Explore the New Frontier: Taking Knowledge and Training to New Galaxies


How one support center is tackling challenges of segmented knowledge management, difficulty training new hires, and implementing change.

by J.C. Grooms and Mitchell Wallerstedt
October 10, 2017

"Houston, Flight Mission 115, we have a problem. Our cadets are not advancing at the rate we anticipated. We are passing down all the knowledge that we have, showing them our SharePoint site, our stored drives, our Wikis, even the notes we have collected! We are not, I repeat, not ready for them to advance onto space missions.”

“Flight Mission 115, Houston, that sounds like a problem you need to overcome, and quickly. We don’t have time for any shenanigans.”

Does your organization struggle, as most do, with getting your employees up to speed and proficient with the technologies and knowledge you use? Are you struggling to teach new employees in ways that stick and enable them to find the information that they need when they need it? Does your “Houston” just expect you to figure it out? You are not alone in defying the odds. Let’s look at how Minnesota State University, Mankato has done just this and is working to nurture a culture around knowledge sharing and gamified training for all employees to ensure that their mission is a success!

The scenario above outlines three major difficulties that organizations have and that we will address in this article: segmented knowledge management, difficulty training new “cadets,” and implementing change. What is the first issue that you noticed with this crew? Was it the part about sharing all the knowledge that we have in SharePoint, stored drives, and Wikis? This is a major obstacle for many organizations and touches on what we like to term “tribal knowledge,” or the passing of knowledge from individual to individual instead of having one shared source for knowledge. Often, organizations focus on either trying to share information any way they can or holding onto knowledge for “job security.” We found ourselves in a place where these methods were no longer enabling us to achieve our goals, where tribal knowledge transfer and hording of knowledge needed to move toward the sharing of knowledge in one common place, written in a readable way.

Astronauts and pilots alike do not rely on memory to preform every task; rather, they rely upon checklists that are consistently updated, shared in a common area, and written in a consistent manner. So, why, if we expect consistency and correctness, would IT rely on notes under keyboards, multiple shared drives, or tribal knowledge? By acting in this manner, we are simply setting ourselves up for failure, inconsistent performance, and unmet expectations. Knowledge-Centered Service (KCS), created by the Consortium for Service Innovation, outlines best practices for knowledge management and specifically outlines creating a single knowledge base, with a style guide, taking in information in the customer’s context.

This last point is critical, “taking in information in the customer’s context.” A goal of any IT organization should be to enable customers to help themselves. To facilitate this approach, creating a knowledge base geared towards customers is critical. If a customer calls in and says, "My black box is not working," we should not assume that the customer means the black box of a space ship or translate it to a computer. The customer is going to search whatever they think the object is called. Even if we, as IT, think we know best, we should capture and include the customer’s context within our knowledge base.

A goal of any IT organization should be to enable customers to help themselves.
Tweet: A goal of any IT organization should be to enable customers to help themselves. @ThinkHDI

The second difficulty to overcome, that proper knowledge management can help to address, is training for employees. Minnesota State University, Mankato has begun to tackle this challenge through gamification. While learning how to remove a virus from a computer may not seem the most interesting, we have found that overcoming challenges such as battling irreverent aliens (viruses) and ensuring that they vacate the space shuttle (computers) is far more interesting. To track the number of irreverent aliens our crewmembers have battled, we have included a leader board to challenge and create competition between our crewmembers. In addition, by taking on extra dangerous and daring quests, our employees can earn special Easter eggs such as Milky Way candy bars, space keychains, or 3D printed items. By building challenges, leader boards, and Easter eggs, we have gained far more interaction and participation across all levels of our training programs. For us, gamification is a method that better engages our employees with needed training to ensure the best possible service delivery outcomes.

Training new employees or "cadets" is not in the typical IT professional’s repertoire. Most of us got involved in IT because we were interested in technology or good with process engineering, not because we had a solid understanding of theories surrounding human motivation or behavioral change. For this reason, Minnesota State University, Mankato engaged the ever-learning minds of recruits by partnering with the Industrial Organizational Psychology Master’s program to provide an outside view of our crew utilizing a gap analysis and aid in the creation of training. It is only through collaboration that we can find true innovation. Engaging with this program has allowed us to move beyond our basic Space Camp training and allowed us to "Explore New Galaxies," creating training for various functional units and targeted professional development areas.

While building a knowledge system and training will provide greater ease for your employees, maneuvering asteroid fields and irreverent aliens also requires full team cooperation, which can only be accomplished through addressing barriers to organizational change. It is critical to recognize that this undertaking is an organization-wide change effort. While this mission can be approached in many ways, we have found that utilizing both a grassroots approach as well as a top-down approach has proven most effective in addressing the strategic, political, and cultural considerations that must always be addressed when leading this sort of change.

To change individual behavior, it's important to engage at the grassroots level. Expectations for participation and incentives must be clear, and the way in which your gamification structure is shaped to engage participation must be tailored for the audience you are seeking to work with. For example, if you're training new student employees, their behavior is likely to be motivated by different sorts of incentives than career professionals would be. Keeping this in mind, the way performance and participation is rewarded must be tailored towards these motivational differences. Achieving grassroots buy-in is also heavily dependent upon involving your team in the design and development process for your training program. Buy-in comes from the sense of ownership built through the planning and implementation process, which can pay great dividends when it comes to your implementation success. This will also help set the stage for gaining support from key influencers amongst your staff who can help advocate on behalf of the gamification initiative.

Gaining top-down buy-in for a gamification approach will rely on two factors. First, you must show how this approach will help to enable your organization's mission and strategic objectives. Framing from this perspective, rather than as a program or initiative in and of itself, will show how this training approach is well suited to helping enable the organization's success. Second, for this initiative to be approved and successfully executed, it must be championed and supported like any other critical initiative by an executive sponsor or group of stakeholders that see the value in the effort and are willing to dedicate the internal political effort necessary to get resources and the commitment of others.

By incorporating knowledge management and employee training and managing organizational change, we no longer experience being stuck in space with an under-prepared crew. The message we receive on our coms continues to be “Houston, our mission has been successful, we are coming home!” on all galactic and intergalactic missions.


J.C. Grooms is the knowledge systems architect at Minnesota State University, Mankato. His focuses include knowledge management, CRM systems administration, project management, business analysis, analytics, and process improvement. J.C. received his BS in software engineering, psychology, and mathematics from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Connect with J.C. on LinkedIn.

Mitchell Wallerstedt is the chief operations officer for IT services at Minnesota State University, Mankato. In this role, he’s responsible for financial and project management, business analysis, ITSM, and accessibility. Prior to this role, he served as assistant CIO for customer services, where he was responsible for the service desk, campus computer store, and classroom technology and computer lab support teams. He received his MPA and BS in computer management information systems and philosophy from Minnesota State University, Mankato, and he holds a variety of certifications in ITSM and Lean IT. Connect with Mitchell on LinkedIn.


Tag(s): supportworld, support center, knowledge management, gamification, training, workforce enablement, workforce enablement

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