Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Why you should not ask your senior managers to blog

 If you wish to introduce blogs as a knowledge management tool, it is tempting, but dangerous, to ask senior managers to take the lead.  Here's why it's dangerous, and what you should do instead. 

Grand Rapids Interim City Manager Eric DeLong Community Budget Input Meetings 3-12-09 4
Let's assume

1) that you want to introduce Knowledge Management,
2) that you want to improve exchange and re-use of knowledge between peers in the organisation,
3) that you have chosen blogging as a component in the toolbox, and that
4) you would like this tool to be used widely by the knowledge workers for collaboration and knowledge sharing.

Perhaps your vision is that a project team could use a blog as a shared, recorded and comment-able "project log" for storing lessons as they are identified, or a community of practice could use a blog as a way to develop knowledge collaboratively (see for example this story on the use of blogs and wikis for collaborative problem solving).

It can be very tempting to ask someone senior to take the lead in blogging and to set an example for the organisation, and he or she will very often agree. Your KM sponsor, for example, might agree to lead by example.  But this will not help you in the long run.

The wrong model

The big problem with senior manager blogs is that they are not the example that you want to set or the model you want others to copy. They are different, and generally they are not focused on knowledge sharing.
  • A director blogging is a bit like a director standing up behind the lectern and making a speech. It's heirarchical - it's "me preaching to all of you".  Is not really very conducive to two-way discussion or dialogue. Most of the directors blogs that I have seen have been one-way, with little or no comments. And if you want to know more about the topic covered by the blog, there are pressures against picking up the phone and asking the director for more details.  This one-way blogging belongs to Internal Communications and not to Knowledge Management. It is not collaborative, and its not an example you want to set as part of your KM program.
  • Very rarely is does the blog contain knowledge (by which I mean concrete "how to" advice and details which will help the reader do their job better). The director is not communicating to peers.  Most of the directors blogs that I have seen have been general musings, or thought pieces. They may sometimes be of interest to the audience, but they're not going to teach the audience anything that helps them do their job better. It won't make a difference to the way people work. It won't add immediate value. Blogging which does not transfer knowledge to help people work better is not an example you want to set. 
  • If you are a director, you care about style (with a few happy exceptions, of course). You want your post to be well crafted.  You may even get somebody else to write it for you.  It becomes formal, it becomes a publication, and not the start of an informal conversation that invites others to take part. That's not the blogging example you want to set; you would much rather have that sort of messy informal creativeness that leads to real knowledge.
  • It becomes "something extra to read". Instead of providing a better alternative to existing mechanisms of sharing knowledge between peers, you have created something new to read which doesn't teach you anything that really helps you, but is just "yet another top-down communication from management". You are adding noise to the system.
Blogging per se - blogging for the sake of it - is not worth doing. Blogging to share knowledge and  collaborate is what you need, and this should be the first model you set.

A better way

A better way to introduce blogging is to take the already existing internal communication mechanisms within communities of practice or projects, and replace some of these with blogs. Take the ways people currently try to share knowledge, and improve them. For example -
  • Maybe your community of practice has a quarterly newsletter, with a dozen articles. Replace this with a weekly blog, in order to get the news out more quickly, and in order to allow commentary on, and discussion of, the key items (which was never possible in a hard copy newsletter).
  • Your community of practice may routinely send out email alerts about new lessons, improve practices, and other things that the community members really need to know about. Replace these Email alerts with blog items, which can be searched, can spawn comment threads, and which avoid the curse of "reply all".
  • Perhaps your project manager sends out a weekly email summarising progress and learnings. Replace this with a blog, and ask people to comment on the learnings and the actions arising, and add other insights they may have.  This can be very useful for virtual teams.
Think carefully about how you promote blogging.

Start by modelling the outcome that you want to see, which is peer-level sharing of useful knowledge that others will use to improve the way they work. Think about the WIIFM for the reader, and make sure the blog gives them something they can use immediately to make their work better or their life easier.

Beware the seductive but potentially damaging option of the senior manager's blog.

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