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

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Use events and awards to highlight exemplary contributions.

Annual awards not only acknowledge exemplary KM contributions but also promote the KM program and keep knowledge sharing top-of-mind for everyone. Awards can be given to individuals or groups such as communities and business units. Because KM requires both personal contributions and collective action, many organizations favor a mix of individual and team-based awards.

A good example of this comes from steel manufacturer Tata Steel, where both communities and individuals are eligible for KM awards. The KM team establishes community recognition criteria at the beginning of each year. An internal evaluator assesses each community against these criteria, and those with the highest scores are shared with senior leaders for further assessment. The CEO and managing director then award trophies to the top three sub-communities, with additional winners recognized at lower levels. Individual KM contributors are also recognized through various events and acknowledgments. For example, an annual function recognizes experts for the effort they put into reviewing KM content.

The ‘why’

In addition to offering the occasional small “gesture” of a gift or financial award, most successful KM programs tie recognition to what really matters to employees: their careers. For most folks, maxing out performance goals or getting facetime with an executive is a better prize than a trophy or gift card. Linking to career progression also reflects the big-picture driver of KM engagement. People should participate because it helps them at work. The dayto-day intrinsic reward of “doing KM” can be small and subtle: some time saved here, a colleague helped there. Tying KM rewards and recognition to career progression makes everything much clearer and more tangible. It shows that the people who do KM are the people who are growing, thriving, and getting ahead.

Integrate rewards with performance expectations.

Building KM into performance measurement reinforces the idea that KM is integral to work, rather than something extra. However, this does not mean KM must set across-the-board goals for every employee. A flexible approach allows measures to be adapted to each person and situation.

Some organizations limit KM performance goals to certain roles. For example, South African air traffic management provider ATNS builds KM expectations into the performance contracts for knowledge champions, KM advisory board members, and subject matter experts. Others empower employees to set their own KM performance goals. This is the approach at digital consulting firm Infosys: Employees work with supervisors to set goals for leveraging and contributing knowledge assets in the course of their work.

Tie recognition to the career ladder.

Presenting KM as a way for employees to advance their careers is a win-win. Employees want to demonstrate their expertise and position themselves for advancement. At the same time, organizations need people with the critical thinking and interpersonal skills that KM participation fosters. KM is most successful when it helps employees grow in their roles and show why they deserve a promotion.

One way to make this connection is to reward KM participants with leadership visibility and development opportunities. At Tata Steel, for example, top communities receive money to spend on knowledge-related activities such as attending conferences. Petroleum company PTTEP also offers conference sponsorships to KM award winners. These incentives are handed out by senior leaders during grand events, which further emphasizes the connection to career opportunity.

Other organizations are even more explicit in linking KM participation to advancement. At engineering and design firm Arup, managers repeatedly ask employees how they have contributed and leveraged knowledge. Knowledge sharing is also a key criterion for admittance into the firm’s Fellows Program, which is its highest level of professional achievement. Employees understand that their continued progression depends on the knowledge and expertise they impart to colleagues and across the industry.

Putting rewards in context

Whenever the topic of KM rewards and recognition comes up, someone is sure to chime in to ask, “Isn’t KM just part of how work gets done? Why should we give people prizes and praise for doing what they’re supposed to be doing?”

It’s true that the main driver of KM participation should be its intrinsic value: how it helps people work faster and smarter, collaborate more broadly, and avoid costly mistakes. It’s also true that we’ve seen active KM programs in organizations with no rewards and recognition structure.

The bottom line is that rewards and recognition are not requirements for successful KM—but they certainly don’t hurt. That’s why even long-standing KM programs frequently offer some form of rewards and recognition. People respond to appreciation, and, moreover, they deserve it. After all, no mature KM program was built on the backs of the KM team alone. People in the business drive KM success, and they should be recognized for their efforts.

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