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Ever since I embarked on knowledge management and knowledge sharing journey, I've been struggling to find convincing metrics to assess impact of KM/KS activities. In October 2009, I wrote this blogpost: "KM search and rescue operation: Looking for intelligent and KM-enabled indicator!" and got some good feedback. But it still was not quite the convincing indicators I was looking for.

What do you I mean by convincing indicators?  I mean metrics that make sense, metrics that show progress, metrics that combine both qualitative and quantitative aspects.

I am not a great indicator fan. I believe indicators detract attention from the bigger scope. They are very much like this faceless street artist.

Nonetheless, the type of business we are in, requires that we measure our activities and show the impact we are making. And ever since when I've been trying to find convincing indicators for KM/KS related activities.

So you can imagine my excitement while reading Collaboration  by Morten T. Hansen  to come across convincing indicators to measure the impact of networks!!! Hansen's book is based on years of research. The book itself is a gem, especially the last chapter where he takes you on a personal journey and acting as coach shows you how to become a collaborative leader.

In this book, Hansen argues that the goal of collaboration is to achieve greater results. He identifies the following as barriers to collaboration:

  • not-invented here barrier
  • factors contributing to hoarding
  • search barrier
  • transfer barrier
He makes the case that no collaboration is better than bad collaboration. He argues that for collaboration to happen leaders need to unify people and to do that they:
  • must craft a compelling unifying goal that makes people commit to a cause greater than their own individual goals
  • should pair competition on the outside of the company with collaboration on the inside. People who unite to compete against a common foe are juiced up by competing and by collaborating
  • should not talk competition, but collaboration and collaboration for results
Then he goes on to explain how to build nimble networks and it is in this chapter that I had an aha moment. I finally came across a convincing way to measure the impact of networks.

Hansen starts of by saying:
  • too much networking may be distractive
  • networking is costly because it takes time and effort to nurture relationships (this is if you are serious about it and want to do it well)
  • for networks to be valuable, their benefits need to be greater than the costs
  • secret of networking is to build result-based networks based on disciplined collaboration
He then proceeds to say that networks are good for identifying opportunities to take something further and to capture value and in doing so, effective networks need to reduce the collaboration barriers mentioned above. 

Hansen provides a framework with six network rules, which I see as great indicators to measure success of KM/KS networks. The first four are used to assess the impact of network vis-a-vis identifying opportunities and the last two to capture the value of networks.
  • build outward, not inward: to overcome the not-invented barrier, networks need to build many more outward ties than inward ones. One of the indicators is to measure how much undisciplined collaboration there is. Is there too much networking, too much butterfly syndrome, jumping from one thing to another without concluding anything?
  • build diversity, not size: to overcome search barrier you need to build a network based on diversity. In networks numbers do not count. What is important is the diversity of connections. You need connections that tap into diverse things and diverse people. This is what leads to more innovative products. Hansen challenges us that when we engage in professional relationship we should ask ourselves what diversity does this new contact bring me. He then proceeds to say that disciplined collaboration means adding contacts that bring more diversity into your network. And this too is a great indicator to measure the impact of networks
  • build weak ties, not strong ones: now how counterintuitive can one get. And yet, there is so much wisdom in this statement and this too is a superb indicator. Hansen makes the point that weak ties prove to be much more helpful in networking because they form bridges to world we do not walk within. His argument is that strong ties are to worlds we know and he is very right about this. Building weak ties contributes to overcome the search barrier
  • use bridges, not familiar faces: good networking means knowing who the real bridges are and to use them. Bridges are typically long-tenured people who have worked in different places and know about a broad range of topics. A successful network needs to have enough people performing bridging role. Using bridges and not familiar faces is another tactic to overcome the search barrier
  • swarm the target; do not go it alone: Hansen's advice here is if you believe the target identified in a search may not be forthcoming, enlist the help of others to convince the target. In other words swarm the target with influencers, people who are in position to exert influence and get your contacts to work on your behalf, appeal to common good and invoke reciprocity. If you want to measure the impact of your network, you should ask yourselves, how many times you've turned to your network members and asked them to do something on your behalf and how many times they did it for you. Hansen associates this as a remedy for the hoarding barrier
  • switch to strong ties; do not rely on weak ones: he finishes of his six network rules by providing a remedy to transfer barrier and making the point that to ensure easy transfer you need strong ties between team members so that they can trust each other and transfer complicated knowledge, which in KM language translates to good old tacit knowledge

I must say, I am thrilled to have finally found convincing and sound indicators for measuring the impact of networks. I now believe it is possible to find equally good indicators for other KM/KS aspects. The dilemma is whether anyone old person do so, or whether we need another Morten Hansen with years of research experience to come up with equally convincing indicators.

Bets are open!!! And I would love to hear your views and feedback on these indicators.


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