At APHSA, we understand why knowledge management is important to the success of any organization. It's become a hot topic for us as we continue to look critically at how we’re both managing and mobilizing knowledge with and for our members. Here on our blog, we introduced "Getting with" KM2 - Managing and Mobilizing Knowledge and then more recently, The "Why" Behind the "What" in Knowledge Management. Now we're continuing the conversation with another insightful piece out of Georgia's Division of Family and Children Services. Imagine that...
I consider myself to be a lifelong learner which involves a lot of reading. If you asked me today what the last book I read was, chances are my response would likely surprise you… it would be the title of a children’s book. Yes, I’ll proudly share that I like reading children’s books! Like many parents, I read to my children because it is good for their development. But, I have also found that it is good for my own as well (it doesn’t hurt that the words are usually in a larger font and easier to read). There’s so much to be learned from children’s books. They contain lessons that are applicable for children and adults alike. As I glance over at the voluminous and often redundant list of books on my bookshelf, I realize how much we adults complicate things in our attempt to sound more astute. I’ll take a 20 page children’s book any day over a 200 page “grown up” book. More words ≠ better lesson. As the saying goes, the best solutions are often simple. Today’s lesson comes from reading Inside Out.
You probably recognize the name Inside Out as the popular children’s movie released in the summer of 2015. I have only seen the movie once but I have read the book several times (and not just because it’s my young daughter’s favorite). Inside Out is the story of a young lady named Riley whose emotions try to guide her through a difficult time in her life. These emotions, also main characters in the movie, are Fear (to keep her safe), Sadness (to signal others when she needs help), Joy (to keep her happy), Disgust (to keep her from being poisoned physically and socially), and Anger (to keep things fair). And then there is one of my favorite characters, Bing Bong, he is Riley’s imaginary friend. I like Bing Bong because he represents the possibilities of imagination, and in our imagination, anything can happen.
As I reflect on these characters, I can’t help but think about how important of a role each of these emotions play in the development of a learning organization. Unfortunately, these emotions are not equally valued which is probably why many organizations fail at achieving such an organization. But what if they were?
Let’s imagine the boss is introducing a wildly imagined idea, like becoming a world class child welfare agency (Bing Bong would like that). Becoming world class won’t be easy. Not only will it require a shift in culture, it will also require a high level of accountability. And what do we believe we need to implement change? You got it, we believe we need people who believe in the vision. For most of us, that typically looks like Joy rather than Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness. Why? Because in business we want people on our team who bring positivity and solutions to our ideas. Thus, we purposely avoid those who spend their time focusing on the dangers, pitfalls, and risks associated with the new idea (Fear). Or the person who is highly opinionated and overly honest (Disgust). As such, we often fail to recognize that the feedback from Fear and Disgust are almost always given under the best of intentions. After all, I am not going to calmly redirect my child if it appears they are about to touch a hot stove, even if I am teaching them how to cook. As such, a defensive response to being called out on a missed opportunity with a child death case may actually be more of a self-preservation attempt because the employee feels other factors should have also been considered, such as a high caseload or inadequate supervisory support. Nonetheless, to become world class, we must equally acknowledge failures and the associated emotions throughout the entire system while also creating an environment in which staff feel it’s safe to express themselves authentically.
Unsafe environments get passive, unauthentic compliance. Safe environments promote value. Becoming world class requires that all staff are valued, no matter how they may appear to us. And when staff are valued, true learning can happen. And when an organization is learning, knowledge management flourishes. It’s not always easy, or fun, but it is better when we grow together. Now, imagine that.