Friday 23 October 2009

Targets and motivation in KM

On Target
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Yesterday I was running our ever-popular Bird Island exercise, and as always, the teams made massive leaps in performance as their knowledge base increased.

The real value of this exercise comes in the debrief, when we analyse the success factors and relate them back to KM at work. One of the topics we analysed was Motivation and Target setting. What motivated the teams to set aggressive targets, and what motivated them to use the knowledge from others, to deliver those targets?

The primary motivation factor was "to deliver a great performance". They didn't set the target of beating the world record, they set the target of being at least "up there with the leaders" and delivering a great result. They wanted to be proud of their achievement - that it should stand well in the rankings. Of course, in order to set the target properly, they needed good benchmark data, and data from historical performance. We gave them that data, so they knew what to aim for, and they know what was possible.

And of course, in order to reach the benchmark, they needed the entire knowledge base of how to complete the task, so they could reproduce the successes of previous teams, and ideally could innovate further.

That combination of knowledge of past performance and how to achieve it, allowed them to set targets that were 2 or 3 times greater than the results had achieved so far, and in each case, through reapplication of knowledge, they exceeded those targets and achieved top quartile performance.

A very powerful combination of knowledge and motivation, with self-assigned targets.

Then I asked them how targets are set at work, and how motivating these are. You could hear the groan go round the room. "Targets are set from the centre" "Nobody buys into them" "Targets are a joke" "We set our targets, then define the metrics later so we can beat the target" "Targets are political". Such a contrast from the motivation in the exercise. Knowledge and Performance are so closely linked, that I often say that if you don't manage performance*, you can't manage knowledge. If you can't motivate people to perform, how can you motivate them to learn? So although many of these participants had KM programs, and were introducing the tools and techniques, they were really struggling with motivation issues.

Is it possible to motivate in the same way that we did during the exercise? Yes it is, and you can see that clearly in the Shell Technical Limit process I have blogged about before. Here teams have access to the performance data from the past, have access to all the knowledge they need, and work out for themselves how they are going to innovate beyond the best of what has been achieved to date (it is taken for granted that they can match the best historic performance. After all, that has been proven to be possible- that's "in the bag"). Then of course they are heavily motivated, through performance bonuses, when they beat the benchmark.

So it was a very interesting discussion, contrasting the success in the exercise with the struggles at work, with motivation and target setting coming out as a key factor.

I guess the learning point is that if you are introducing KM, start first where the performance culture is well defined, and where people are motivated to perform. If you choose a part of the business with no performance management, joke targets, and where people play political games with metrics, then you may very well struggle to develop a learning culture.

*Performance is the P in the OPEC acronym for KM culture

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