Behaving Badly

I recently saw adults behaving very badly in God of Carnage.  And then courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera‘s iconic production of the Ring Cycle, I saw gods behaving badly, mortals behaving badly, giants behaving badly, dwarfs behaving badly … you get the picture.  All of this aberrant behavior started me wondering about how we factor user behavior into our knowledge management planning and deployments.  I suspect that most of us do our planning on the basis of archetypal users or personas.  With personas, we create imaginary users who embody a range of behavior, but often lack the particularity of individual users.  In the context of law firm knowledge management, we think of The Partner, The Associate, The Legal Secretary, The Administrator.  Of course, there isn’t a single person in the firm who acts exactly like one of these “users,” but that doesn’t stop us from relying on this fiction.  Unfortunately, the fact that our actual users aren’t quite like our design personas means that our planning may not properly take into account their daily behavior.

Now, all of this careful planning assumes that people will behave well (or at least rationally or predictably) most of the time.  But what happens when they behave badly?  You don’t think this happens?  What about the recalcitrant lawyer who simply will not fill out a profile page correctly in the document management system?  Or the person who routinely stores client-related e-mails in their Outlook folders without ensuring they are copied into the Firm’s record management system promptly?  After watching God of Carnage and Wagner’s masterpiece, I’m left wondering if we should do more planning based on the assumption that people will behave badly more often than not?

[Photo Credit:  kmevans]

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11 thoughts on “Behaving Badly

  • May 13, 2009 at 6:14 am
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    Good article.

    My empirical experience has been that about 1 person in 5 will willingly comply with knowledge management expectations out of a belief in their value, about 1 person in 5 will deliberately not comply with knowledge management expectations out of a belief that they have no value, and the remaining 3 don't care one way or another. The proportions shift depending how busy people are.

  • May 13, 2009 at 9:02 am
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    Thanks, Nick. I didn't realize the number of indifferent people was so high. What's the implication of that when designing knowledge management systems? Does this mean they'll just go along with the system, provided it's not too much work? Or, will their interaction with the system be erratic, depending on mood and circumstance?

    – Mary

  • May 13, 2009 at 9:34 am
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    I think the implication when designing knowledge management systems is much the same as when designing financial management systems or timewriting systems. You make the company expectations very clear, link them with the reward system, and monitor them.

    Most people could not care less about doing budgets or timewriting and would rather not bother if they could get away with it. They know its important, but they just like to do the professional work. However the company knows KM, budgeting, timewriting etc are vital, makes it clear what's expected, rewards you for compliance and disapproves of non-compliance, and knows when you are not complying.

    That's the governance angle. After a while, people start to realise that KM IS part of the job, and it becomes a habit, just like timewriting.

  • May 13, 2009 at 11:18 am
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    So when KM is treated by management as being as important as budgeting or accounting for time, we should see an appropriate system of expectations and rewards in place. Until then, some are stuck with KM systems that are viewed as only “nice to have.” As a result, they are unsupported by management in terms of explicit expectations and calibrated rewards. Too bad.

    – Mary

  • May 13, 2009 at 11:29 am
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    Exactly. People are too busy for “nice to have”.

    The onus therefore lies on the KM professionals to make the business case to management that KM is not a “nice to have”, it's a “must have”.

    The case has been made for safety (in the construction areas), for diversity and inclusion, for all sorts of management focus areas. We need to have the same conversation with senior management, but this time with knowledge as the focus.

  • May 19, 2009 at 1:12 am
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    Hi.
    The “bad people” are employees and collegues, hired (hopefully) because of their competence. I agree that we can not expect everyone to be eager to share their knowledge. Your initial observation is correct, but I bet that all of them have good reasons for their behaviours (that the rest of us see as “bad”)

    I think you get better results trying to find out WHY a percentage of users are actively working against your KM process, or are just reluctantly following them without enthusiasm.
    Establish the intrinsic & extrinsic motivators – make a plan for how to deal with them, and follow up how you go.

  • May 19, 2009 at 8:27 am
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    We've seen over time that this conversation is difficult. The case for safety is made by showing the number of lives (or limbs) saved. The case for diversity and inclusion has been made either on the basis of doing the right thing or because clients (or government) have insisted on it. Unfortunately, making the case for knowledge has been more challenging. Part of this is the old ROI problem. Another part is that the ones who need and use the knowledge systems the most work on the front lines and are far removed from senior management.

    How do we frame this conversation to achieve success?

    – Mary

  • May 19, 2009 at 8:33 am
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    You're absolutely right, Lars. Labeling behavior as “bad” really isn't all that productive. A more accurate label would be behavior that “departs from plan.” This suggests that the right way to deploy technology is to not to spend months (or years) on a plan that almost always proves to be incomplete. Rather, make a decent first plan quickly, deploy it in beta, test it extensively with users and then adjust once you've seen exactly how it operates in the real world.

    – Mary

  • May 19, 2009 at 9:47 am
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    We frame the conversation around value, or around risk. ROI may be a challenge, but its not insurmountable, and you should have enough data to demonstrate that the returns from KM, in terms of business won or costs reduced, far outweigh the investment. If you don't have the data, run a couple of business-focused pilots to get some data, before you close the conversation.

    Or else frame the conversation around risk. One company I know turned to KM when one of their key international clients found the same mistake in delivery in three separate countries, and suggested that they would move their business elsewhere if they found a fourth example.

    Also I completely disagree that “the ones who need the knowledge systems the most work on the front lines”. One of the most valuable pieces of work we did in BP was at senior management level, taking the lessons from the Amoco merger and applying them to the Arco acquisition. There we were working with the CFO, the chief counsel, one of the VPs – very senior level. The biggest decisions are made at the highest level, and there the need for knowledge is greatest. Try applying KM to mergers, acquisitions, divestments, integrations etc.

    One of my clients likened their senior-level approach to “KM removing the thorn from the lion's claw”. If you do that, the lion will always be on your side.

  • December 11, 2009 at 1:59 pm
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    However the company knows KM, budgeting, timewriting etc are vital, makes it clear what's expected, rewards you for compliance and disapproves of non-compliance, and knows when you are not complying.

    Find more jobs: http://www.staffingpower.com/

  • December 11, 2009 at 6:59 pm
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    However the company knows KM, budgeting, timewriting etc are vital, makes it clear what's expected, rewards you for compliance and disapproves of non-compliance, and knows when you are not complying.

    Find more jobs: http://www.staffingpower.com/

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