What is Knowledge Centered Service (KCS) and why do you need it?
Catherine Heath | April 5, 2020
The value of a knowledge-centered business is more obvious during times of stress. You have already captured what is important for use at a later date. And if you haven’t been capturing knowledge already, it’s never too late to start.
Your business isn’t going to thrive if you spend all your time fighting fires. You have to bank some resources for a rainy day so that you can operate with a leaner team, if necessary.
If you record your knowledge for posterity, you are going to benefit from this investment at a future date. For example, if your team suddenly has to switch to remote work, you have a shared repository of information to refer to that’s up and ready to go.
In simpler times, Knowledge Centered Service (KCS) increases efficiency for your team. Team members spend less time searching for information, and more on helping your customers. You have a visible store of knowledge which tells you if something has gone off base, and you can correct it more easily. It makes the unknown, known.
What is Knowledge Centered Service?
Knowledge Centered Service allows you to be adaptable, agile, and flexible. You can move quickly when the situation demands it. There’s a methodology that formalizes this approach to knowledge in the workplace.
Knowledge Centered Service is defined as:
“a proven methodology for integrating the use, validation, improvement, and creation of knowledge into the workflow.”
It’s most suitable for knowledge and information-intensive businesses.
- An approach that focuses on customers
- A system centered on knowledge
This approach understands that capturing knowledge is more about people’s behaviour than it is about having the right tools.
It opposes the traditional knowledge engineering approach, which was designed to capture knowledge from a few to transmit for the use of many people. KCS, in contrast, is a many-to-many model.
The KCS principles are:
- Abundance: Share more, learn more.
- Create Value: Work tasks; think big picture.
- Demand Driven: Knowledge is a by-product of interaction.
- Trust: Engage, empower, motivate.
These are great principles, and if you think about it, they make perfect sense. But what if you don’t have time, or have the right culture to live by these principles?
You can still choose the principles that guide your own work. Maybe you’ll have a positive influence on those around you if you start proactively sharing and recording what you know.
The KCS core concepts are as follows.
1. Transformation and Continuous Improvement
This first core concept rests on the idea of a “double loop” (from research by Chris Argyris). You call one loop the A loop and the other loop the B loop.The A loop (the Solve Loop) represents the actual activity carried out in getting work down, while the B loop (the Evolve loop) is focused on defining the A loop process and standards.
The Solve loop is reactive, since it is triggered by an event or interaction. It is the type of work carried out by knowledge workers to achieve the aims of their jobs.
The Evolve loop is reflective, focused on a process of continuous improvement. It’s part of the bigger picture of the organizational customer service goals and is the responsibility of management to implement.
Double-loop processes correct themselves so you don’t have to build a separate strategy to see improvements, it’s all part of the nature of the beast. It requires a culture of continuous learning to be successful. Learning has to happen at the level of the event (Solve Loop) and the level of the organization (Evolve loop). Knowledge created as a byproduct of a knowledge worker’s interaction must be captured and then the Evolve loop can analyze patterns and trends.
Judgment is key to both double loop processes, in that the Solve loop is about doing what you are doing right, and the Evolve loop is about continually assessing what is right.
2. Buy-In At All Levels
This second core concept is very important because it means you need to create an environment where your knowledge workers are invited to participate in the knowledge creation process. According to Peter Drucker, who coined the term “knowledge worker”, “All knowledge workers are volunteers.” This means you cannot coerce someone to share what is in their mind – instead, they offer it voluntarily because they believe in your cause.
If you don’t have it, this is not something you can build overnight. You need to create an organization culture that offers employees “mastery” (the opportunity to become an expert), “autonomy” (a sense of control), and “purpose” (understanding why).
Rather than using negative or positive reinforcement (the carrot and the stick method), you need to use the principles of human motivation to get knowledge workers on board. That means you understand that highly motivated people feel competent to excel in their field, they have ownership over their job, and they are told exactly why things are important. And you have to live up to your values!
This means very clear about your purpose. For example, here at KnowledgeOwl, our sole purpose is to serve our customers. Of course we serve our team as well, but everyone’s job in some way is to serve the customer. That clear purpose orients everyone to serve the same goal and encourages them to share knowledge.
3. Leadership is Required
Of course, to achieve anything of substance, good leadership is also vital. If you haven’t already established your business following Knowledge Centered Service principles then you will have to initiate substantial organizational and cultural change.
Internal communication is always a challenge for any business, and if you’re large there may be any number of initiatives competing for attention. It’s important to place the emphasis on how Knowledge Centered Service will improve every single aspect of the business – for the customer, the knowledge worker, and the organization as a whole.
Get everyone aligned towards the same purpose. The way you do it is thus:
- Creating a vision containing: a compelling purpose, mission statement, explicit values, and your brand promise
- Communicate your vision to everyone and share why Knowledge Centered Service is important
- Once you’ve shared your message, trust your knowledge workers to make good judgments and don’t over-supervise them
- Don’t just value knowledge workers for what they “know”, show that you value them for: their ability to make good judgments, ability to learn continuously, ability to cooperate with others, and the frequency and effectiveness that they use or create knowledge
- Focus less on activity- and transaction-based metrics, in favor of customer success and value-based measures, giving every worker access to the impact of their contribution
- Invest in and develop your technological infrastructure so that knowledge workers find it easy to share and create knowledge
The success of your implementation will depend on how well you communicate with people at every level of your organization. This cannot simply be a top-down approach.
As the changes take place, you must clearly communicate the benefits of Knowledge Centered Service to help knowledge workers understand the impact of their contribution. Reward the teams that are most successful and motivate them to do more.
4. Collective Experience
This part of Knowledge Centered Service is where you make good use of an internal knowledge base. Instead of a model that relies on a small number of Subject Matter Experts to disseminate knowledge, KCS is a crowdsourced model that takes a “many to many” approach.
Anyone who engages in knowledge work or interacts with the knowledge has something to contribute. You can take advantage of the hive mind by having a knowledge base that everyone can contribute to and make changes.
This is an egalitarian approach to Knowledge Management. The best people to create and organize the knowledge are the ones who use it everyday. They can take part in the Solve Loop by interacting with knowledge content and then we can use the Evolve Loop to analyze which content is most popular.
This idea works on the principle that the more people we have involved in creating knowledge, the more comprehensive and accurate that body of knowledge will be. This is also related to getting buy-in at all levels of the company.
5. Collective Ownership
In the KCS model, knowledge is owned by everyone in the company, and also includes the customer if the knowledge is relevant to them.
The knowledge worker participates actively in the creation and use of knowledge in the Solve Loop, when they must use their judgment to decide which knowledge is appropriate for that particular situation.
The Evolve Loop is the collective ownership of the body of knowledge by ensuring the organization has sufficient visibility of how that knowledge is used. Collective ownership drives the efficiency of the knowledge by ensuring knowledge workers take responsibility for the quality and accuracy of the content.
Knowledge Centered Service creates value through knowledge, and this process is much more important in a service organization than a product organization. The value of the knowledge is determined by whether or not the customer realizes some value.
Robert Lusch and Stephen Vargo outline their academic work on the topic in their book Service-Dominant Logic, in which they say that customers play a significant role in value realization in service companies.
6. Seek to Understand Before Seeking to Solve
This one’s a really powerful idea about looking before you leap. In KCS, seeking to understand before seeking to solve consists of:
- Seeking to understand the requestor’s (or the customer’s) issue
- Seeking to understand what we collectively know about this issue
...before we seek to solve the issue.
In KnowledgeOwl this is something we value very highly and a topic we will explore in another blog post called “The Three O’ Clock Parade Question”.
Seeking to understand the requestor’s issue means asking clarifying questions and trying to make sure we understand as much as we can about the situation. Seeking to understand our collective knowledge on the issue means searching the knowledge base for existing content and continuing to use it throughout the process.
If you think this process sounds slow, taking the time to gain a thorough understanding actually saves time in the long run by avoiding the need to rework inadequate solutions.
This premise is backed up by research by Dr. Charles Kepner and Dr. Benjamin Tregoe who studied effective problem-solvers. Natural problem-solvers have accurate awareness of their decision-making process and are conscious that there is a difference between understanding and solving a problem. They are better at listening objectively, collecting and clarifying facts, and making connections between topics before analyzing or diagnosing the problem.
This approach means we can also avoid duplicating successful solutions if we search information that has documented past work. We can learn from the experiences of others and progress our collective knowledge.
This is possibly the most important reason for documenting knowledge. We can empower our knowledge workers to solve new problems and use their time more efficiently.
7. Sufficient to Solve
This one is about aiming to be “just good enough”, since there never will be time to document absolutely everything to a standard of perfection.
We must aim for our knowledge articles to be Sufficient to Solve since it’s not easy to predict what value we will gain in the future from learning from our interactions, and the figure that 80% of what we capture will never be reused. That’s a depressing statistic!
How do we deal with this “wasted” effort? Well, that’s a core reason why many knowledge initiatives fail – employees fail to see the value in documenting what may never be used.
The answer is to aim for sufficiency, for example by capturing our experiences in a bullet pointed list as part of the Solve Loop. This format is easy to consume and relatively quick to produce. Since the level of effort involved is low, as long as people can find the information we can always expand on it in the future. This future expansion takes place in the Evolve Loop as we review which knowledge is the most popular and useful.
Aiming for Sufficient to Solve combats the tendency for organizations to “over-engineer” their content standard and workflow model. This relates to the idea of documentation triage explored by Neil Kaplan in his Write the Docs Portland talk Minimum Viable Documentation – the art of documentation triage. We need our processes to be as simple and sufficient to get started.
The double loop ensures we will continually improve based on our experience. Processes become more complex only when they need to be, and not a moment before.
8. Knowledge Integration
Now we have to think about knowledge integration. The aim of KCS is to make the knowledge base the first place people will look when searching for information.
That’s why in this model the best people to create and maintain knowledge are the ones who use it every day. Asking colleagues or searching through emails for knowledge should become the least attractive way to find what you need.
The benefits of knowledge integration are:
- Knowledge articles enable us to benefit from the experiences of others.
- Use the Evolve Loop to identify reuse patterns and areas of the business we can improve.
- We can flag or fix articles that we use which turn out to be wrong. If we can’t improve an article ourselves, we can flag a Subject Matter Expert to review. If we have the ability and authority, we can fix it ourselves.
- We can ensure articles are continually improved by updating them based on our experience, and adding any particular search terms we use to the article.
- We can create a new article based on our own expertise if we don’t find an article that matches our search.
People have to earn the right to fully integrate the Solve Loop into their workflow. If someone has the right ability and good judgment then they can be given permissions to add or improve articles in the system. People without permission can flag the article to be fixed instead. Ideally, the more people who become qualified to be involved in the Solve Loop process, the better.
In order to integrate KCS successfully we need to use the right technologies, including knowledge base software that is appropriate for our needs.
9. Coaching for Success
Behavior change is the way to embed KCS across the organization, and to achieve this you need to create coaches who can teach your knowledge workers. This process takes time, but research shows that when you combine training and coaching in your KCS program, employee productivity increases by an average of 86%, versus only 22% if they receive training alone.
The time it takes for you to realize the benefits of KCS is directly proportional to the speed at which your knowledge workers embed the Solve Loop into their working processes. Coaching has benefits beyond KCS, since studies show that coaching has an ROI of almost six times the cost of the coaching program.
The way that leadership can build a robust coaching program is by:
- Support the selection of coaches by identifying the most trusted individuals on the team
- Invest in coaching training that builds the skills necessary to be a success and become an influencer
- Allocate your employees enough time to devote to their coaching duties
- Convince your knowledge workers of the desirability of learning KCS so they are open to working with the coaches
While a coach does not have to be a Subject Matter Expert, they definitely should be KCS advocates and have a desire to coach. In order to identify the most trusted individuals to become coaches, leaders can learn Organizational Network Analysis (ONA) to understand the Trust Network on the team.
Investing in a good team of coaches is essential if you want to realize the benefits of KCS. Coaching is what will create the behavior change necessary in the organization in order to adopt new KCS processes. You must empower your coaches to spend time coaching, so allow them to build it into their role.
You will need more coaching at the beginning of your KCS program since that is when the largest behavior change needs to take place. As time goes on and your knowledge workers adopt more knowledge-centered ways of working, you can scale back the time you spend on coaching.
10. Assess Value
Finally, you must be able to measure the value of your Knowledge Centered Service program. We have to assess and determine the efficacy of our knowledge base and the processes that we use to create and maintain knowledge.
Being able to measure our success is an integral part of the Evolve Loop, the second part of the double loop process that allows us to improve our knowledge operations.
Unfortunately, there is a difference between being able to measure the ROI of the tangible outcomes on the production line, and the intangibles that are created by knowledge work. Instead of creating TVs or toasters, we are creating knowledge, relationships, experiences, and loyalty.
That means our measurement process must change accordingly. You must use the process of triangulation to measure ROI, which involves combining five–seven different perspectives in order to gain a higher level of confidence in our results. These perspectives can be qualitative (subjective), quantitative (objective), explicit (surveys) and implicit (reading people’s behavior).
Measurements change overtime and depend on exactly where you are in your KCS journey. They also have to match your exact business requirements and goals.
We hope you enjoyed this introduction to Knowledge Centered Service. If you are in the business of creating knowledge, then you need to dive more deeply into the best ways to harness this knowledge and improve the productivity of your workers.
If you’d like to try out some new knowledge base software, sign up for a free trial of KnowledgeOwl right now.