KM carrots and KM sticks

Both carrots and sticks are required when incentivising KM behaviour, but each has its time and place.

Image from wikimedia commons

I spent this week at the Asian Development Bank’s Knowledge Forum, and (as is so often the case in these events) the topic of Incentives for KM was a frequent point of discussion. Most people agreed that these incentives could be both Carrots and Sticks (rewards for doing KM, and sanctions for not doing it), but there was a lot of discussion on when these should be applied, and what nature they should take.

Here is my view on the topic, including links to the next level of detail and to examples and illustrations.

KM Carrots

A KM carrot is an externally-imposed incentive specifically for doing Knowledge Management. Typical such incentives include:
The problem with KM carrots is that they reward KM separately from the “day job”, and so reinforce the idea that KM is something separate from the day job. This is absolutely necessary in the early stages of KM implementation, when KM is something new and not yet part of the day job, but is problematic and counterproductive later.

KM sticks

A KM stick is a sanction against not doing KM, or at least not doing what you were supposed or expected to do in KM terms. Typical sanctions include:
The problem with KM sticks is that they cannot be applied until people fully understand the minimum expectations for KM, there is a measurement system in place to measure whether they are meeting these expectations, and until they have all the training and resources in place to allow them to meet the expectations; in other words, until they have no excuse. You cannot publish people for not doing something if they are unable to do it or unaware they needed to do it. Therefore the KM sticks come very late in the process of KM implementation. However ultimately this is the best way to keep KM embedded, and is the way that disciplines such as financial management, quality management and safety management are incentivised – you are supposed to do them, and are punished if you don’t.

The blended Carrot Stick approach

Once KM is fully embedded in activity, and once people realise that KM is fully integrated with other work, then you should use the normal reward mechanisms such as personal objectives, promotion, raises and bonuses to incentivise all elements of work including KM. This was shown by our global KM surveys to be the most powerful KM incentive of all, but can only really be applied once you have a KM framework fully rolled out across the organisation, including a combination of;
  • Clear corporate expectations for KM
  • A way of measuring against those expectations as part of measuring performance
  • The resources needed to perform against these expectations, including KM training, KM reference resources, and a full set of KM tools, processes and roles
  • A performance-related reward and recognition scheme.
If you do KM well, then this is part of doing your job well, and so you gain promotion, raises and bonuses. 

If you do KM poorly, then this is part of doing your job poorly, and so you miss out on promotion, raises and bonuses. 

That’s the way to blend the carrot and the stick

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