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Consortium for Service Innovation

Practice 8: Leadership and Communication


The adoption of KCS is transformational and requires strong leadership. Understanding and communicating the relevance of KCS to the organization—how KCS contributes to the organizational goals and what it creates for all the stakeholders—is critical.

To do this, we start by developing an organizational vision (which we define as a compelling purpose that people can relate to), a mission statement, and a brand promise. Next, we create a strategic framework that links the benefits of KCS to the higher-level goals of the organization, which align with and support the vision. With the vision and framework in mind, a leader helps their team focus on what people need to accomplish, the right objectives and goals, and supports them in figuring out the how.

KCS requires strong leadership, not strong management.

The knowledge workers should own the content standard and the workflow while leadership focuses on the strategic framework, communications to promote understanding and buy in, and the performance assessment model.

The next level of detail involves developing and articulating the WIIFM—what's in it for me—for each of the stakeholder groups. One of the most compelling things about the KCS methodology is that it is wholly beneficial. With proper adoption, KCS benefits all the stakeholders. No one is compromised. Thinking through the WIIFM for each audience and likely objections is an important part of leadership readiness.

Another element of the leadership model is the reward and recognition program. Most leadership teams need to rework their programs to align with the knowledge sharing, collaboration, and collective ownership themes of KCS. We want to recognize people for their contribution, not reward them. Embracing what really motivates knowledge workers requires a shift in thinking for most organizations.   

However, having all the elements of the leadership model described above is of little value in the absence of an effective communication plan. We have asked leaders whose organizations have adopted KCS what, in hindsight, they would have done differently. Most say they would have communicated more about why they are doing KCS.

Effective leaders create a healthy culture that encourages participation, individual commitment, and accountability. People need to understand their role in the context of the bigger picture in order to contribute fully. Through a well thought-out communications plan, clear role definition, and a performance assessment model that rewards the creation of value, knowledge-centered organizations realize increased levels of capacity, capability, and loyalty.

In this section, we describe techniques to help leaders:

  • Define the vision, including:
    • A compelling purpose - a simple value proposition
    • A mission statement - our approach to achieving the purpose
    • The brand promise - attributes of the relationship with those we serve
    • Explicit organizational values - acceptable behavior for interacting with peers and those we serve in order to achieve the purpose
  • Define organizational metrics and goals that support the vision
  • Capitalize on the inherent motivation factors in KCS
  • Nurture people in the collaborative environment
  • Gain buy-in and support for the KCS initiative
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate

Leadership is Fractal

When we talk about strong leadership, it must exist at every level of the organization. One of the biggest challenges of a successful KCS adoption is the transition of the first and second line managers to leaders.  KCS represents a bigger change for the line managers than it does for the knowledge workers. 

Fractals occur in nature.  For example, the pattern of a snowflake is the same at a magnification of 1X (the shape of the whole flake) as it is at a magnification 10X or 100X looking at one small section of the flake.  That is, the pattern repeats itself at each level of magnification.  Its shape is made up of many smaller shapes just like it, which in turn are made up of many smaller shapes just like it... and so on. "Leadership is fractal" means that at each level of the organization the understanding of what the organization is trying to accomplish is identical (compelling purpose, mission, values, and brand promise).  This must be true in order to realize the vision. As people throughout the organization make judgments on how to handle each task or interaction, the vision is the basis or criteria for those judgments.  For example, it is each interaction and at the same time the aggregate of all the interactions that reinforces a brand promise... or destroys it.  If people at different places in the organization have different views or interpretations of the vision, it creates dissonance. Creating the vision and ensuring it is understood by all is the challenge of Executive Leadership. Helping the line managers become leaders who live and promote that vision is not a trivial task.

In discussing leadership, we talk a great deal about metrics. It can be easy to spend more time with spreadsheets and dashboards than with people. Leaders need to define and understand these metrics, but their primary focus should be on creating an environment of success for employees. Knowledge management is primarily about people, their understanding, buy-in, and behavior. That is the focus of KCS leadership.  The measures are a tool for learning and growth; they should trigger conversations about behavior, not about the numbers.

We have learned a lot about the role of leadership for KCS success and have identified the following Leadership and Communications techniques.

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