Tuesday 14 October 2014

Driven to perform, eager to learn

Motivation to Learn comes from Motivation to Improve. Knowledge Management thrives in a high-performance culture, where people are not content with existing performance, and are open to new knowledge, new ways of working, that will help them perform even better.

This was a topic of conversation in one of out recent Bird Island exercises where, 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 themselves aggressive performance targets, and what motivated them to use the knowledge from others, to deliver those targets?

The primary motivation factor was "to do a great job". They didn't set the target of beating the world record, they set the target of being "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.

So how do teams set performance targets?

In the class, the teams set their own targets, based on knowing the benchmark, and knowing they had the knowledge to reach the benchmark.

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, where the motivation was internal and the targets were self-selected.

Knowledge and Performance are so closely linked, that we often say that if you don't manage performance, you can't manage knowledge.

If people are not motivated to perform and improve, how can they be motivated to learn? Although many of the participants were from companies which already 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"). They set their own targets, and of course they are heavily motivated, through performance bonuses, when they beat the targets.

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.

So when you are introducing KM, start first where the performance culture is well defined, and where people are already motivated to perform. If instead 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.

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