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The what, how, and why of KM rewards and recognition

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Incentivize quality, not quantity.

If you reward employees based purely on the quantity of their KM contributions and activities, people may respond by submitting lots of low-value “stuff” that gums up the works and makes KM less valuable instead of more. This often happens with quota systems (for example, each project must submit 10 lessons learned) and “more is better” schemes where employees are rewarded for every submission or activity. When you turn KM into a numbers game, things are bound to go wrong.

Construction company Consolidated Contractors Co. (CCC) has seen how quantity-based incentives can backfire. Its KM team initially launched an automated system that assigned employees points for commenting on content and contributing to discussions. People started spamming the system with low-value comments—such as “good article” and “congratulations”— just to earn points. Now, CCC takes a more nuanced approach to rewards. It still maintains a points system, but employees earn points based on feedback, such as whether the person asking a question indicates a response was helpful.

The ‘how’

Once you figure out what activities to encourage and what measures will support those goals, the next question is how. KM programs use an array of schemes and tactics to nudge employees toward desired behaviors, from the simplest thank you to the flashiest giveaways and events. The right approach depends on your audience and the organization’s strategy for employee appraisals and inducements.

At the highest level, incentive approaches can be divided into two main categories: small rewards and recognitions that are doled out continuously over time, and larger ones that are awarded at key intervals. Planned campaigns and awards can have an outsized impact in advertising KM and promoting participation. Smaller incentives keep KM top-of-mind and help build participation into daily habits.

Continually acknowledge KM behaviors in the flow of work.

As anyone who has tried to develop a new habit knows, it’s easier when you get a lot of little wins along the way. Fortunately, one of the most effective ways to give employees a KM “win” is also simple and easy. A “thank you” takes little time and costs nothing, but it can mean the world to the recipient.

KM teams can thank people directly, or they can encourage leaders to dole out thanks. Expression of appreciation from leaders and mangers is particularly powerful since it indicates KM participation is noticed by those who make decisions about performance objectives, bonuses, promotions, and new opportunities. Because these folks are busy, it’s helpful to offer templates or prompts to make it a little easier. At engineering, procurement, and construction company SNC-Lavalin, for example, the KM team reminds divisional leaders to visit online knowledge-sharing networks once a month to praise exemplary contributions and behaviors.

Another way to offer ongoing recognition is gamification, which uses game mechanics and psychology to drive a set of desired behaviors. Gamification uses elements such as points, badges, and leaderboards to make KM fun and exciting. Gamification can be a particularly effective because the encouragement is incremental and pervasive. It also incites friendly competition and makes it easier to recognize every employee who reaches a certain goal.

KM programs can incorporate gamification using simple, homegrown approaches. At charitable nonprofit World Vision International, for example, individual communities have developed their own gamification structures. They assign points to various activities—such as presenting a webinar, answering a question in chat, and uploading resources—and recognize a winner each month.

More complex, automated forms of gamification can be integrated into KM systems. This takes a little more effort, but offers significant benefits. At professional services firm Cognizant, for example, employees earn points for every action they take on the KM platform, from downloading a document to commenting on a discussion. As employees earn points, they work their way up leaderboards and unlock achievement levels from debutant to samurai, star, legend, and guru. The recognition is both playful and immediate in that employees see their points increase as soon as they take a desired action.

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