In the fast-paced world of IT, the pace of change is constant. Combine the rapid pace of change with competing priorities, budget constraints, and increasing complexity, and it is no wonder why people feel like they do not have the time to do knowledge management.
To change this flawed perception, the organization needs to develop and communicate a compelling justification for knowledge management. The purpose needs to convey to all employees that we do not have time not to do knowledge management.
Teams working without a compelling purpose are working in an environment that may appear unclear and uncertain. Often, the organization experiences common challenges while trying to create change. Team members cannot articulate the big picture and are left to understand how large-scale changes impact the team or individual. The team members resist change or work passively without specific direction from leadership. The lack of engagement leads to the staff's diffused efforts to achieve the organization's goals.
What Is a Compelling Purpose Statement?
A compelling purpose statement is a simple explanation about the difference that you are trying to create in your organization. For example, a support organization’s purpose is often aligned to service management principles, such as "restore service for our customers as quickly as possible."
From a knowledge management perspective – remember that we are trying to "compel" our people to capture and use knowledge to create a "difference" both to internal stakeholders and external stakeholders. As such, the compelling purpose statement should connect the “why” to the “value” to the stakeholders or the organization.
Attributes of a Compelling Purpose Statement
A successful, compelling purpose statement should, at a minimum, motivate staff to perform at a higher level by describing the desired outcome. By connecting the compelling purpose with the desired outcome, staff will embrace new ideas and reduce fear and resistance to change. The statement should also be brief – so that it can be known and repeated by all stakeholders. The statement should not be focused just on the internal benefits, but instead highlight the organization's commitment to its customers. The statement should also be action-oriented, identifying what the organization is working to achieve. And most importantly, the compelling statement should be meaningful – identifying the “why” for the change.
Creating a Compelling Purpose Statement
To create a compelling purpose statement, the organization should begin by understanding the current environment and the desired outcome of a knowledge management practice. The process of developing a purpose statement is broken down into the six steps illustrated below.
1. First Understand Who You Are
When teams attempt to create change, it is essential to understand where the organization is today. A necessary part of this exercise is to be honest about the current state of the environment. For the organization to move from the current state to the desired end state, the issues or problems in the environment need to be identified so that the team understands the reasoning for the required changes. Questions to ask the team to understand the current environment include:
- Who are we?
- What services to do we provide?
- Who are our customers?
- What are our strengths?
- What are our weaknesses?
- What do our customers say?
- What are we most passionate about?
2. Develop a Clear Picture of the Required Effort
After assessing the current state, the next step is to create clarity of what is needed to get to the desired end state. This activity aims to have the team brainstorm on what it will take to make the necessary changes and how the teams can work together to achieve the outcome. Questions to ask the team to understand the required effort include:
- What changes are required?
- What specific improvements need to be made?
- How can the teamwork together to overcome constraints?
3. Develop an Understanding of the Desired Outcome
The next step is to clearly define the desired outcome. As a result of implementing a new knowledge management practice, what will the organization, customers, and other vital stakeholders achieve? The goal is to identify what the organization and customers will gain from a well-developed knowledge management practice. Questions to ask the team to understand the desired outcome include:
- What new services will we provide?
- How will the organization be different?
- What differences will our customers experience?
- What image do we want to convey to our customers?
- What impact will we make?
- What is the value to the business?
4. Brainstorm Ideas
Once the future state is identified, the team has a clear picture of where they are today, what it will take to make improvements, and the desired outcome. From each of these activities, the team will have developed sentences and ideas. From those ideas, the team should now begin to create lists of words. At this point, it is beneficial to categorize the words by type: noun versus verb. Also, identify any words that may be inspirational or connect with emotions. Tasks to help with brainstorming ideas include:
- Brainstorm on words, phrases, or ideas that are associated with the purpose statement
- Break words into categories: nouns (what), verbs (actions), and inspirational (connect emotionally)
- Pull words out of previous steps that connect with the "why."
5. Assemble the Words Into Phrases
From the list of words, the team will now begin combining the words into phrases that can be used for the compelling purpose statement. Remember to focus on all stakeholders and the desired outcomes. Tasks to help with assembling phrases include:
- Combine words into many different possible phrases
- Keep the expressions short
- Avoid using “ing” verb endings – use strong action verbs
- Focus on crafting expressions that convey a positive impact on customers and connect with people’s emotions
6. Evaluate Your Compelling Purpose
Once the team has developed a compelling purpose statement, the team should evaluate the compelling purpose statement. Questions to ask the team to evaluate the compelling purpose statement include:
- How well does it articulate the vision?
- Does it inspire or connect with emotion?
- Can the organization “live” the purpose?
- Does it connect to a positive transformational impact?
- Does it integrate both the business and IT?
- Is it easily understood and recognized outside the organization?
- Does it inspire stakeholders to achieve something great?
- Will it move people to action?
Examples of Compelling Purpose Statements
Over the years, I have worked with many practitioners on developing compelling purpose statements for their knowledge management adoption programs. What we create in the classroom during a 10-minute exercise may be vastly different than what the organization develops during the adoption program. However, these expressions meet many of the attributes required and thus make great examples to share.
Wendy’s – Knowledge Doesn’t Cut Corners
Of course, Wendy's is famous for its square, never frozen burgers. It is their distinction in their market. The compelling statement connects the importance of knowledge to the business but also implies that the organization will do the work necessary to make knowledge management a success
Costco – Use Knowledge in Bulk
Costco is a leading bulk retailer, and connecting knowledge management to the organization's mission is fantastic. But also notice that they are emphasizing using knowledge – putting the focus on everyone reusing knowledge, not just on creating knowledge.
Disney – Knowledge Is Our Pixie Dust
Who doesn’t need a little bit of pixie dust? Again, here is an excellent connection to the business, but it is done to imply that if the organization focuses on knowledge, it will help the organization "fly."
Ikea – Knowledge Is Our Allen Key
Everything at Ikea needs an Allen key to assemble. Here we are not just making the connection to the business; it is also saying that the service organization can’t put everything together or make it work without knowledge.
USAA – Knowledge Drives Our Service
USAA serves the insurance industry for military personnel and their families. The purpose statement connects to having insurance for your vehicle and the commitment to service, which is a distinction for USAA in their market.
These are just a few examples of how to connect the compelling purpose of your knowledge management practice to the business while also linking to the enhanced service's desired outcome. Not only are the statements impactful, but each of these statements would serve as a foundation for a marketing campaign.
Putting the Why in Purpose
When launching a knowledge management program, it is crucial to ground the organization in why. When changes to procedures and processes are made, staff will understand that the changes are needed to accomplish the desired future state.
With a clear purpose, the teams will have stronger engagement and do the necessary work to change the environment. The team will better understand the impact of the knowledge management practice across the organization and how knowledge management will improve critical stakeholders' services. The team will be aligned with future goals and will manage as necessary to correct the course to navigate the organization's complexities. Most importantly, the team will begin thinking outside the box – shifting from “we have always done things this way” to “how can we do things differently to achieve our goals.”
Julie L. Mohr is a dynamic, engaging change agent who brings authenticity, integrity, and passion to practitioners worldwide. Through her books, articles, speaking, consulting, and teaching, her purpose is to spark change in the world with thought-provoking dialog and interaction on topics of authentic leadership, business strategy, knowledge management, organizational culture, and innovation. Julie has a B.S. in computer science from The Ohio State University and an MaED from the University of Phoenix and is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Management and Organizational Leadership in Information Systems & Technology from the University of Phoenix. She is an ITIL Expert, Certified Help Desk Director, and Certified Governance IT Professional. She is an HDI Business Associate and teaches training and certification classes for service and support professionals. Visit her website, and follow her on Twitter @JulieMohr, YouTube, and LinkedIn.