posted 10 Mar 2008 in Volume 11 Issue 6
Make KM fun
Some knowledge leaders shun the idea of 'selling KM'. Not the chief architect of India's award-winning KM programme MindTree consulting. He tells us to lighten up when speading the message; keep it fresh.
By Raj Datta
KM can be fresh, fun and exciting but does the phrase ‘knowledge management’ strike the common man as interesting? When you explain knowledge is our most important asset, do eyes light up?
If you answered yes, then you are probably quite passionate about the subject and transmit that passion to others as you excite them about your cause. But I would bet that for a majority of people, it’s not that easy.
If KM is all about enabling change, how can we enable that change if people don’t get excited about what we’re proposing? Excitement is just an emotion, but boy, can it get the job done! Visionaries and missionaries are known for creating excitement by a variety of means, getting people to rally around their ideas, no matter how strange or even misplaced.
Tapping into people’s emotions is an important avenue for enabling change. Perhaps KM needs to take a lesson in order to also promote its intangible nature, part of which cannot be explained using mathematics, algorithms or process diagrams.
Emotions are contagious – they spread. The human animal is part intellect and part emotion. Successful KM efforts need to be backed by emotion as well as reason. When a marriage happily goes beyond the honeymoon, what keeps the relationship alive? Celebrations, joy, excitement, pleasant surprises – whatever keeps things fresh and exciting. Stale and routine won’t do.
Perhaps the KM courtship and honeymoon period can be recurring. You need to move beyond flirting and courtship and into a marriage that is continuously energising and vibrant. The broker of knowledge-sharing relationships – such as the chief knowledge officer – needs to focus on continuously rolling out new initiatives, mechanisms and systems that keep things moving, injecting energy into the organisational ecosystem.
KM leaders should continually address new functional areas as well as some reinvention of what’s already in place. Some changes should be a response to what people are yearning for, and some should be pleasant surprises no one asked for. If we can get people to start guessing what’s coming next, then we’re definitely building excitement.
As change is enabled over time, both the scope and spread of KM expand; new solutions touch old people or old solutions touch new people. Either way, there is a movement, a newness and exploration which build stimulation.
Reinvention is rejuvenating, creating energy. As a rule of thumb, we should try to reinvent a KM solution every two years, or a maximum of three years. Along the way, there should be at least minor changes that keep appearing, introducing dynamism into the KM assets. Whether it is a new look and feel of a site, new features or a new way of doing things, such rejuvenation is important.
For example, at MindTree, when we introduced Osmosis, our annual TechFest and Knowledge Fair, we created three contests that took place over three months and ended with a final day-long traditional conference complete with invited speakers, panel discussions and exhibition. Today, Osmosis ends as an ‘unconference’ – with no VIPs or invited speakers and is rich with emergent conversations.
Along the way, we also introduced new contests such as the Design Patterns contest, Code War, and new concepts such as Knowledge Safaris. The fact that the event is dynamic pumps emotional energy into the system and creates interest.
We didn’t do this out of the blue – we observed how the BarCamp movement grew in the IT industry and were ourselves energised by it. (BarCamp is an international network of user-generated conferences whose content is provided by participants.)
Although emotions can be contagious, they need something to catalyse the process. In addition to social networks and communities, which are beyond the scope of this column, organised communication and branding play a key role. Often, we overlook this need and presume that by making an announcement by e-mail or publishing on our intranet, the job of communication is done. Wrong.
We have to see communication as an important enabler, which doesn’t just keep people informed, but catches people’s attention, makes them curious and gets them excited enough to explore the latest KM solution. This also means we have to go beyond the routine.
There are many ways to do this. Each significant new release should happen visibly; there should be a campaign that builds up to the event or launch. There should be a formal launch with ceremony and presentation, and we should visibly celebrate key milestones after launch.
At MindTree, we have launched all KM systems and initiatives at our All Minds Meets, which is a quarterly companywide meeting and broadcast. We have celebrated key milestones such as five years of our community movement by creating a logo for it and giving backpacks – with the logo on it – to all community champions.
For our Osmosis final day unconference, we conducted floor campaigns where members of the senior management team walked to each floor of their building, gathering people together and talking face-to-face about the agenda for the final day.
Logos play a key role in not just conveying a message, but in also creating recall. That is important as people try to make sense out of new KM concepts as they get rolled out. Even naming is important.
For example, when we created TechWorks to represent reusable software components, libraries, frameworks, utilities and tools, with a logo and poster template, we branded it. We then conducted a monthly campaign for different TechWorks within the organisation.
Each month, we saw a clear correlation between downloads and the TechWork highlighted that month. And after a few months, we informally polled people and they had good recall on what TechWorks stood for. So, in essence, we had helped the meme of reuse spread through a branding and communication campaign.
There should also be an element of fun introduced through the branding effort. For example, for our Osmosis – our Annual TechFest and Knowledge Fair – we introduced a mascot (a cartoonish ant) that started appearing slowly in different places, online as well as physical, letting everyone know something was on the way.
Initially, people just saw his eyes or part of his face as he surfaced, and at the end of the three-month festival he was everywhere, riding a wave of sharing, learning and innovation. For the final day’s agenda, instead of a typical tabular agenda, we used a visual representation that conveyed the fun and joy of the final day participation. I don’t know about you, but I sure feel like partying with the ant!
As you may be able to tell, we place a significant emphasis on communication at MindTree. Though we communicate by e-mail (e.g., we send a weekly newsletter outlining that week’s KM events and other highlights), we stress communication that is live and face-to-face or face-to-board. Each elevator in MindTree’s premises has a KnowledgeBoard next to it where you will find community event flyers, TechWorks posters, the KM Quote of the Week, and other KM-related announcements.
The content on the KnowledgeBoard changes daily, and its location at entrances or elevators means that it cannot be missed. Over a period of time, this helps establish legitimacy for KM initiatives and accelerates adoption. Each year, we conduct a company-wide survey that rate our internal functions (including KM.)
We ended 2007 with the highest ever rating received by any function in MindTree in its history. We have gotten there in part due to the way we have focused on emotional contagion with the use of communication and branding.
Raj Datta is general manager, knowledge management, at MindTree Consulting,