Focus on the Present

One of the great challenges of KM 1.0 is that we have to make guesses about the future when populating our document repositories. When considering whether or not to add a particular document to the collection, we have to make a bet as to the likelihood that this particular content item will be useful or even remotely interesting at some point in the future.  But how do you really know?  How often are you right? And do you have the metrics to vindicate your guesses?

To add insult to an injured system, law firm knowledge managers ask their lawyer colleagues to invest in these document repositories by contributing content in the hope that some of this content might be helpful someday.  Not surprisingly, law firms around the country have reported that few lawyers actually make the effort to contribute content.  Before you launch into a diatribe against lawyers, I should remind you that this lack of engagement is more a human failing than a commentary on lawyers.  If you don’t believe me, consider a recent article by Jane Brody in which she discusses the widespread failure of society to motivate people to exercise more.  Some try threats, while others try promises.  However, the results are the same:

… for many people, future health benefits may just be too abstract and speculative to overcome inertia and take up walking, running, swimming, cycling or working out in the gym.

According to Dr. Michelle Segar, a motivational psychologist, we shouldn’t make exercise (or contributing to the KM system) a chore or matter of obligation.  With respect to exercise, she suggests ” borrowing the motivational approach used by commercial marketers, `an emotional hook that creates positive, meaningful expectations of how exercise can enhance people’s lives, a way to feel better.’”

If we can’t get people to exercise now in the exchange for promises of good health and long life later, why do we think that promises of future benefit will increase levels of lawyer engagement in law firm knowledge management?  When it comes to exercise, Jane Brody reports that people tend to be more willing to stick with an exercise regime over the long term if they receive current tangible benefits from exercise buddies or communities that spring up around exercise activities:

For years now, I’ve been struck by the camaraderie among the elderly women, most of them widows, whose water aerobics class follows the morning lap-swim. Few knew one another before they joined this activity. Now they lunch together almost every month, celebrate birthdays together, check on one another if someone fails to attend a session or two, even raise money for a beloved staff member who lost her job in the recession.

Are there ways we can apply this approach to lawyer engagement in law firm knowledge management activities?  And, when we are asked “what’s in it for me,” do we have an answer that explains the current, tangible benefits of lawyers engagement and contribution?

[Photo Credit: Scott Ableman]

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