Thursday 20 May 2010

Pouring weedkiller on the KM garden

Spring Garden
Originally uploaded by di_the_huntress
You don't want to be pouring weedkiller on your flower garden! Weedkiller has a job to do, but if used in the wrong place can kill the growth you have been trying to nurture.

The weedkiller that can spoil your KM garden is a common one - Internal Competition.

Companies often encourage internal competition as an incentive to drive performance in a company. They might set up "factory of the year" awards, to drive factory output, or they might reward the ten best salesmen with handsome bonuses.

However where parts of the company need to collaborate, share and reuse knowledge, then internal competition becomes the weedkiller on the garden. Why would one factory share knowledge with another, if they are in competition? Why would one sales executive help another, if that just meant that their bonus was more at risk? They wouldn't. They would hoard their knowledge for the competitive advantage it gives them. And the poor salesperson at the bottom of the pile - the one who needs to learn the most - finds nobody who will help them.

This actually happens. One organisation we worked with had a lesson database for sharing lessons between its production plants, while at the same time ran heavily incentivised annual competitions. They thought they had managed to link the two by having "numbers of shared lessons" as a metric in the competition, but what happened was that the plants would hoard up their lessons until a week before the competition, then release them in a flood. That way they satisfied the metric, but in such a way that the other plants had no time to review and apply the lessons, and so could not benefit from the knowledge sharing.

How would you get around this? Simple - instead of incentivising internal competition, you incentivise internal collaboration. Instead of incentivising one plant if it increases production, you incentivise all plants if all plants improve. Say you have 10 plants, which together produce 1 billion tonnes. Why not give ALL plant managers the target of reaching a total of 1.1 billion tonnes, with a handsome bonus if they achieve it? Why not give all the sales force the collective incentive of increasing sales by 10%? That would be a fantastic way of driving collaboration, because now it is in the interest of the strong performer to improve the results of the poor performer. The strong performers become mentors and coaches and guides.

The weedkiller of internal competition is replaced by the fertiliser of internal collaboration.


Flowers said...

Nice blog. Being a great lover of garden art, I enjoyed going through your blog. keep on posting.

Suresh Nair said...

Superb blog. I want this blog to be read by "HR professionals" who have got misguided and lost in the journey of bringing in business excellence. In fact, I feel like climbing on to the roof and scream aloud.

Nick Milton said...

Thank you Suresh, that's very kind of you

(Be careful up on that roof!)

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