I perpetually point out the difference to the old and new KM in this blog, but I’ve never thought of it in terms of ROI for the knowledge worker. I have only thought of this in terms of the incentive and motiviation for knowledge sharing. When you think of the big picture of the need for a return in knowledge sharing, we can say this is the ROI for the knowledge worker.
My thought are if the ROI for the knowledge worker is high, ie. high reciprocation of value for participating, then in aggregate the enterprise ROI from a social computing ecosystem will be high.
The old KM was not about people, it went for the knowledge as a separate thing, and knowledge as a separate act approach, where the participants really had no return on their contributions, and no self motiviation to want to participate. In essence this process didn’t blend with human nature at all. Plus there is the other end of naturally seeking know-how off people, that’s just it, you were meant to seek it from a database (not people), and what you find, if you do find something relevant is meant to be context objective so it will suit all needs.
Whereas the new KM is not really KM at all (considering the key to KM is sharing what’s in our heads), it’s not a separate act, it’s embedded into our regular routines. In an ecosystem where we are networked to people and we participate as we do our work, as well as the finished product of our work, there is no conscious effort to make sure you are sharing your know-how, it’s just happening from being, just like in the offline world. In the offline world I don’t make sure I’m sharing know-how, it’s just blended into how I am as a person, it comes out when I act and speak whether I like it or not.
Quite simply when my wife is on Facebook, she doesn’t feel that she is being altruistic and sharing know-how, she is just using Facebook, and that’s that. As a result of being connected everyone wins and learns off each other continuously, just like we do in the offline world.
“…our misplaced trust that the newly emerging web technology would somehow deliver something that is essentially a people process, because collaboration and knowledge management is about people, not technology. The other failure is in our management practices and a missunderstanding about how people work — that information is somehow a product, a Word document for example, that, like an engine in a car factory, is produced by the end of a hard days work. There’s no return on investment to be had in this paradigm.”
“…it reflects a very Tayloristic view of the world, where efficiency is to be had by motivating workers to behave in more efficient ways, rather than to think smarter. Certainly, you can offer better tools like large intranet repositories with a wealth of information inside, but the synthesis of information into knowledge is a difficult task when the person who created a piece of information, or a similarly empowered individual, is not there to help you know where to look, understand what you find, and then assimilate it.”
“The truth of most modern work is that we analyse data and information and reach out to our networks in order to gain access to knowledge. We collaborate on ideas and then have a burst of work that reflects the sharing of ideas. And, of course, once we have produced something, we then tend to socialise it again within our networks in order to refine the ideas we’ve produced. This is knowledge work in action and people are at the centre of it.”
The concept of the knowledge worker is that workers have unique (and welcomed) talent that they can apply to their job and beyond, and in the knowledge era this is not only recognised but it’s a requirement in these fast changing conditions, and where a lot of work is becoming specialised…less micro-managing (local experts know best).
This differs from the extreme top-down industrial era (scientifc management) where a worker was seen in a de-humanised role as a cog in a wheel. A person’s job was like a piece of machinery (a replaceable part), they were programmed to do one thing, they didn’t need to bring any of their knoow-how to the table, they were to do as told…the big picture of this is a fetish for efficiency or hedonistic productivity.
With our fast paced, specialised and global workforce the new model is more about “effectiveness”, and people need to go beyond org charts to get work done, favouring a networked ecosystem. The old system doesn’t lend to innovation or invention at all, as it lacks the notion (or doesn’t care) that a worker has expertise or thoughts about and beyond their immediate task at hand.
Each person has become valued not just for their output, but what we can all learn from their input (knowledge creation). Jim McGee says it so well:
“The challenge is that we have been trained and conditioned by the industrial economy to strive for uniformity and to see uniqueness as undesirable variation instead of the essential quality it has become.”
“Our inappropriate habits stem from assumptions about industrial work. With industrial thinking, once you’ve created a new product the goal becomes how to replicate it predictably. You specify the characteristics of the output precisely, lock down the process, or, ideally, do both. That works if you need to manufacture cars or calculate every employee’s pay stub correctly. It doesn’t when the goal is to create the new product. The primary challenge here is to shift focus away from the issue of replication and toward creation. The question becomes “how do we manage to create this?” instead of “how do we create the same thing all over again?””
If knowledge workers take a more bottom-up (and autonomous) approach, and the unique talent and responsibility is given to workers to run some of the business, what happens when they are absent or leave the company?
It was easy in the past, you just replace the cog, whereas now you can’t replace a brain, as brains are unique, and you have to deal (learn) with what that brain has left behind, ie. the momentum, processes, procedures, workarounds…the unique effective style of doing work. I think this is what Jim McGee means by “invisibility”:
“…one unintended consequence has been to make the execution of knowledge work essentially invisible, making it harder to manage and improve such work. Attacking that invisibility opens an important path to making knowledge work manageable and improvable.”
As a result of the knowledge worker concept (or due to this invisibility) there has been a reaction to capture what’s inside their heads, otherwise they are harder to replace, and it’s harder to know the method and thinking behind their output and processes.
If so much reponsibility is placed on workers to run the business all together, we have to know how they went about it once they leave or move position, we have to know how to fill the gap, if we don’t know this (in time) business can start to drop.
Hence the reaction and creation of the notion of knowledge management…well, I think anyway.
And here’s the irony!
We now understand that a person has unique talent and know-how to bring to the business, and we rely on them exercising that know-how…compared to the machine-like view of industrial man (like they were a spare part that could be replaced).
But our original concept of knowledge management was still treating the knowledge worker as if they were a machine…old KM is industrial in it’s process.
- Industrial era (people are told what to do and to do it efficiently)
- Knowledge era (we need people to have autonomy, we need their talent to survive and be effective)
- New problem is people that move on leave a gap of how things are done (invisibility), this can be deterimental
- Reaction (knowledge management), treat people like machines, command them to log what they know into the central databank, for the good of the business as a whole. And when they need information the worker is to rub the databank and ask the “km genie” their wish and it will be granted.
So what resulted, I think, is KM as a top-down (mandated) process to a bottom-up knowledge worker…this just ain’t gonna work.
In comes visiblity
In comes social computing, and we now have an even more augmented way for the knowledge worker to network and perform work, spread their talent, learn off others, etc…what an ideal system for the needs of a knowledge worker.
Plus it becomes the new KM, as now people are sharing know-how as a part of doing work, and because there is a return on investment for the individual, in the big picture is an ROI as a whole.
The talent is documented in the open, it is visible. When someone moves on we know how to fill their gap, we don’t have to always ask them (and they wouldn’t be able to remember everything they know anyway), as they have already told us indirectly, we can read their visible workings out of how they did their job as a result of their participation using social computing tools.
The worker gets work done, and the business gets to know their know-how all within the same motion.