Google recently launched Knol. It is essentially a Wikipedia where authors can build up a personal brand. In addition, they can even monetize pages they author via, surprise surprise, Google Ads. Personally, I think the concept is brilliant. It plays on everyone’s need to feel special and that can’t hurt participation.
As I dove deeper into this new concept, I saw the folks at ZDnet had a piece contemplating if this new web app could be more of a knowledge management play. As we all know, KM has been plagued over the years and never made much of an inroad – not for lack of trying. I have always loved KM, and too wondered, why the failure? Here is what Larry Dignan thinks:
“The biggest reason: Employees like to hoard knowledge and don’t want to share much because they become less valuable.”
This got me thinking. Maybe it is time to just accept the reality that we are all free agents. Apart from sales, one someone is hired, they tend to go to work without the pressure of day to day performance. The irony is that, the pressure to perform is certainly there, but outside of sales, performance is shrouded in mystery. Why are some people promoted? Who is really a team player? Who is doing the best work? The inner workings of companies are tough to make clear under the current model of operation.
The obvious challenge is measurement. I agree with Larry that a system like Google is proposing could change this dynamic. If we solved the measurement problem, a kind of market economy for free agency could be achieved (at least inside an organization and ideally across organizations).
What would it look like if we all acknowledged the inherent free agency in the employee/employer relationship? I would argue that if we made this leap, both employees and employers would be better off. How?
Let’s take employees. In a world where your personal contributions, skills, expertise, and attitude were on display, I imagine it might “light a fire”. People would work harder, care more, and generally do more to promote the common good. The fact is, transparency changes behavior (ever not wash your hands leaving an empty bathroom?). Sometimes this change is for the worse, but on balance, I like the model for how it drives people to improve themselves and that can only help them in their current job, future job, and life in general.
Employers on the other hand would now have at their disposal a wealth of performance data. How can this help the organization? Well, there are a ton of ways, but let’s just take the simple idea of differentiation. I think most would agree that higher performers should be paid more, average performers should be mentored to higher level skills, and the weakest players should be moved out to more appropriate roles or organizations. This model has been made infamous by Jack Welch. I should note that the ire Mr. Welch inspires in others is primarily due to his percentages while the concept itself is generally liked as it has a sense of fairness which people tend to immediately appreciate. Doing this well just makes companies stronger and people happier. Period.
So if we found a way to enable people to build their own personal brand through activities we want to incent (like sharing, collaboration, etc), both employees and employers could be substantially better off. Batter up! (fyi steroids still don’t increase typing wpm)