Using social media to improve knowledge work

Happy New Year!  In my last post (way back in 2008), I mentioned a range of ways Social Media can be used to support formal and informal learning.   One of those methods is to wrap social media tools around a job or workflow and structure them to support informal learning. Here I build on that idea with some comments on using social media to improve knowledge work processes.

As work processes becomes less linear and more knowledge driven, it increasingly involves applying specialized expertise to solve problems, generate ideas, and share knowledge.  Informal learning is at the core of this evolution.

To be successful knowledge work teams must be able to:

  • Acquire and generate knowledge
  • Transfer and share knowledge
  • Integrate and use knowledge

Social media tools can support each of these tasks but simply making them available is not providing the support knowledge teams need.  Social media tools should be structured to support the key issues in knowledge work which include:

  • Management of information

The amount of information that knowledge workers use in their jobs is becoming overwhelming.  Social media should help the problem not contribute to it.

  • Learning and thinking

Knowledge workers need to be able to make tacit knowledge explicit at the right time so others can access and leverage it.  Social media needs to support learning through action , observation, reflection and application of knowledge.

  • Collaboration

Collaboration is at the core of knowledge work.  Social media certainly supports collaboration but it must be directed on organization mission.  It needs to support a process of dialogue where thinking together, capturing group ideas and making them productive becomes the team norm.

  • Making knowledge work visible

Most knowledge work occurs in peoples heads.  It can be difficult to understand, track and improve knowledge work processes.  The visible outputs of knowledge work are the decisions, reports, insights, solved problems, new products-tangible accomplishments that add to the value chain of the organization.  Social media can be structured to make knowledge work visible so it can be managed and improved over time.

Making the results of knowledge work explicit, visible and accessible are an important challenge for performance consultants and managers involved in the design and improvement of knowledge worker performance.  Social Media is an enabler and not a solution.  Methods of analyzing and designing knowledge work and communities of practice processes should come first.

Process re-design methods of the recent past have focused more on tangible, predictable work processes.  Knowledge work processes are more intangible and emergent. A knowledge work improvement process I like is based on the socio-technical systems work of Calvin Pava. I’ll discuss the full approach in a later post. It focuses on key “deliberations” in the process. The deliberation points are where social media tools can be integrated with other technologies to truly support the improvement knowledge work:

1. Define the scope, phases and objectives of the knowledge work process

2. Define the process outputs and inputs

3. Identify key topics and deliberations

4. Identify deliberation participants and their contributions

5. Determine knowledge work process variances and causes

6. Analyze the forums in which the work and deliberations are done

7. Structure the technology and social media systems to support the process

Knowledge work process improvement methods like this and others provide a framework within which to define the most appropriate use of social media.  They are a way for performance consultants to helps teams bring focus to how social media tools can be used to improve performance.

Do you have a success story where social media has been used as a cornerstone to improve knowledge work performance?

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