You’re leading the implementation of a knowledge sharing platform at your company, you’ve assembled a team of leaders from across the organization to help champion your efforts, and you’re ready to start structuring the platform and populating it with content. What’s missing from this picture?
If your answer was input from your end users, you nailed it.
The cold, hard truth is that your knowledge sharing platform will only deliver a return on investment if its end users actually use it. And they won’t use it unless they feel it represents their interests and makes their jobs easier.
The best way to get this buy-in is to promote employee autonomy and get end users involved in the platform early on. In other words, let them help shape your knowledge sharing community.
Why Does Employee Autonomy Matter?
Before we dive into the benefits of autonomy in shaping a knowledge sharing community, it’s worth taking a step back and asking: Why is employee autonomy so important?
For one thing, companies that give their employees a certain amount of control over how they complete their work tend to attract more job candidates and have lower turnover. One international study of more than 2,000 workers found that people are almost two and a half times more likely to take a job that offered them more autonomy than a job that offered them more influence over others.
Research from the University of Birmingham also shows that employees with higher levels of autonomy feel a greater sense of overall well-being and job satisfaction than those with limited autonomy.
And managers will be happy to hear that greater employee autonomy has been linked to increased productivity. One experiment that supports this placed participants in one of four office settings:
- A ‘lean’ office with no decor
- An enriched office that had been decorated before the participants arrived
- An office that the participants were allowed to decorate (considered the empowered environment)
- An office that participants were allowed to decorate, but that an experimenter then redecorated (considered the disempowered environment)
Participants placed in the empowered office got 15 percent more work done than those in the enriched office and 30 percent more work done than those in the lean one. Perhaps unsurprisingly, participants in the disempowered office who’d had their autonomy taken away from them performed the worst and had both low levels of productivity and low morale.
Giving employees control over their environment (whether it’s their physical office space or a digital space, such as a knowledge sharing platform) can have a huge impact on their performance, mood, and overall job satisfaction— and that’s not something company leaders should overlook.
Benefits of Letting Employees Shape Your Knowledge Sharing Platform
If you’ve been leading a knowledge sharing initiative from the research stage through the purchase and implementation of a software solution, the idea of handing over the reins to your end users may be a little anxiety-inducing. But ultimately, the knowledge sharing platform you’ve chosen will be more valuable to both leaders and end users when your end users help shape the final product.
The idea behind intrinsic motivation is that an individual chooses to do something because the outcome is naturally satisfying to them. Intrinsic motivation is a driver of meaningful work, and intrinsically motivated employees can be instrumental in establishing an effective knowledge sharing community.
To illustrate this, let’s look at the Oregon Experiment, a project first brought to our attention by Coleen Akers, former Insights Product Manager at Capital One.
In the 1970s, the University of Oregon decided to change their approach to campus construction and planning. They worked with a radical architect named Christopher Alexander, who rejected the idea of using a master plan, saying it would make residents feel like they were “merely cogs in someone else’s machine.” Instead, he brought together diverse groups of stakeholders (including students, professors, janitors, and maintenance staff) and had them work with architects to prioritize and plan building projects.
Because the people who were helping to design new buildings were also the future users of the facilities, they were intrinsically motivated to get the design right.
The same principle applies when you’re setting up a knowledge sharing platform. Your end users want a system that will make it easy to find information, through both search and category navigation. Finding information quickly helps them do their jobs better, leading to less stress and greater job satisfaction. As a result, your end users are motivated to help set up a platform that’s intuitive and will help them achieve their goals, and they’ll likely invest more effort in it than someone who isn’t going to use the platform on a regular basis.
Sense of Ownership
When employees have a sense of psychological ownership over their work, they experience greater job satisfaction and happiness. Research from behavioral scientist Francesca Gino even shows that when employees have a stronger sense of ownership over their work, they’re more likely to engage in helpful behaviors.
Getting end users involved in the planning for your knowledge sharing platform encourages them to feel ownership over the project. And when they consider themselves an owner, they’re more likely to feel invested in the success of the platform and to provide helpful input so that the platform is as useful as possible for themselves and their co-workers.
Your leadership team members may think they know the ideal category structure or the perfect content layout for your knowledge sharing platform. But there’s often a gap between these theoretical best practices and how end users actually look for information.
In a presentation at Bloomfire’s annual Elevate Knowledge conference, Jason Pafford, Instructional Designer and Communications Specialist for Orvis, emphasized how important it was for his organization to let their daily users have a say in the look, feel, and structure of their Bloomfire community. Pafford invited employees from every department in Orvis’ contact center to beta test Bloomfire so that their organization could see how frontline employees actually used Bloomfire, not just how their leadership team thought they would use it.
By getting their end users involved from the beginning, Orvis established a knowledge sharing community that continues to see engagement levels of over 92 percent— and that has helped double their first call resolution rate by making it easy for contact center employees to find the information they need.
How to Get End Users Involved
We’ve established the benefits of giving employees the autonomy to shape your knowledge sharing community, but how do you go about getting them involved in the first place? Start with these best practices.
Select a Diverse Group of Beta Testers
As we mentioned above, part of the reason Orvis has been so successful with their knowledge sharing community is because they included frontline employees from every department of their contact center in their beta test. Choosing a diverse group of beta testers will help you get a wide range of perspectives on the system you’re planning to use— and identify potential obstacles or opportunities that you might have missed if you only invited members of your leadership team to your beta test.
Let End Users Help Create Categories
If your knowledge sharing platform has a flexible category structure, don’t get too in the weeds creating categories before your end users start using it. You may want to start with a few broad categories but adjust the taxonomy as you see how your end users are actually navigating the platform. If your knowledge sharing platform provides search analytics, you can even look at the terms users are searching most frequently and create relevant categories.
Taking this approach allows your employees to shape the knowledge sharing platform to reflect how they organically search for information, which will ultimately help them find what they’re looking for more quickly.
Make sure you’re continuing to encourage autonomy after you’ve launched your knowledge sharing platform. Try not to place too many restrictions around using the platform (remember the office empowerment experiment we discussed earlier: taking autonomy away is worse than never allowing for it in the first place). You may want to create some high-level guidelines around posting and commenting in your community, but ultimately, you should trust your employees to use the platform in the way that will be most valuable to them.