For those of my readers who were secretly hoping that I’d lose interest over the weekend in my current fascination with popular music and management, I’m sorry to disappoint you. I was getting ready to stop and then I discovered that Billy Joel is not only a philosopher, but a pragmatic one. His song, Just the Way You Are, is viewed by the more romantic among us as an extraordinary statement of the complete acceptance many hope to find in a relationship. For those of us more pragmatically minded, we realize that he is just stating the obvious: it’s really hard to get a person to change — so you might as well get along with what you’ve got.
While optimism and a deep belief in the perfectibility of humankind are an important part of the culture of the United States, it would be foolish to base a knowledge management department or KM program solely on the hope that folks will change. There are some fundamental elements of human nature that simply can’t be undone, although they may be tweaked around the edges. For law firm knowledge managers, understanding the basic personality type of lawyers is an important prerequisite to organizing a law firm knowledge management program that has a prayer of succeeding. For all knowledge managers, understanding the patterns of behavior in your employees and users will allow you to be much more effective.
So, let’s return to the prior discussions about the importance of recruiting the right people to your team, really knowing the people who work with you (their values, strengths and weaknesses), and then deploying them strategically so that they achieve their highest and best. If we take Billy Joel’s song to heart, getting the recruiting right is critical. By hiring people who have the right values for your team and demonstrate the ability to think critically, work creatively, learn and grow, you free yourself to pursue an ambitious knowledge management program without having to waste precious time in the nearly futile task of trying to change their fundamentals.
Understand early who they are and then take them “just the way they are.”