Changing one mind at a time: Influencing behaviour in legal KM projects

Together with co-author Shimrit Janes we published an article in the Ark Group’s latest publication called Legal Knowledge Management: Insights and Practice (link to the TOC and a sample). The article looks at crucial success factors of such change projects, but zooms in on the most daunting task: influencing people and their behaviour.

Examples of truly effective KM programmes in the legal sector can be difficult to find. Challenges such as securing budget, engaging leadership and employees in the necessary change process and influencing their behaviour can all stand in the way of a succesful project. The article looks at crucial success factors of such change projects, but ultimately zooms in on the most daunting task: influencing people and their behaviour.

Excerpt:

Changing behaviours

Change is hard. The ‘9x effect’ states that people tend to weigh the benefits of something new by a factor of three, and equally also overweigh the cost of what they have learned by a factor of three. Thus, something new needs to be nine times more appealing than the status quo. Whilst the ‘9x effect’ is more a rule of thumb than hard science, it is a useful story for illustrating why overseeing a change project can be so hard.

We should be under no illusion; implementing new social tools within a KM programme requires change. This is not just because of new interfaces and functionality. More importantly, they break with long-learned behaviour patterns in the enterprise. In order to be valuable to the firm and its people, these technologies require its users to share instead of hoard their knowledge; ‘work out loud’ instead of either alone or within their confined team; to trust and be open instead of control and being secretive; and to actively build their own reputation, instead of passively relying on their manager to choose them for promotion.

The Influencer Framework

There are two fundamental elements that impact the probability of someone changing their behaviour: motivation and ability. Simply having the motivation to change does not mean you have the ability to do so, and vice versa. Consequently, both elements need to be considered in equal amount when trying to influence people to change.

This logic lies at the heart of a framework developed by Patterson et al. called ‘The Influencer Framework’. It can be used in any situation and context in which encouraging change is necessary. It is not, however, a change management model in and of itself. Rather, the framework can be appliedto different elements of a wider change management programme, for example to communication promotion, education and coaching, and technology selection. The framework identifies six sources of influence as shown in Table 1.

[table id=1 /]

Table 1: An adapted version of The Influencer Framework

From knowledge management to knowledge networking

This presentation, given at the Legal KM Conference in London in May 2013, talks about these changes and challenges of introducing an enterprise social network in a professional (legal) environment and particular workstreams of a change acceleration programme.

In the past, knowledge was treated as just another company asset, that could be captured, stored and retrieved in a big warehouse. The role of knowledge management was to ‚manage‘ knowledge. This is still important for certain knowledge, but most of our knowledge is inherently attached to people. Thus, Rather than desperately trying to connect employees with some KM system, it is even more important to connect people with each other. Therefore, the role of a knowledge manager has all of a sudden become even more interesting by thinking of ways to enable employees to connect with others inside and outside the company. The introduction of an enterprise social network is only one aspect to facilitate these connections.

Second-wave adopters are coming! Are you prepared? Part III

[ I originally published this post on the Headshift blog in 2009. ]

This is the 3rd part of a blog post looking at user adoption.

  1. Overview of barriers to introducing Enterprise 2.0 and user adoption
  2. Scrutinizing barriers to user adoption
  3. Thoughts on how to attract second-wave adopters

In the previous post we looked in more detail at barriers to user adoption and identified the following as key to be addressed to get second-wave adopters on board:

  1. applications not part of user’s workflow
  2. time effort > personal value
  3. complex applications

Letting people engage with social tools using what they are already familiar with, seems to be paramount. If you are too prescriptive about the tools they need to use to interact with others or the tools themselves demand a certain type of interaction, you will lose a lot of people on the fence.

Since a lot of people live in their inbox, we should be looking at ways to interact with a company’s wiki, blogs, forums, social network and even microblogging engine using an email client. I specifically say ‚email client‘, by which I mean not the ‚email inbox‘. The inbox should be for private information only. All other content (e.g. updates from blogs, wikis, newsletters, RSS feeds) should be received in different folders within the email client.

There have been some interesting developments, but I would expect to see more in the near future:

1) Blogs

Users should be able to post content to a blog using email. Products like Telligent, Movable Type cater for it already.  The latest version of WordPress also allows to reply to comments via email. Three days ago Posterous, the ultra-simple blogging platform, announced a new feature which lets users interact with the platform without ever having to leave their email client. I would expect enterprise vendors to implement similar functionality in the future.

2) Wikis

Pretty much all wiki products allow users to subscribe to updates via email. But very few products allow users to post content to a wiki and even create wiki pages via email. Socialtext is one of them. However, as far as I am aware, Socialtext and other products do not allow users to directly edit content in an email client and sending it back to the wiki.

3) RSS

A lot has been said about the use of RSS. While RSS for plumbing purposes has been widely accepted, standalone RSS feed readers are having difficulties to find their way into the enterprise. Primarily because most feed readers are fairly complex and expensive, but also because users don’t understand the difference between receiving their newsletters, updates in their email inbox and in a reader. For them it’s an additional destination they need to go to. Newsgator for example offers a plugin, which enables users to consume feeds in their email client. Since feeds are completely different than private conversations, they are displayed in separate folders and not in the inbox.

4) Internal / External Social Network 

Email is used to connect with other people, but so far most email clients don’t show context information about the recipients or senders of an email. It would be interesting to automatically have profile information, status updates, last actions from a sender or recipient of an email. This could work for a company’s internal social network but also with external networks like LinkedIn, Facebook using XOBNI or Gist or services like Jigsaw, Zoominfo, especially for sales people.

5) CRM

CRM set out with the best motives but many CRM initiatives fail because of low user adoption, significant amounts of inaccurate data and a poor match between processes and technology. In the end, CRM is a top-down tool that works for managers who can get their salespeople to play the role of a data entry clerk in addition to selling and managing customer relationships. Companies should look at possibilities of exchanging data between email client and CRM systems. For example, scheduled meetings or to-do items are automatically transferred into the CRM system. Team members can view that information inside their email client before sending emails to clients.

5) Microblogging

Twitter is all the rage at the moment and we are seeing very promising products appear in the enterprise space, e.g. Socialtext Signals, Yammer, Socialcast. For most people however, it is yet another application and destination they need to go to. Yammer allows to post and receive messages via email.

6) Instant Messeging 

Sometimes it is desirable to initiate an IM chat right after having received an email. For example, IBM’s Sametime IM technology plugs into MS Outlook indicating if a person is available for a chat/call and allowing the user to directly contact another person within the email client.

7) Email distribution list

As mentioned before, people use email to have conversations about non-confidential topics. In this case, it could be beneficial to the company if these conversations where accessible to other employees. But convincing them to use forums, blogs or wikis can be very difficult, as they are outside of their workflow. In its latest version Thoughtfarmer introduced a feature, which publishes content from an email distribution list to the wiki adding details like profile pictures, links to employee profiles. There it will be indexed and the information is accessible even if people leave the company.

All these examples are related to email in one way or another. However, transition strategies go well beyond email. In general, it is important to keep in mind:

Don’t be too radical

For example, working on wikis and blogs potentially exposes people’s work to the entire firm. Most people are uncomfortable with that idea. Furthermore, it can require considerable effort. Instead of implementing wikis and blogs from the start, it might actually be better to look at social bookmarking, social networking or social messaging (microblogging) first. The value/time investment ratio is usually better than for wikis and blogs. Look at social bookmarking: The workflow is not radically different from what people are used to. They can opt out of sharing on a case-by-case basis, learn how valuable tagging can be for themselves. At the same time they understand the value of transparency when searching/browsing colleague’s bookmarks instead of relying on the enterprise search engine.

Let people decide how to interact

Early adopters and enthusiasts will be happy to work directly on the wiki, consume news and updates in their RSS feed reader and read and send messages directly in the microblogging engine. For the rest make sure that they have the possibility to use those new tools with something they are familiar with.

Let people receive content the way they want it

If people find content (sources) interesting they should be able to decide how and when they want to receive content; let it be via email client, RSS reader, feeds on the team space, message on the microblogging engine, or PDF. Stop pushing content down people’s throat using email!

Build on existing workflows

This is nothing new, but I believe people have been rather ignorant to the fact that a lot of existing workflows involve email. Instead of simply implementing some new shiny tools, try to bridge the gap between the old and the new world.

New behaviors will emerge, but it won’t happen over night. That’s why enthusiasts need to acknowledge that most skeptics will continue to follow the path of least resistance and reject tools that are not part of their workflow, are too difficult learn and use or don’t yield an immediate personal benefit. If you ignore that, the success of your Enterprise 2.0 initiative may be in danger and the skeptics may prevail in the end.

Second-wave adopters are coming! Are you prepared? Part II

[ I originally published this post on the Headshift blog in 2009. ]

This is the 2nd part of a blog post looking at user adoption.

  1. Overview of barriers to introducing Enterprise 2.0 and user adoption
  2. Scrutinizing barriers to user adoption
  3. Thoughts on how to attract second-wave adopters

In the first post I listed the following barriers to user adoption:

  1. Insufficient training
  2. Culture
  3. Generation Gap
  4. Applications not part of users‘ workflow
  5. Time effort > personal value
  6. Complex applications

The first barrier (insufficient training) can be addressed fairly easily. The scope and content of the training program should depend on complexity, context and people’s background.

Barriers two and three (culture and generation gap) are cited very frequently with respect to user adoption. Not to sound harsh, but I think the importance of these two barriers is partially overrated. This is not to say that they do no effect user adoption at all. But looking at cultural issues, people assume that certain behavior can be attributed to a particular culture and by that ignore other explanations.

For example, a very common argument is that people are unwilling to share what they know. Well, they may not be necessarily unwilling to do so, but it does take low priority when people try to meet their goals and deadlines. That was the fallacy of the early KM era, in which employees were asked to step outside their work and ‚contribute‘ to a fancy KM tool (aka database). The beauty of social tools is it then, that they allow people to do their work in a more efficient manner, thus, gaining direct personal value and at the same time letting the organization as a whole benefit from it by breaking down silos and enhancing transparency. People need to realize that in most cases, knowledge-sharing is not an activity but in fact a by-product of people’s work. That’s why it is so important to implement these kind of tools into people’s workflow.

On the generation gap, most of the statistics seem to indicate that the older generation is technology averse and few use social tools or services on the Internet. But what about LinkedIn with it’s 39 Million users? What about XING, where 37% of its users are baby boomers? What about Facebook, where the fastest growing demographic is women over 55? And if the younger generations are always on the lookout for the next cool thing, why is the average age of people on Twitter 31? Can we really explain all that just by looking at age, gender or race? I doubt it! Ultimately it comes down to value! People flock to a service from which they get value. What constitutes value, lays in the eye of the beholder. Therefore, it is paramount to understand people, their needs, interactions with others, current tools they are using and so on.

This leaves us with the last three barriers (applications not part of user’s workflow, time effort > personal value, complex applications). To reach second-wave adopters we will need to concentrate on these barriers and come up with strategies to bridge the old and new world.

Whenever there is change about to happen, people effected can roughly be divided into three groups:

  1. People inside your garden
  2. People on the fence
  3. People outside your garden

The number of people can be visualized according to a bell-shaped curve. People on the edges, thus, group one and three, are usually in the minority, whereas group two constitutes the majority.

When considering the introduction of social tools, the groups above can be mapped as follows:

  1. People already using social tools or very eager to do so (the enthusiasts)
  2. People not completely opposing the idea of social tools, but reluctant to some degree to adopt new ways of working for various reasons (the skeptics)
  3. People completely resistant to the introduction and use of social tools, e.g. lawyer that asks his secretary to print out emails or newsletters. (the lost)

Forget about the third group! Getting them into your yard will most probably be impossible and distract you from focusing on the people on the fence. Besides, the group is usually fairly small and may well leave the firm not too long into the future. The enthusiasts are also  usually a small group, but a very important one. They can positively influence at least some of the people on the fence.

As pointed out before, the skeptics are not opposed to social tools per se, but do need to understand how they can benefit most with the smallest effort to change existing practices. And that’s where Enterprise 2.0 projects fall dangerously short. Early adopters and enthusiasts tend to have their heads somewhere in the clouds and forget about the existing work practices of the masses.

I liked Gil Yehuda’s analogy of the E20 and the long neck, which applies to enthusiasts vs. skeptics:

„The problem is that the „body“ — the enterprises that are supposed to benefit from Enterprise 2.0 thinking are lagging far behind. […] the „head“ is moving forward, looking at traditional business as the outdated, backward-thinking, unimaginative dolts who just don’t get it.  The messages delivered by the head seems to say everything you are „is dead“.  SOA is dead, IT is dead, data-centers are dead, waterfall is dead, email is dead, etc.  Instead, we live on perpetual betas, agile, clouds, and micro-this or that, social-this or that.“

As much as we dislike it, people live in their inbox and this fact is not going away over night by telling them about the benefits of using social tools! Given the lack of appropriate tools in the past, people have grown accustomed to (ab)use email for everything, e.g. public conversations (e.g. cc’d), collaboration, awareness (e.g. newsletters, updates), connecting with others. It’s effortless to fire an email to a group of people rather than using a separate tool. And yes, for most people it is easier to use email for collaboration rather than a wiki, even though they are aware of the disadvantages.

In the last part of this series we will be looking at ways to attract second-wave adopters of enterprise social tools.

Should knowledge retention be high on organizations‘ agenda?

I originally published this post on the Headshift blog in 2008. ]

Yesterday I stumbled across a post by Gordon Ross of Thoughtfarmer talking about a client where 50% of its staff is eligible to retire in the next eight years. What a massive brain drain! But we don’t even have to go that far into the future. Times are tough now. The lists of laid-off employees (here and here) become longer and longer with every day. Even though these are two totally different scenarios, the fact that people and their knowledge are leaving an organization is the same.

Most companies have extensive data backup and disaster recovery plans in store. I think it speaks for itself that companies are still more concerned about machines breaking down than people leaving the company. Axing people now may help to cut costs and survive the economic downturn. However, if companies do not take action to retain the knowledge of people leaving, they will face increased transaction and training costs in the long run.

Obviously, the problem of knowledge retention is not entirely new. It has been on the agenda of knowledge managers for a long time. Early efforts included conducting interviews or documenting everything the employee deemed to be important shortly before leaving the organization. I personally have not read any statistics (or even seen an ROI ) on how fruitful these efforts actually are. However, I can imagine that the success is rather limited, since there are various problems with such formal approaches:

  • What is important to one person is not necessarily important to others.
  • Most knowledge cannot be documented but is inherently connected to people.
  • Questions and documents are inadequate to capture informal conversations or to make social connections visible.
  • Given our short time span, it is very likely to miss important pieces of information when interviews are conducted.
  • If an employee is laid off…

In short, relying only on formal approaches like the ones mentioned above will yield poor results when it comes to knowledge retention. I am not saying that these do not bring any benefit, but it should be clear that an organization needs to take a more holistic and especially timelier approach to knowledge retention. Holistic in the sense of being able to capture/transfer informal knowledge and timely meaning starting today and not when an employee is about to leave. Knowledge retention starts as soon as a new employee comes into the office for the first time. In almost every interaction between people, let it be online or offline, knowledge is created and shared. These interactions are vital for knowledge transfer, as most knowledge is attached to people and cannot be captured in formal ways.

Instead of trying to document everything and controlling knowledge transfer, invest your efforts in facilitating knowledge networking. Allow employees to connect and interact with each other using simple tools. By doing so knowledge is naturally disseminated across the organization. In case an employee leaves the company, there are others that (most probably) carry parts of his work-related knowledge or know someone that knows. In the end, this informal approach to knowledge retention could save the company considerable amounts of money, because people do not have to spend extra time for interviews / questionnaires etc. when leaving the company and new people can get up to speed much quicker, as they can rely on the help and knowledge of the other employees.

I believe that the notion of knowledge retention as a one-off activity in a distant future will soon disappear. Instead, organizations will need to find ways to make it part of employees‘ day-to-day work – from their first to their last day at the organization.

That’s easier said than done, but here are some tactics that can help to achieve that:

1) Increase transparency

Large organizations are ‚famous‘ for re-inventing the wheel, since the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. Give employees smart tools that enable them to easily communicate, collaborate and connect with each other on an organization-wide level.

2) Enable free flow of information

Too often gatekeepers and inappropriate tools are major barriers to information flow. Employees should be able to decide what information is important and relevant to their work.

3) Focus on personal productivity

Employees are primarily concerned about their own performance. Give them simple tools that make them more productive, but which at the same time make use of network effects and benefit the organization as a whole.

4) Get out of the way!

Facilitate but don’t control!

Surely, this is by no means an exhaustive list of tactics. If you have any other thoughts or suggestions on how to tackle knowledge retention, please consider leaving your comment below.