Introduction: Organizational dynamics and management thinking are rapidly changing in the globalized environment. Large globally distributed teams are fast becoming the norm and communication patterns have to change to accommodate this trend. Human capital or employee knowledge is becoming one of the greatest organizational assets. The global and mobile knowledge professional requires multiple channels of expression. Studies indicate that learning, innovation and a growth oriented environment are amongst the highest motivators. Open communication where ideas and not position matter are perceived as performance enablers. It is therefore important to understand what motivates people to share knowledge? Which technologies act as enablers? How best to harness these technologies? This paper discusses some of the people, process and technology related issues that need to be considered while planning a communication and knowledge sharing strategy.
The evolution of the internet and web2.0 technologies has facilitated open communication channels and knowledge sharing. These technologies if used well can create transparent flow of information and globalized communities of interest. The corporate world has started utilizing some of these technologies behind the firewall and is meeting with varying degrees of success. The intranet often houses discussion boards, knowledge portals, weblogs etc. It is important to understand internet sharing behaviors in order to build effective organizational processes.
What Drives People to Contribute Content in the Corporate Space? According to a recent McKinsey research study conducted in Germany the top reasons people contribute to intranet forums are:
- Hunger for fame and identity
- Desire to have fun
- Desire to share experiences with friends
- Compensation for contributing(people studied weren't paid for contributions)
The study also found that a few users posted the most popular content - 5 to 10 percent of the users added 75 percent of the content. These findings suggest that executives pursuing such projects should start by identifying and nurturing the small percentage of users who post quality content. At one Cable Company studied, for example, more than half of the installers who contributed to an internal wiki said that social factors such as reputation building, team spirit and community identification were the main factors motivating them to contribute. Only 20 percent cited the possibility of a financial bonus as their main driver. To encourage well-connected employees to post ideas to the wiki, managers at the company examined its internal e-mail system to identify key staffers with wide social networks. They then encouraged these employees to post suggestions about improving the company's processes. Identifying thought leaders and promoting their participation boosted the number of contributions and improved the quality of the postings. Other companies strive to make collaboration fun: at Google, for instance, employees place online bets on the likelihood that particular ideas will be adopted. Intuit uses a rotation program that invites selected staffers to contribute to the company's internal online dialogues. Managers should also consider taking a page from video sites by tapping the power of tools that let users share relevant content easily. Likewise, companies should make sure that their employees can access collaborative tools with a minimum of bureaucratic hassle. These intranet based tools also work as glue that binds a geographically distributed team.
What processes can the organization use to enable effective use of knowledge sharing technologies? Corporate wikis and content sites (such as Wikipedia) gain popularity when new visitors discover and contribute high-quality content, which in turn makes the sites worthwhile for other newcomers. In order to improve the quality of internal wikis, organizations could follow quality assurance practices of open-source coding projects and appoint quality auditors. Organizations should also create transparent and enforceable guidelines to prohibit unethical or illegal behavior, such as the posting of copyrighted material or proprietary secrets. They can learn from the examples of YouTube (which attempts to review content for obscenity before posting) or Wikipedia (which has committees that review entries for quality) and adopt similar review procedures for their corporate content.Incentivizing contributions and usage is another important aspect to success. Organizations need to tap the right incentives to encourage sharing behaviors. As demonstrated by the Mckinsey study financial incentives are not the greatest motivators. Peer recognition, status and learning should also be built into the incentive program.
What are the technologies available today?
There are several methods to encourage and gather the voice of employees, while providing them with an incentive. The employees of an organization form a “society’. The growth of web.20 technology enables this “society” to express, share, agree, disagree, and suggest using web based mediums such as:
- Discussion Boards on MS SharePoint
- Blogs(web logs), Wikis
- KM libraries
- Online learning systems
- An online forum to contribute ideas that will help the organization benefit and in turn reward the employee with a prize as an incentive and recognition
- Podcasts, Video-sharing sites
- Corporate Social Networks (CSN) on the lines of Facebook, Myspace behind the corporate firewall.
While all of the above listed Web2.0 tools have their set of advantages in bringing people together, they have their disadvantages as well.
For instance a CSN like Facebook may help reveal basic information about employees of an organization while at the same time not many employees will be open to revealing a lot of their personal data on a professional network (CSN). This will lead to a dry interaction and thus limited knowledge sharing. According to a recent McKinsey research study, organizations are planning to invest 37% in CSN.
Unilever was exploring the idea of setting up a CSN in October, 2007 alongside their existing people directory.
On the other hand the discussion board on a MS Sharepoint site. Since MicroSoft Applications are built in a manner that enables them to interact with each other the MS Sharepoint discussion board can be set to alert an user by email in his/her MSOutlook inbox. This will let the user know that a certain action has taken place on the discussion board, which will then enable the user to take the necessary action.
Weblogs: are personal journals published on the world wide web or an intranet. Every post is assigned an individual URL that can be archived. Each post can contain text and images. Weblogs can be used as a knowledge journal, personal knowledge inventory, collaborative sharing forum that sparks off a discussion which is searchable. They are written by specifically identified members of the organization - senior management or employees with large social networks and can be used to generate interest and institutionalize the process. According to a recent McKinsey research study, organizations are planning to invest 32% in weblogs.
Wiki: refer to collaborative knowledge sharing platforms. They can be used to create and share knowledge. They are a very effective way to bring new members in as members can contribute to a topic. Important to have a reviewing committee that approves contributions and checks for validity of information posted. According to a recent McKinsey research study, organizations are planning to invest 33% in wikis.
A McKinsey research study on corporate investments in web2.0 indicates that the interest in India towards investment in Web2.0 technologies across various verticals like Retail, High Tech, Telecommunications, Financial Services and Pharmaceuticals over the next three years is high.
SharePoint: an online collaborative tool that is used mainly as a repository and for collaborative document creation. It has discussion boards that are searchable but not as effective as a wiki or a weblog, as it is designed like a repository and does not provide a personal feel.
Video blogs: messages could be posted once a fortnight or once a month featuring an employee of the month (some one who has contributed value or has an idea to share). This is a powerful tool for employee voice but will require huge infrastructure and processes which could be different from the other forums.
Conclusion: Thus choosing a Web2.0 technology tool to enable employee voice will depend on several factors, such as: People, Process, the ROI, Value Add, Need, Incentive and Motive, that will vary from business to business.
Martin Roll. Distributed KM – Improving Knowledge Workers’ Productivity and Organization Knowledge Sharing with Weblog-based Personal Publishing
A McKinsey Global Survey: How businesses are using Web2.0
Jacques R. Bughin, Mckinsey Research, 2007
ROI of face book – Toby Ward, intranet global forum
Note: This was an assignment that I worked on as a part of an interview process in February 2008 and hence data provided may be obsolete. I intended to get it published but got too lazy(to update the data and to persue publishers) and hence decided if not anywhere else, at least my blog.