, leadership's goal is to create an environment where people choose to help and feel good about contributing their knowledge: an environment where the purpose is clear and people are bought into that purpose. Why? Because if they understand and believe in the purpose and values of the organization, and they trust their leadership and the people they work with, they will make good judgments about when to reuse, improve, or create knowledge articles. And, in a KCS environment judgment is required. Engaged people are required in order to maintain an environment of autonomy, and interest in the potential of mastery. All knowledge workers are volunteers and...we only volunteer for what we care about.
The frequency and quality of people's participation in the KCS practices is what drives the benefits of KCS. Successful adoption of KCS - realization of the maximum benefits - requires that organization engage people with a compelling purpose and invite them to participate. If we want to maximize the benefits for all the stakeholders, it will be because people understand, believe, and choose to contribute...not because we told them they must. For most executives and organizations this transformation is not trivial. It challenges everything that traditional business models are based on - models which have all evolved from physical work, not intellectual work. Amazing things happen when people have the opportunity to make decisions, use their judgment, and master knowledge skills that contribute to a purpose they care about.