Feel First, Act Next

Lawyers pride themselves on being logical. Our work lives are focused on problem solving and we relish the intellectual challenge of finding innovative solutions to the issues that vex our clients. It’s therefore not surprising that in designing law firm knowledge management systems we tend to focus first on a rational design and sensible implementation.  However, once the hoopla of the launch is over, we’re often left wondering why adoption rates are so low.

Next, take the challenge posed by good knowledge management practice, which frequently requires our users to behave differently.  We know that the recommended change in behavior will lead to all sorts of beneficial effects and we usually tell our users this.  But is that enough to make them change the way they behave? Usually not.

Have we been going about this the wrong way? According to Dan Heath, we’re absolutely wrong.  He believes that knowledge alone won’t change behavior.  In a recent article in Fast Company entitled Want your organization to change? Put feelings first, he cites change management expert John Kotter:

John Kotter, one of the top gurus on organizational change, [says] that most people think change happens in three stages. You analyze the situation, and you think really hard about the solution, and then you just change. But he says that’s almost never the way change happens. He says that in his experience, it’s a different three-stage process: people SEE something that makes them FEEL something that gives them the fire to CHANGE. SEE-FEEL-CHANGE.

So coming back to our KM system — perhaps we should focus on design that makes the user feel good rather than design that appeals simply to the intellect.  And, what about those pro-KM behaviors of knowledge sharing and collaboration?  Perhaps the key there is to help users experience the reality of those benefits rather than simply preaching the theory of the benefits.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing bad about working in a logical, systematic fashion.  However, if we want to effect change, we can’t eliminate emotional content from our work product.  At the end of the day, if we can’t make our colleagues feel something, their indifference will bury KM.

[Photo Credit: Kevin Labianco]

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Tell Me A Good Story

When we work in an area like knowledge management that is hard to reduce to useful numbers, it can be challenging to prove ROI for the bean counters. In fact, some would argue that numbers can never tell the whole story regarding a knowledge management initiative. So what works better? Find your success stories and tell them until you are blue in the face.

When thinking about what makes an effective success story, consider the advice of Dan Heath (author of Made to Stick) as he talks about Subway’s fantastic “Jared” advertising campaign in the following Fast Company video clip.  As you may remember, Jared was the poster boy for losing astonishing amounts of weight while eating fast food. Heath uses this campaign to remind us of the three key attributes of an effective story:

  • Concreteness
  • Unexpectedness
  • Emotional Impact

So how do you make this work for you?  First, think about what has improved in your firm thanks to KM. Next, find specific success stories relating to that improvement that are concrete, surprising and have emotional impact.  Then get out there and tell your story.  If enough folks listen, you won’t need to worry quite so much about the bean counters.

[Photo Credit:  Loren Javier]

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