Strategy & Leadership

Without Strategic Leadership, Knowledge Management Is Doomed to Fail

Ask a group of field service leaders to name their top priorities, and one of the first answers will likely be improving how employees create and share knowledge. Fitting, since sharing is a huge trend right now — it seems the entire economy has given way to collaborative sharing services like Uber and Airbnb.

The theme has carried over to the service economy, where leaders are eager for their employees to share perhaps the organization’s most important resource: the collective intel of managers and technicians who have seen — and fixed — it all.

Knowledge sharing is an important goal, so why do so many service leaders’ efforts fall short? Bad strategy and bad culture are often to blame.

Align with Strategic Business Goals

No matter what methodology organizations implement — Knowledge-Centered Support (KCS) is one — failure is inevitable without the right culture and goals in place. Too often, company leaders value knowledge sharing for the wrong reasons, and go about it in the wrong way.

“The biggest challenge is far too often the process or methodology is the goal,” says John Custy, a service management consultant and training expert. “KCS is about making sure whatever you’re doing is aligned with strategic objectives.”

SEE ALSO: Is Culture the Missing Link to Great Knowledge Sharing in Field Service?

Leaders too often mistake flashy new technology, or the latest process some executive picked up at a three-day conference, as a solution. They forget that knowledge sharing is a means to an end — helping people do their jobs better — and it must be tied to specific business objectives.

Show, Don’t Tell

Another challenge is that employees must want to participate. Knowledge, after all, is in their heads, and employees maybe feel protective if they’ve learned that praise (and promotions) are based on how many facts and skills they’ve acquired.

“Most organizations reward the people who hoard the most knowledge,” Custy says. But by promoting knowledge sharing, leaders are flipping that order upside down.

To pull it off, service leaders must tie knowledge sharing to specific business goals — and create a culture built around collaboration and sharing. Leaders can’t give lip service to teamwork but continue to reward the company heroes who hoard information about every problem they’ve seen and fixed.

Change the Culture

Changing the company culture is no small feat, and it’s impossible without buy-in from senior leadership.

Methodologies that emphasize knowledge sharing are “a big change in the culture and how [leaders] think about performance assessment, people and process,” says Greg Oxton, executive director of the Consortium for Service Innovation.

Here are three strategies service leaders can use to create a culture that rewards sharing.

  1. Opt for the Carrot, Not the Stick: Changing behaviors starts with how employees are rewarded and recognized. Promote employees who actively share knowledge, add content to the database or edit existing content. “Reward behaviors and reinforce them until they become how people do their jobs,” Custy advises.
  2. Appeal to Personal Motivators: To change the culture, managers will ultimately have to appeal to employees’ internal motivators. Naturally, they want to be recognized and are likely motivated by engaging and interesting work. Custy concedes that can be a hurdle toward establishing knowledge sharing among service techs who, by nature, often want to figure out a problem themselves, not search a knowledge base for the answer.
  3. Top-Down and Bottom-Up: Leadership plays an important role in setting a knowledge-sharing culture, but they can’t do it alone. Employees in the field must see the value in creating a knowledge base. The value could be that it helps them do their job better, or that it’s the surest path toward recognition and a promotion.

Ultimately, it’s the technicians in the field who should be creating knowledge since they are closest to the customers. But without proper leadership, and a clear understanding of goals and expectations, the knowledge base will be a useless executive vanity project.

Bottom line: Service leaders shouldn’t lose sight of why they’ve emphasized knowledge sharing in the first place. It’s not about having the most articles, perfect participation or even passable content in the knowledge base. None of that does any good if people don’t use the content, or if they don’t see the value in contributing. Methodologies like KCS are about people, not process. Find ways to engage, reward and recognize people — and, ultimately, help them do their jobs better.

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