“Oh, sure, I mean, we’ll roll it out globally eventually, but is it really worth it to fly people in from all around the world for a design workshop? Can’t we just figure it out first, and then tell them what to do later? Travel budgets are tight.”
Travel budgets are tight, and accommodating global time zones is a huge pain. But yes, it’s worth it, starting with face-to-face meetings to design your KM program. Don’t think headquarters always knows best. (Trust me: your remote offices don’t.)
The astute KM program manager will fight hard for funding for global participation in process design. Here are some arguments to use.
The core challenge in implementing KCS isn’t the process, or the technology, but leading change in the organization. That’s because KCS makes fundamental changes in how people think about their jobs. They’re no longer case closers; they’re knowledge workers. Their expertise is recognized through knowledge reuse, not by how many people ask them questions. Case documentation isn’t an afterthought; it’s the heart of their job. And by creating and improving knowledge, they no longer just help customers one at a time. They help many customers at once—even while they’re sleeping.
Yet, from unhappy past experience, people view change at work with suspicion. New measures hold them accountable in new ways. Work is always added, and never removed. Change is designed to benefit the company and customers, but never them. Besides, change is hard—will they get in trouble for low performance while they’re learning new skills? Will they feel foolish having engaged when this new program turns out to have been only a passing fad? Thanks, but no thanks.
People want to be in control. They want to be asked, not told. You can tell them what success looks like, but don’t tell them how to get there. Besides, they know how the work really gets done, no matter what your Visio workflow diagrams say. Ignore their input at your peril.
KCS adopters need to feel like they’re part of a team—and being on a team is an emotional, not a logical, state. It requires a level of relationship that is difficult to initiate in any way other than through in-person shared experiences, although it can be sustained remotely.
All these factors are exacerbated in remote locations and geographies. They’re not swimming in the same meme-sea as people at HQ. What’s obvious in Silicon Valley may not be obvious to people in Milton Keynes or Hyderabad. They may not see the same kind of pressure for change—the status quo may be working better for them than for people Stateside, or wherever headquarters may be. They also don’t have the personal relationships with executives that lead to trust. And, to top it off, they know they’re most at risk of being disrupted by outsourcing or other business model changes.
I’m writing this from the hills above Silicon Valley, so bear with me for a moment as I take a parochial view. As painful as change is here, I personally believe there’s no culture more accepting of change than North America, especially Silicon Valley. If change is hard here, I think it’s harder everywhere else in the world. (And, people may be less likely to tell you what they really think in a conference call.)
There are different specific issues, but fundamentally the only reason KCS and other KM initiatives fail is that people choose not to engage. Telling knowledge workers that they must do something is, unfortunately, not sufficient to get them to do it effectively. You need to get them onside, truly believing that this change, as painful as it is, is worth it for the personal benefits they accrue—the “what’s in it for me” has to be big and palpable.
The only way I’ve seen these challenges overcome is to bring people together, physically, to design the processes they’ll all be living with—and, ideally, to define how their collective success will be measured. Even though not all global staff will be there in person, they know their local colleagues are representing them.
KM initiatives can be expensive, especially when technology and integration is required. If the process doesn’t take off, most of the value of the technology investment will be lost. Honestly, paying for a few plane tickets and hotel nights is a small investment in an effective team to drive a worldwide KM program.