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Consortium for Service Innovation

Technique 8.8: Leadership Accountability to the Knowledge Worker

Executive leaders in the organization must take accountability for the knowledge workers' success.  The accountability covers a number of areas including: 

  • Leadership development.  Leaders at the team level (formally called managers) need the training and coaching to make the transition from managing to leading and be accountable for supporting the knowledge workers' success with KCS.
  • Ensure the Knowledge Workers have the perspective, training, and coaching they need to be successful.
  • Ensure the technology infrastructure has the functionality, integration, and performance to support the Solve Loop.
  • Report on the status and progress on the WIIFM (What's In It For Me) for the knowledge worker.
  • Provide knowledge workers with continuous visibility to the impact of their contribution.

These leadership responsibilities are critical for a successful adoption as well as being able to maximize and sustain the KCS benefits over time. 

Leadership Development

KCS represents a bigger change for the 1st and 2nd line managers than it does for the knowledge worker. Successful adoption requires a new way to think about process, measures, and how we assess people's contribution. As KCS matures, the need for management diminishes and the need for leadership increases.  This means a shift from directing and judging to engaging and coaching.  The single most common point of failure in a KCS adoption is the 1st and 2nd line managers not making the shift and not taking ownership for KCS success. 

Executive leadership needs to support the managers in making the transition by changing how the managers are measured and providing them with training and coaching on how to become leaders. 

The Consortium members are doing a lot of work on this topic.  (See Nurturing an Adaptive Workforce as an example.) Here is a list of some of the key competencies that have been identified for team leaders in a KCS environment: 

  • Strategic agility - understand how tasks relate to the big picture (double loop thinking)
  • Innovation leadership - encourage creativity
  • Dealing with ambiguity - measuring things we cannot count; there is no one indicator for the creation of value
  • Courage - willing to try new things and iterate for improvement
  • Motivating others - understand the motivation factors at play in knowledge work
  • Customer focus - living the brand promise

Executive leadership must see the investment in leadership development as necessary to sustain the benefits of KCS for the long term. If they don't, all the investment in early phases of adoption (the first 9-18 months) will have been wasted. 

Knowledge Worker Training and Coaching

Knowledge work requires judgment. The basis for that judgment comes in part from understanding the vision (see Technique 8.1: Develop and Communicate a Vision) and in part by understanding the benefits of KCS in the context of the bigger picture and how the the Solve Loop feeds the Evolve Loop. This understanding is what enables people to create value, when they work tasks in the context of bigger picture. The keys to establishing this perspective lie in consistent communication, training and coaching. 

Infrastructure Functionality, Integration, and Performance    

The organization's infrastructure must support doing the Solve Loop at or near the speed of conversation.  As we have mentioned in the description of the Process Integration Practice, the infrastructure does not have to be perfect in order to start on the KCS journey and realize some of the early benefits.  If the knowledge workers are inspired by the benefits they will figure out how to do the Solve Loop even with really crude tools.  However, it is extremely difficult to maintain the knowledge workers' interest if they do not see continuous improvement over time in the functionality, integration, and performance of the infrastructure they use to get their work done. Our experience shows that leadership has 9-12 months to move the user interface from crude to obvious and easy.

Progress on the WIIFM

We entice the knowledge workers into KCS with a promise of a better, more interesting work environment.  We discuss the importance developing and communicating the "What's In It For Me" list of benefits in Technique 8.7: Communication Is The Key.  And, the list typically includes things like: 

  • Less redundant work
  • More interesting work, broader scope of work
  • Smaller backlog
  • Lower stress
  • Recognition for creation of value

Because these benefits happen slowly over a period of time, their realization may not be obvious to the knowledge worker.  If leadership does not have baseline measures established and reporting capabilities in place to help the knowledge worker see the change, it is an opportunity missed.

Visibility to Impact of Contribution

We talked about what motivates people in Technique 8.5. A critical enabler to motivating knowledge workers is providing them with visibility to the impact of their contribution.  If people cannot see the value they are creating, they will lose interest. The leaders in the organization have to provide visibility to article reuse: both internal and external (self-service). While article reuse in self-service can be difficult to figure out, it can be done. And it is critical that the people who create and maintain the knowledge have visibility to the self-service activity and success indicators.

Often one of the greatest contributions of the collective experience of the organization are the business improvements that come as a result of the Evolve Loop analysis.  This is a case of deferred gratification and leaders need to make the effort to help people see that the collective effort over time has lead to specific improvements in products, services, processes, or policies. It takes time for the pattern to emerge, and it takes time for the root cause analysis and corrective actions to be implemented. It is not unusual for the whole process to take 9-18 months.  Dramatic improvements may result, but it is far removed from the many well done Solve Loop events that it took to get there.  The people who made it happen won't realize it was a result of their effort if leadership doesn't provide that visibility.

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