Succeeding at Change in a Knowledge Worker World

The only thing that is certain is death and taxes…and change. Many organizations spend thousands of dollars on knowledge management technology solutions, focusing on the technology, because the technology is easy to focus on, it’s visible: buying the servers, installing the software, testing it, releasing it, those are activities that are very visible. Involving stakeholders in the software selection process, understanding what helps versus what hinders them in their performance, providing training, communicating, these are invisible, “soft” activities. Soft-skills/activities are often ignored, or down-played in organizations, sometimes it’s because of cost, sometimes it’s a lack of understanding of their importance, sometimes because there’s “no time.”

Projects fail because of this lack of attention to soft-skills, especially Knowledge Management projects. With Knowledge Management projects knowledge workers have already found a way to get their jobs done, it may not be the most efficient and effective way to get it done, but they get it done, that’s who they are. They may miss opportunities to share and leverage other people’s experience or create something new because they didn’t know there was a possibility to share/leverage/create, but they get their job done. In implementing a Knowledge Management project knowledge workers are being asked to do things differently, whether that’s share information in a repository or micro-blogging site, or participate in a Community of Practice; chances are it’s different than what they are doing now, and they will keep doing their “old way of doing things” unless they are given a reason to change.

Why/how do people change their behaviours? Because they have a reason to change, they understand the “what’s in it for me.” A good program manager will have included key stakeholders in the whole process from the strategy and requirements gathering stages to roll-out to the organization. Stakeholders, who include front-line employees who will be using the system, have contributed their needs and requirements to the selection of the technology, so the technology is actually supporting them, not causing more work. Connecting with stakeholders is critical, this helps them understand the change that is coming and to have influenced it so that they can feel proud of what’s being build and act as change agents with their peers, when the time comes to start using the technology.

Once the connection is made, communication has to maintain and inform the relationship. Tell the stakeholders the truth, own up to any changes in the plan or scope or functionality, the situation will only get worse if the organization tries to hide or sugar-coat changes that were not agreed to by the team.

Communication and training will drive the adoption and acceptance of the technology and process changes. The IT team can get the technology 100% right, and if they ignore the people and process side of the equation, they will fail. These people and process side often gets cut or short circuited when budgets tighten, this is short sighted. Better to reduce the scale of the project or extend a timeline than to skimp on training, communication, and involvement of stakeholders. If the organization has time to do it wrong and fail and fix it, then they have time to get it right the first time at a much lower cost than doing it wrong and then fixing it.

Involving stakeholders in all stages of the process, ensuring that the technology enables them and that they have the communication and training that they need to be successful, will ensure that the organization’s Knowledge Management investment will have an ROI to be proud of.