ServiceNow Knowledge, Part 2: Every Man for Himself Breaks Down Every Man. How To Get Users to Think of More than Themselves

ServiceNow Knowledge Base can be like the Prisoner’s Dilemma. So shift people’s perspectives of the game.
This blog is a continuation of Part 1.

In the previous blog in this series, I discussed how the ServiceNow knowledge base can resemble the prisoners’ dilemma, due to a bad incentive structure, and discussed ways to change the incentive structure to help users make choices that benefit the knowledge base as a whole.  However, there’s an underlying assumption in the metaphor that users are only self-interested, and this selfishness is part of what brings about the poor incentive structure.  With any faceless technology, there’s always the threat of users losing sympathy for the other users.  As a Knowledge Administrator, it’s important to make sure that users are aware of their other users.  By making users sympathetic to their fellow users, the misaligned incentive structure may evaporate entirely, solving the prisoners’ dilemma scenario without needing to directly change the incentive structure at all.

How are People Self-Interested?

How Prisoners are Only Self-Interested (Prisoners’ Dilemma POV)

Let’s refer back to the prisoners’ dilemma analogy from the previous post. The model above assumes that the prisoners are taking an “every man for himself” approach to their plea deals.  There is no sense of comradery or honor between the two prisoners that might encourage them to risk betrayal to help the other one out.  And conversely, the prisoners aren’t going to feel any guilt if they betray the other one, causing the other additional jail time (man, these are really some ruthless criminals).  Thus, when the criminals make their decision to betray the other, they are only thinking of their own outcomes – they don’t care about the outcome of the other.

How Users Are Only Self-Interested (ServiceNow POV)

Similarly, in this theoretical knowledge base, the participants are only self-interested.  By writing a sloppy article, the authors reveal that they are not respectful of the readers’ time.  Similarly, the readers are not respectful of the authors’ time by emailing them directly, rather than searching for a knowledge base article.

How might this happen in a real knowledge base scenario?  Are we assuming that all knowledge base users are just jerks who only care about themselves?  Is this model realistic for a real-world knowledge base?

Probably not to the full extent of this example.  However, it’s possible to imagine a scenario where users don’t think of their fellow users as much as they should.   With any faceless software, it’s easy for users to forget the other people behind the scenes.

How Can Knowledge Admins Deter Self-Interest?

As a Knowledge Administrator, it’s important to recognize that the knowledge base incentive structure may resemble the prisoners’ dilemma, encouraging users to behave selfishly.  However, if you can change users’ attitudes to think about other users, the prisoners’ dilemma situation may disappear entirely, since users will now act with other people in mind.

Good User Buy-In

Ensure that both authors and readers understand the importance of doing their part to the best of their abilities.  Using effective Organizational Change Management (OCM) techniques can help users understand the importance of all the different roles in the Knowledge base, and why it’s important for everyone to do their part effectively.

“What’s in it for me?” – Make Sure People Know the Correct Answer

With good user buy-in, users can answer the question “What’s in it for the knowledge base?”  But more important than that, is making sure that users can answer the question “What’s in it for me?”  As a Knowledge Admin, it’s important to make sure that users understand the reciprocal nature of the knowledge base – that by doing their job correctly, it makes others’ jobs easier as well, and vice-versa.  By understanding their own personal benefit, it will be much easier to create a lasting change.

Envelop High Standards Within the Company Culture

Being selfish is the lazy way to use the knowledge base.  As a knowledge admin, it’s important to set a culture of expecting high standards within the company.  Point out examples of the high standards of the company, and encourage users to be proud of that culture. If people feel like they’re a part of something bigger than themselves, they will be likely to go that extra mile to help maintain those high standards.

You’ve Users Interested in Others – Now How Do You Keep Efforts High?

Now that you have users thinking of the entire knowledge base, everything’s well and good, right?  Maybe not.  Imagine this scenario – a user is excited about maintaining the high standards of the company, and searches the knowledge base for his answer, even though it might take longer than emailing his coworker.  When he searches the knowledge base, he finds it littered with outdated, and factually inaccurate articles.  “Why did I bother searching the knowledge base, I had to email a coworker, anyway. Next time, I’ll just email the coworker directly.”

In the next article in my series, we’ll talk about using Kaizen principles to continuously improve your knowledge base, to help keep users thinking about other users in the knowledge base.

Note: This post has also been posted on my company’s insights page.

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