K Street Newsletter :: Directions

June 2020    |    VOLUME 18, ISSUE 6

Knowledge First

There's an old parable from the early days of Knowledge Management, which tells the story of a KM system designed for a customer service department. They brought in a team of consultants and spent six months studying the organization. They modeled processes and interviewed service reps and finally launched the ultimate service rep Knowledge Base. But there was no change in overall performance. The most effective rep was still a senior guy called Bob, who didn't use the system at all; everything he needed was in his head. The next most effective rep was a novice called Joan. She sat next to Bob.

KM World commissioned a Forrester Research survey which asked 5,000 consumers about the problems they had with customer service departments. It cut across many industries, including retail, banking and insurance, and despite the broad swath of services, the biggest complaint was the same: lack of agent knowledge. Knowledge deficits are at the root of customer complaints and the driver for repeat calls. It's a particular issue since routine queries are often handled with self-service systems. That means the reps are only dealing with the most complicated problems, which is hard on them and hard on the customers. The survey concluded that contact centers are the most essential place to deploy KM in an enterprise, especially when they're staffed by younger workers. The younger generation has grown up looking for information on the Web, and will more naturally turn to a system for answers.

 

Communications in Troubled Times

A good communications program is something that delivers business benefits even when things are going well. But it really shows its value when things get dicey. Internal communications are an essential part of keeping team members informed and focused on the tasks at hand. There are no special tricks here. The same best practices apply: craft a consistent message, use survey technology to monitor how well your message is getting across and reinforce the message frequently. This article presents the advice of 16 contributors to the Forbes Human Resources Council. We can't include them all here, but we'll start you off with two:

  • Keep calm. Internal communications should be part of all crisis management activities, with a forum through which employees can ask questions and get answers. Be sure that your communications are accurate, consistent and have the right empathetic tone.
  • Focus on goal alignment. Look for ways to associate smaller projects with larger organizational objectives. Productivity always takes a hit when people are worried about other things, so look for ways to maximize team efficiency.

We recommend that you click through and scan all 16 suggestions for ideas that might work best in your organization. There are lots of ways to shore up internal communications in uncertain times.
 

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Street Smarts 200: Channel your emotions.

The last two weeks have been brutal here in the US: all the news is bad, a terrible mash-up of the COVID-19 pandemic, a cratering economy, record unemployment and nation-wide demonstrations against police brutality. Americans are more angry and frustrated than they've been in decades, and that may be the sign of a tipping point. Experts believe this kind of anger can be channeled into action, and the right kind of action can lead to real political change.

People want to make things better, but not everyone is cut out for manning the barricades. This piece on National Public Radio offers suggestions for things anyone can do to address systemic racism. It recommends using your individual voice to take a stand at your workplace or in your community. Use your influence in private ways by donating your time for tutoring and mentoring programs. Creative folks can leverage their gifts to call attention to social justice issues, possibly selling their wares and donating some of the proceeds to organizations that are working for change. The fight is here, right now. And it's better to be in the fight than sit on the sidelines.

 

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In Light of a New Normal 

With pandemic-related isolation protocols still largely in place, the world of business has become more virtual than it was just three months ago. That's becoming our new normal. And as mentioned in other articles this month, it would be hard to over emphasize the importance of good organizational communications in the crazy world of 2020.

There's an old saying that you can't manage what you can't measure, so finding ways to measure the impact of internal communications is an important part of the job. There are lots of tools to help, but you do need to be sure you're measuring the right things. The power of a good program is in its ability to inspire employees in ways that will address strategic goals. This article has a nice, brief overview of the kinds of technologies you can apply to measure the impact of communications on your organization's key performance indicators. From polls to focus groups, you can use them to demonstrate your program's value.
 

Addressing Social Unrest

More than 400 business leaders gathered for a conference call last week to focus on the impact of the nationwide social unrest that has roiled the US since the death of George Floyd on May 25. It was sponsored by the Chief Diversity Officer Board of the Institute for Corporate Productivity, and led by Jacqui Robertson of investment banker William Blair. The message was that all diversity, HR and related professionals need to consider the seemingly intractable issues of race that have pushed COVID-19 off the front pages.

This article summarizes some of that "somber" discussion, and also offers ideas for what businesses can do on their own. The goal was to define specific programs that could be initiated while the issue is getting national attention. There's also a link to a recording of the call itself. It runs about an hour and 15 minutes, but it is certainly food for thought. Strike while the iron is hot.
 

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