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If You Build It, They Will Come…maybe

Casey DeBruyn, Ph.D., Heartland Food Products Group
Casey DeBruyn, Ph.D., Heartland Food Products Group

Casey DeBruyn, Ph.D., Heartland Food Products Group

Dr. Casey DeBruyn is a practitioner of Industrial- Organizational Psychology and adjunct professor at the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Purdue University Global

KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT & EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT

There is no argument that knowledge management is essential for an organization’s success. However, there are some pain-points that are felt in implementation. U.S. companies are expected to spend billions of dollars each year on knowledge management software, yet many will not see the forecasted ROI a year later. Why are businesses not seeing a return on investment? The answer is simple. Most knowledge management platforms are not designed to consider a critical factor that can derail even the most comprehensive programs, employee engagement.

EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT FACTORS TO CONSIDER

When it comes to housing information, storing data, or simply sharing ideas, employee engagement is critical. At any given time in your organization, there are three distinct groups of people. 1) Those who are actively engaged, 2) Those who are passively engaged, and 3) Those who are actively disengaged. A recent study from Gallup (2018) explained that the average rate of employee engagement in any organization is 34% or less, leaving at least 53% of U.S. employees reporting not being engaged in their work. Understanding the level and type of your associate's engagement is very important when asking them to change their behaviors, share information, or support your knowledge management platform.

Actively engaged individuals will demonstrate behaviors that show solidarity with the organization. These individuals will share information and will champion the use of a knowledge management system.

However, those who are passively engaged may not see things the same way. These are the individuals that, for whatever reason, do not trust the organization, their leader, and or their team. They may have little faith in the platform or feel that it will not work. Their knowledge is their power, their personal intellectual property, and they do not want to give that up.

Then we have those who are actively disengaged. These individuals may be openly abrasive to the organization, may challenge the validity or reliability of the system, and may engage others to hear their ideas. In their minds, they do not trust others and are not sure how the organization will use their information. In short, they see no benefit to sharing information or may believe that they have more important tasks to manage then inputting data into a system. When we examine these factors and the associated behaviors, it is easy to see why comprehensive knowledge management in organizations is such a difficult task.

SO, WHAT IS THE SOLUTION?

The solution is two-fold. One an effective change management program and two, meet your associate's need for psychological safety. Approaching the KM platform implementation as a change initiative can help engage your associates. But it needs to be done in a specific manner. More often than not, a change initiative treats a KM rollout like a punch list for implementation, instead of an active change that disrupts the user’s lives and the way they work. Instead, try to meet the associates where they are psychologically. Change can trigger an emotional reaction. Most people are hard-wired to resist change, especially if their memories of change are negative. With every introduction of change, the human body reacts through the amygdala, which releases a host of hormones. These hormones can cause fear, panic, excitement, joy, grief, stress, or even trigger fight/flight responses. Understanding this and planning a change initiative that encompasses and recognizes the emotional side of change will allow you to support those actively engaged, understand the fears of those who are passively engaged, and help encourage those who may be actively disengaged.

PSYCHOLOGICAL SAFETY PLAYS A PART

From this point, you can begin to address the user’s aspect of psychological safety. Psychological safety is an important aspect when asking for a change in behaviors. At its core, psychological safety is how safe the employee feels, asking questions, presenting ideas, or sharing information. Without psychological safety, organizations will not see the desired organizational citizenship, and will most likely not have full engagement in your change management program (Frazier, Fainshmidt, Klinger, Pezeshkan & Vracheva, 2017). To ensure all associates have psychological safety, you need to address their concerns on three levels, emotional, cognitive, and physical. Emotional safety is how much they feel valued in their role and that their job is secure. Cognitive safety addresses the need of the associate to feel their ideas and complaints are valid and that leaders will listen and accept them. Physical safety addresses the condition of the associate to feel physically safe in their work. To know they will not be harassed, belittled, or threatened for sharing ideas or information.

Once you have initiated an effective change management plan that meets the emotional needs of the associates and you are sure that they feel safe with the requested change, you will undoubtedly see a shift in the engagement of the associates. Now you can move into the new launch of the platform where you explain the why behind the initiative and demonstrate the value that the platform has for them individually. With time, consistent messaging, and encouragement, your knowledge management platform will begin to yield incredible results.

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